The Romance of Modern Trade

A recent issue of the Storekeepers’ Journal contained a paragraph with the heading printed above. It stated that the writer was sanguine enough to believe that storekeepers throughout the country would, without exception, join in the chorus of congratulations that had been showered upon Sir Timeous Skipton at the honour so recently conferred upon him by His Majesty the King, an honour which was not merely a personal one, but was shared by the whole trade of which Sir Timeous is so shining a light. It recalled the now well-known fact that Sir Timeous started storekeeping in a very humble way in the South only a few years ago, and by his industry, pluck, and keenness has become one of the largest of the successful produce distributors of modern times. As head of the international concern with which he is associated, his name has become a household word. Such a career, concluded the writer, is a complete answer to the croakers who say there is no scope to-day for the enterprising man, and that the opportunity for the individual to succeed no longer exists. Let such remember and act upon the Scriptural injunction, “Go thou and do likewise.”

I showed the paragraph in question to a friend whose commercial affairs bring him into contact with many who fail as shopkeepers, and he told me the following life story. He called it


Many years ago. long before the advent of the “Merchant Storekeepers,” “Multipule Traders,” and the like, a young married couple, whom we will call Mr. and Mrs. Jones, opened a grocery and provision shop in a fairly large town in the Midlands. They both worked in the business, rarely took a holiday, regularly paid their wholesale houses and thus remained on good terms with them, brought up their children healthily and educated them as circumstances permitted. As they grew up the sons assisted in the business and looked forward to ultimately taking it over, whilst the daughters cheerfully performed the household duties. They had no idea of trouble—at any rate, business trouble—ever coming their way. The town’s population grew, and Mr. Jones, being widely known and greatly respected, increased his turnover until it reached nearly five figures per annum, and his devoted, unassuming wife and himself were looking forward to shortly retiring upon a sufficiency to ensure their freedom from anxiety during their final steps in the journey of life. One day, however, a neighbouring house owner, in view of the development of the town, converted a number of houses adjoining the Jones’ shop into shop premises, and a few weeks after the one next door to Mr. Jones was opened as the local branch of Skipton’s Limited. The Jones were not greatly perturbed at first, although they began to talk among themselves when at the new shop cheese could be purchased at one penny per pound cheaper than Mr. Jones could buy it wholesale. Others of the shops were taken and opened by the Jampress Tea Co. (which the travellers who called upon Mr. Jones hinted was really being run by Skiptons Ltd. under an assumed name), the World’s Dairy Co., the Grey Mole Tea Co., the Inter-colonial Butter Co., and others, all attempting by methods quite foreign to Mr. Jones’ idea of legitimate business, to capture his trade, in which they ultimately succeeded. His customers gradually deserted him. His turnover dropped in a few years from nearly ten to about two thousand pounds, and at last the crash came. He called a meeting of his creditors, and they, realising that the old chap had been “broke” by the irresistible march of capitalist development (“unfair competition” he called it), generously presented him with the furniture to which they were legally entitled, and accepted their eight shillings in the £,, some of them reflecting that it was not the old chap, honest, sober, industrious, aye, and Nonconformist and Liberal as he was, who had succeeded in life, but that, despite all these virtues he had “gone under,” largely through the successful efforts of the “Merchant Storekeeper” who had been so recently honoured by His Majesty.

As for the sons, one of them became a machine-like manager of a “multiple” shop at a “salary” of thirty-two shillings and sixpence per week, out of which princely sum all shortages of stock were deducted, and before being appointed signed an agreement not to accept a position in a similar business within a radius of fifty miles for a period of ten years. He gave up attending chapel and went, instead to the Sunday meetings of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. After hearing the speakers trace the ruthless development of industry and trading to the Trust stage now existing, and realising, in view of their teaching and his own bitter experience, that the day of the small man and the small concern was passed, he eventually joined their ranks and worked for the realisation of the only system wherein the individual will have the opportunity to lead a full and free life. The operations of Sir Timeous Skipton had prepared his mind to receive the truth, as they are preparing that of many another man.

The other son “went to the dogs,” was arrested for sleeping on the Embankment and was sentenced by Alderman Sir Timeous Skipton to imprisonment with hard labour for being a “rogue and a vagabond.”

X. Y. Z.

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