Taiwan has one of the world’s highest densities of convenience stores. These stores can be found at almost every street corner, and it was therefore completely unexpected that the planned entry of the 7-Eleven chain to Orchid Island would set off a war of words.
Writer Liu Ka-shiang (劉克襄), entertainer Chris Wang (宥勝) and former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) have all expressed worries over the possibility that Taiwan’s last piece of pristine, convenience store-free land might disappear.
Liu has even expressed concern that the introduction of 7-Eleven would be the second disaster after nuclear waste was brought from Taiwan to Orchid Island.
The introduction of convenience stores to Taiwan proper more than two decades ago also set off a war of words. Hsieh, a legislator at the time, pleaded for the traditional mom-and-pop stores. He worried that they would be forced to close as chain stores with a lot of capital, marketing savvy and low procurement costs entered local communities.
There were also worries that this would lead to unemployment among older people, and that these mom-and-pop stores, which functioned as the heart of these communities, would disappear, and change the face of the local economy as well as these communities.
None of these concerns were enough to stop the march of the chain convenience stores. With the introduction of a chain store, one owner could replace thousands of grocery store owners, while tens of thousands of job opportunities were replaced by temporary workers on hourly pay.
The traditional community centers of information exchange, a neighborhood watch, social and friendly exchanges and emergency aid were replaced by formal transactions and exchanges.
When 7-Eleven enters Orchid Island, not only will the traditional mom-and-pop stores disappear, but so will central lifestyle values and the culture and language of the Tao people.
Many people may feel dismay at this, but time moves on and it is difficult to turn the tide. The conflict between the emotional attachment to traditional stores and the wish for convenience has already been decided: There are convenience stores everywhere, and the only places with room left for traditional stores are in remote areas.
7-Eleven is not an unstoppable beast, nor is it necessary to vilify it. The choice between convenience stores and mom-and-pop stores is not a moral choice; it is a lifestyle choice.
Whether Orchid Island will see its first convenience store will be decided by Uni-President Enterprises Corp, and whether it will be able to survive will be decided by the residents of Orchid Island. Any other opinion is only for reference.
However, the cost of operating convenience stores on the outlying islands is higher than in other places, and only one such store will be established on Orchid Island. Perhaps the same approach as in the rest of Taiwan — aimed at an all-pervasive presence — will not be applied here, so that the traditional stores might not be forced to close.
As 7-Eleven, with its strong marketing culture, enters Orchid Island, in addition to catering to the needs of tourists, perhaps the company should consider how to integrate with the Tao culture and lifestyle to minimize its impact on local culture.