Individually each of these words is short for mother and father, but the phrase as a whole is often used as an adjective to refer to some small businesses. Some of the smallest businesses are not merely family owned, but might be exclusively staffed by the owner and his or her wife or husband, with perhaps the children helping out occasionally. Often these are small grocery stores or convenience stores, or small retailers in general.

In other places it might be called a cottage industry.

While futurehog's take on it is correct, I think that it must be pointed out that the label "mom and pop" is not always used undisparagingly.

As civilization evolved and the norm that we have come to accept is that only fat cat corporations provide the masses with everything they needed from peanut butter and jelly to hydrogen fuel cells the term "mom and pop" has been quite often used to make smaller sized competition look less competitive and their products not worth the buyer's risk of buying.

One of the greatest organizations that will surely be the cause of a lot of these "mom and pop" businesses to close would be the ISO*. By making it a "standard" requirement for products to be ISO certified for it to be considered by consumers, we more or less are assured that small businesses will have no place in the markets of the future.

While businesses like food and specialty services such as gunsmithing or custom leatherwork will probably be not affected this continuing trend of reliance on big corporations to provide us with everything can only last so long before it will eat itself. After all, they are not doing anything for the love of you, corporations are put up to make money, and that alone is the real bottom line.

* - The ISO seal, while a bit assuring to some, does not neccesarily assure you of a good product, all it does is set a minimum standard and if it is met or exceeded slightly, ascertains that a certain level of consistency is achieved by the manufacturer. Meaning if it is good, then it must always be good, if it is not very good, it should also be not very good batch after batch.

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