Generally, I like mom-and-pop stores. Small businesses can be great. They generally are rooted in the community and provide decent livelihoods for a range of people. Certainly they are hard to run. Whenever chain stores come into a neighborhood, there tends to be a lot of hand wringing about what will happen to the small businesses that were already there. In some cases, a big chain store can boost business for little shops. People rant and rave about Starbucks, but it turns out that in many places, Starbucks created a coffee culture that enabled new small coffee shops to open and thrive. In New York City, Starbucks provided an important resource: public bathrooms. Small shops don't necessarily have them, and knowing that a Starbucks or other chain is nearby enables me to stay out more without worrying that I might pee my pants.
Barnes & Noble is another great example of a chain that makes people go apoplectic. Did Barnes & Noble cause the demise of the independent book store or by welcoming people as browsers did it help increase an appetite for reading? I don't know. However, I do know that the super big Barnes & Noble near my apartment is closed and it is missed. When the store closed, the employees posted a typed statement inside the window saying that after 15 years in that location, they will miss the community. When I walked by the empty store on Thursday night, I noticed that someone had written a note back, saying how much they will miss the store and the knowledgeable staff. Someone else added a comment after that. Then someone else. By the time I passed it again on Sat. afternoon, many people had written about their sadness and at least one more page was taped up.
I also passed by the Lucky Brand jeans store on Sat. I was crushed when I noticed that the 50% sale was not the biannual sale, but a closing the store sale. I went inside. Multiple customers commented to staff how much the shop would be missed. I felt the same way. Sure, the merchandise is grossly overpriced, but the sales are great and their jeans fit me better than any others. Having one down the street was convenient, even though I did not go often. I also worried about the staff's jobs, and I was not the only one. A few people asked staff if they'd be transferred to other stores.
On the other hand, I went to a local shoe store on Wednesday to obtain some warm winter boots. Before I went out, I looked online to see what I wanted and decided on furry FitFlops. At the store, I picked up a gray boot and was excited to find it on sale. The sales guy asked me what color I wanted, and I said I didn't care. Gray was fine, but whatever was available in my size was great. He came back with a pair in black, explaining that the gray ones were harder to reach although they had them in my size. I found that odd, but I will always wear black, so I tried them on. They fit. I went to the counter to pay and was shocked to find them not on sale. "Oh, only the gray ones are on sale," the cashier said. Right. I was pissed. "Yeah, then I'll take the gray ones." The sales guy disappeared for a second and suddenly the hard-to-reach, cheaper shoes materialized. The more I think about it, the more pissed I am about this unethical bait-and-switch.
I'm just glad that I live in a neighborhood that has a range of retail options. Thriving communities have a mix of big and small, good and bad, and affordable and expensive. If only I could more on the "affordable" end in this area, it would be perfect.