As much as it may hurt my anti-establishment cred (as if there's really any of that left), I think I'm coming around on big box stores. Sure, they're soulless, harmful to local businesses and the idea of buying jeans, lawn furniture and iPods in the same store is kind of silly, but they do offer convenience and great prices. And, really, who doesn't like easy shopping and low prices?
On balance (and in economist-speak), I'd say Target, Best Buy, Borders et al have produced net gains in our collective welfare. Which is a good thing, I think. What's more, they're so entrenched in today's consumer culture that fighting them doesn't really seem like the "good fight."
All that said, I still have a special place in my heart for local businesses and do what I can to support them. While big boxes may be great for getting mass produced items on the cheap, customer service is borderline nonexistent and the quality of the goods is questionable, both of which are fine for some things (jeans, lawn furniture, iPods, etc) but not so much for others (bicycles, suits, dinner, etc.).
Of course, over the last several years, we've seen the imbalance between big box, chain retailers and smaller, locally-owned shops grow. This is an unfortunate, but not intractable, situation. See, for instance, Washington DC:
The shells for what will be some of the biggest big-box retailers Columbia Heights has ever known are rising along 14th and Irving streets and Park Road NW. They include Target, Best Buy, and Bed Bath & Beyond .
Yet below these retail giants, space has been reserved for the little guys.
A Peruvian restaurant has signed a lease, as has a local African American franchiser of the Quizno's sandwich chain. A Vietnamese grocer is negotiating to bring a Pho restaurant to the development. A locally owned spa may also come.
The $149.5 million DC USA project is being developed by Grid Properties of New York. President Drew Greenwald said the firm will reserve 15,000 square feet, or about 11 percent, of ground-floor retail space for local and minority-owned businesses, under an agreement with the District to buy and develop the land. He will reduce rents by 30 percent to encourage smaller tenants.
"With all the projects, it is going to be a nice mix," Greenwald said. "It kind of has a little bit of everything."
Throughout the District, developers are carving out space for locally owned or small businesses. While small businesses tend to be riskier bets than their better-financed corporate counterparts are, mixing local and national retailers is a goal of city officials when selling or leasing public land.
So, the circumstances aren't perfectly analogous, but the idea is good, right?
Thanks to Jamie for the link. Also, for more on local restaurants, Jessie's got the scoop.