James Surowiecki posted an article about independent bookstores on Marginal Revolution today. Basically, some non-chains are bidding market share away from the Borders and Barnes & Nobles of the community by being larger than they are. A store in Michigan is some 35,000 square feet; another one in Pennsylvania is 45,000. For the record, Barnes & Noble stores range from 25,000 to 67,500 square feet; the average Home Depot is 108,000 square feet.
What I love about this development is it breaks the bias that the chains are attacking the quaint “mom-and-pop,” destroying the downtown. Competition generates change; cultures evolve. James suggests that the reason more independent stores are revamping themselves is that they finally caught on this is what people want. There’s a lot of truth to that. Hole-in-the-wall stores be damned; I want comfort, courtesy, selection and style. People forget that when the economy causes the standard to wear away, that’s rarely a bad thing. Large, nice stores are a practical option now—hell, they’re the standard. Isn’t that a good thing?
So will cultural stasists finally concede that the Chains aren’t “destroying” the little guy and there may be something to large bookstores or even large stores in general? Probably not. Instead of admitting they were wrong, they are more likely to accuse the Chains of “making” the little guys abandon their traditional values. Half right—customers made them do that.
Afterthought: I wonder if there’s a linguistic relation between the words “customers” and “custom”—after all, economic activity shapes culture.