Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The loss of personal, unique and local

In a recent heartfelt blog post, Seth Godin bemoaned the loss of his favourite local store to the relentless expansion of the Walgreen drugstore empire. We don't have Walgreen in the UK, but you could substitute any of the big supermarket brands or clothing retailers. Seth's local store was one where the staff were engaged and committed, the transactions personal and friendly, the produce locally and lovingly sourced and the store a real part of the local community. There's nothing wrong with what the big store chains do, but on the whole there's nothing enriching about it, either. It's all about economies of scale and maximum profit per square metre, geared up to meet the needs of their shareholders rather than their customers. Their ubiquity and proliferation narrow our experience as a shopper and consumer and remove much of the humanity from the transaction.

There's a place for this in our economy, but do we really want to sleepwalk into allowing it to become the only commercially sustainable buisness model for retail? If we don't support the local independent retailers, they won't survive -  and we'll mourn their loss without acknowledging that we were the architects of it. Put simply, every shop needs shoppers and it's up to us to find time in our busy lives to visit the local butcher and discuss our dinner party menu or sample the exotic, hand-churned cheeses at the specialist delicatessen. Not every day, but often enough to give them a fighting chance against the relentless march of the mega-retailers.

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