Buying Local – The Race to Homogeneity

Think about Seth Godin’s lamentation the next time you shop at a chain.

They’re shutting down Jimmy Wang’s store. Shutting down a succesful (sic) little business.

Walgreen’s is moving into town, my town, a town with three or four small drugstores and plenty of places to buy stale cookies, thank you very much.

I’ve written about Brother’s market before, an anchor in my little town. The only place to get hand-picked fresh food, pretty much, and the sort of market you could imagine moving to town just to be near. Remember those little markets where they actually care about the produce they sell? In a world filled with bitter cash register jockeys, Brother’s was different. A smiling face, a family member mentioned, a don’t-worry-about-the-pennies sort of interaction.

One by one, store by store, the chains expand, earning a few more dollars a share and further insulating themselves from the communities they used to serve. No, my neighbors and I don’t need another drugstore, we have plenty. That’s not going to change Walgreen’s mind, and it’s not going to help Jimmy and his team, either. My heart goes out to them. Thanks for everything you did for our community, guys.

Admittedly, many of the chains are locally-owned; but they aren’t as locally-owned as true locally-owned stores. Think Mudhouse and Starbucks. CVS and Parkway Pharmacy in Crozet. The Markets and 7-11. Harris Teeter and Great Valu in Crozet. Groupon and CvilleSAVER (more on CvilleSAVER).

At what cost do we not support our local businesses?

In a related story, the developers at Stonefield are finding that their stores may be welcome but their architecture is not.

People move to and stay in Charlottesville because we’re not like those other places – the ones with the shopping centers that could be Anywhere, USA.

We don’t have an Olive Garden, and that’s OK. Frankly, I don’t want one. I wouldn’t trade Charlottesville’s Italian restaurants for an Olive Garden.

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  1. Stormy June 29, 2011 at 12:09

    Ooooh, you’ve done it now. The Olive Garden Guardians are going to be coming out of the woodwork. I’m astounded by the love that place gets from people locally. BTW, there is one planned for Charlottesville. A developer told me where it’s supposed to go, if only the shopping center gets built…

    1. Jim Duncan June 29, 2011 at 14:17

      I’ve been there. I don’t totally mind going there in other towns, but I *really* don’t want one here. I’d much rather go to Tavola or Carmello’s or Anna’s or anywhere but there.

  2. Nathan Hughes June 30, 2011 at 18:48

    While there are many great reasons to love Charlottesville, I think the lack of an Olive Garden is reason enough by itself.

    I like seeing the chains go into a blighted area to help give everyone a more positive view of the area (because if they know anything, they know how to research and that will inspire others to follow) — but if you’re doing well without the chains, then that’s even better.

    I don’t see how anything can be gained by having big chain mediocrity move into Charlottesville — well, maybe a higher sodium and cholesterol count…Great post, Jim!

    1. Jim July 2, 2011 at 06:51

      Agreed. More chains = less character. I like not having everything here.

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