Two interesting phenomena seem to be happening in this downturn: Wal-Mart is thriving but so is shopping local. On the latter: Richard Layman from Urban Places and Spaces Blog notes that he has been:
somewhat more conscious and [shopping locally] myself, such as buying toys as gifts from Sullivan’s Toy Store on Wisconsin Avenue NW, or baby-related stuff for friends, at Now & Then, a gift shop in Takoma Park.
He refers to a Seattle Times article on the subject. In some neighbourhoods the local stores are doing well, while elsewhere the independents are closing.
Local shopkeepers say they’re also seeing people … who are financially stable and want to help. “People really want to support their local stores, because if they don’t, we’ll all go away,” said Muriel Monteiro, owner of the Lola Pop clothing store on North 35th Street in Fremont….
In Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, shopkeeper Craig Keister recently hung up signs saying “Uncle.” His Mandrakes Antiques store will close at the end of this month after 20 years in business. Other recent Ballard closures include Annabelle’s Consignment and All the King’s Flags.
So, we have Wal-Mart thriving, some independents thriving, and some going bust. Here’s my theory. Shoppers are indeed thinking critically about what they are buying, and where. Presumably this leads some to Wal-Mart and other big box discounters while others head to local stores.
What we also need to consider is that it may be the same people, in many cases, supporting both. They buy some more generic products at the discounter, leaving extra disposable income to support the local stores.
The New York Magazine also offers a theory about why certain independents will survive: they will improve customer service.
Service, an all-but-forgotten notion in the boom years, is now an essential means of survival. The name of the game is regulars—creating new ones and holding on to old ones. Restaurateurs are plying customers with amuse-bouches, managers are visiting and revisiting tables. Stores are offering free gift wrapping and delivery. Shopkeepers who once treated customers with haughty indifference now practically sprint to the door to greet them. Henri Bendel recently gave away brownies.