When I moved to the upper east side of Manhattan 20 years ago, it didn’t resemble a strip mall. Now, the following massive stores have opened, all within one block of each other: Staples, Best Buy, Sephora, Barnes & Noble, Petco, Verizon, H&M. There also are five huge drug stores steps from each other, including two Duane Reades.
The emergence of Wal-Mart in the seventies sounded the death knell for mom and mom stores. Remember the local housewares/hardware store, where you could buy everything from a hammer to a hair dryer, knew the owner and trusted his advice about the best widget for a job you were doing around the house? Or the local gift shop where you could find the perfect present for Aunt Sue’s birthday? I loved the local bookstore, too, because it felt like a book club.
Stores today aren’t only massive; they’re stuffing themselves with so much stuff, you can barely tell what they are. CVS added grocery cases stocked with everything from milk to prepared salads and frozen pizza. Barnes & Noble sells board games, stuffed animals and Godiva. I’m sure Petco is trying to figure out what to add to steal customers from Sephora. (Buy your lipstick when you’re buying your kitty’s litter box.) Costco sells $30,000 diamond rings next to the bulk toilet paper and Staples sells cleaning supplies next to the copiers.
It’s a big mess. I have no idea how all these places manage to survive, but I predict many of them will be history soon enough. Chaos has a way of sorting itself out. It’s the storm before the calm, something we all need.