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Posts Tagged ‘Retail

“I went to a general store but they wouldn’t let me buy anything specific”*…

 

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The hardware store… holds (and organizes) the tools, values, and knowledges that bind a community and define a worldview. There’s a material and social sensibility embodied in the store, its stuff, and its service, and reflected in the diverse clientele. That might sound a bit lofty for a commercial establishment that sells sharp objects and toxic chemicals. But the ethos is palpable. (And profitable, too…)

Headlines proclaiming the death of neighborhood retail remind me of all those articles a few years back that wrongly predicted the end of the library. Despite competition from big-box stores and the internet, many local hardware stores are doing all right. In 1972, the United States had about 26,000 hardware stores. Their number dropped to 19,000 by 1990 and 14,000 by 1996, but for the past two decades it has been fairly steady. Hardware Retailing reports a slight annual drop in the number of independent stores, but sales are strong (even increasing) at the ones that remain.

To understand the hardware store, it helps to trace an earlier genealogy: the rise of the general store…

How the hardware store orders things, neighborhoods, and material worlds: “Community Plumbing.”

* Steven Wright

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As we reach for the hammer, we might recall that  it was on this date in 1937 that George Allen & Unwin published J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.  Widely critically-acclaimed in its time (nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction), it was a success with readers, and spawned a sequel… which became the trilogy The Lord of the Rings.

Cover of the first edition, featuring a drawing by Tolkien

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Written by LW

September 21, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Nostalgia is, ‘Hey, remember the other mall that used to be there?'”*…

 

Built in the early 1970s, a decaying Midwestern relic of throw-away consumer architecture will be torn down and developed into an updated outdoor shopping space. What is lost in the process?

An era is coming to its end in a mid-size Illinois city few Americans might recognize. Sandburg Mall, the four-anchor shopping arena constructed in 1974 on the northwest corner of Galesburg, is finally being torn down after decades of decline. Located near the intersection of Henderson street and Carl Sandburg Drive, just off the US-34 exit, the shopping center was built during Galesburg’s population apex — nearly 38,000 citizens were registered in 1960 census, dropping only about 1,000 by 1970. Per the city’s most recent census report, that number has dropped to just above 32,000…

Sandburg Mall is now a relic about to disintegrate, albeit one few citizens will probably miss. Its existence has been maligned for most of my teenage and adult life. It taunts and reminds most of a better, more colorful economic past in a town still struggling — and in some places, succeeding — to get back on its feet…

Tag Hartman-Simkins‘ haunting photo essay: “Baby Come Back: Images of an American Shopping Mall Before Its Death.”

* Charles Saunders

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As we shop til we drop, we might send fabulous birthday greetings to Charles Perrault; he was born on this date in 1628.  A member of the Académie Française, he laid the foundations for a new literary genre, the fairy tale, deriving his work from extant folk tales.  He is best known for Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), Cendrillon (Cinderella), Le Chat Botté (Puss in Boots), La Belle au bois Dormant (The Sleeping Beauty), and Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard).

Hugely influential (e.g., on The Brothers Grimm, who wrote over 100 years later), his versions became canonical– and thus the basis for other literary tellings, operas, play, and ultimately movies… which is why Disney’s Cinderella (among other incarnations) has to contend with fragile footwear:  Perrault is believed to have confused vair for verre (the commonly-used descriptor in earlier versions), and thus to have given his princess-to-be “glass” slippers instead of “squirrel fur slippers.”

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Written by LW

January 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Anyhow, the hole in the doughnut is at least digestible”*…

 

Because of the way foods are mass harvested, factory processed and packaged in the States, the FDA has to allow food companies to include a certain number of “defects” in the final products. The term “defects,” is code for the inclusion of “foreign matter” in canned and packaged foods, including insects, insect parts, rodent hairs, larvae, rodent poop, mammal poop, bone material, mold, rust, and cigarette butts. These “defects” are not dangerous in the quantities they’re allowed, the FDA says, but still: what was that about ignorance and bliss?..

From the “20 maggots ‘of any size’ and 75 mites, per 100 grams” permitted in canned mushrooms to the “30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams” allowed in tomato sauce, “What Defects the FDA Allows in 11 Types of Food.”

[As a bonus (if that’s not a perverse way of putting it), “The 20 Unhealthiest Foods on the Planet.”]

* H.L. Mencken

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As we eat a peach, we might send a basketful for birthday greetings to Clarence Saunders; he was born on this ate in 1881.  A Memphis grocer, he developed the the modern retail sales model of self service– he received U.S. Patent #1,242,872 for a “Self Serving Store”– and thus had a massive influence on the development of the modern supermarket.  His Memphis store grew into the Piggly Wiggly chain, which is still in operation.

The first Piggly Wiggly store

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Clarence Saunders

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Written by LW

October 9, 2015 at 1:01 am

The romance of retail…

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But then, Zippy can console himself that, as recent honoree H.L. Mencken observed, “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

As we revisit our plans to open that book store, we might recall that this is the anniversary of the premiere (in 1954) of Walt Disney’s first prime-time television program (Disneyland, on ABC; later re-titled The Wonderful World of Disney), the second longest running television franchise in the country (as measured in seasons aired), and arguably the nation’s first major full-length infomercial (…though Bonomo, The Magic Clown, which ran on NBC from 1949 to 1954– and which was essentially an advertisement for Bonomo Turkish Taffy– has a defensible rival claim to that honor).

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Your correspondent is headed for points antipodal, where, as it happens, the drains do not spiral in a different direction, but where connectivity promises to be uncertain…  consequently, for the next week or so, these missives are likely to be more roughly than daily.

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Shop ’til you drop…

(copyright, Norm Feuti)

Americans are saving more…  which means that they are spending less.  Earlier this year average household debt was 134% of average household disposable income.  If increased savings lowers that to, say, 100% (by way of comparison, the figure was in the 70% range in the Eighties), and the savings rate (which was essentially zero just before the bubble burst) returns to its historic (70-year) average of 9%, it will pull something like $4 trillion out of annual consumption…  that’s to say it would reduce consumption by over 20%.  And since consumption has been running over 70% of our roughly $13 Trillion GDP, that could make a dent in the trajectory of our consumer-driven society.  A pretty big dent.*

How might it accrue? Well, there’s the impact on corporate earnings and employment (in an industrial/service base already at pretty serious overcapacity…  and then there are the Dead Malls.

* for more on this phenomenon and what it might mean, this post in Jon Taplin’s blog is a good place to start…  and for a peek at what could become of malls needy of a new purpose, see this post in The Infrastructuralist.

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As we cinch up our belts, we might think back to one of the driving forces that created the milieu in which malls were born and flourished: on this date in 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, landmark legislation that funded a 40,000-mile system of interstate roads that ultimately reached every American city with a population of more than 100,000. Today, almost 90% of the interstate system crosses rural areas, putting most citizens and businesses within driving distance of one another. Although Eisenhower’s rationale was martial (creating a road system on which convoys could travel more easily), the rewards were largely civilian. From the growth of trucking to the rise of suburbs, the interstate highway system re-shaped American landscapes and lives… and played a major role in creating the pre-conditions for the growth of the mall.

source: Missouri Department of Transportation

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