Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Infatuation with the Neighborhood Store

Since time immemorial, the Mom & Pop neighborhood store has been venerated as symbolic of all that's good, with the big bad chain-store retailers painted as the villains. (The most recent, and weird, example is I Heart Huckabees.) To a certain degree, the logic is understandable: people may dislike the impersonal nature of large stores, and everyone likes rooting for the underdog anyway.

It'd be perfectly reasonable for people to put their money where their mouth is and let supply and demand do the rest: if enough people wanted to shop at a neighborhood store, it would continue to survive and hold off the evil megastores. However, people often take this argument to the next level, advocating the weighting of the scales towards the neighborhood store. (Think politicians or activists crying out shrilly about local businesses being destroyed.) It is far less clear to me that there is an economic or social justification for this (unless there is a danger of monopolization and a destruction of choice). After all, we do want society to evolve to a more efficient state.

What is even worse is when people start arguing for what they consider a utopian world where online shopping becomes deprecated in favor of the local store. Personally, I prefer shopping online because I find it a more attractive and convenient proposition. If someone doesn't feel that way, they have the option of not shopping online. Arguing that a measure is good because it discriminates against online shopping is a rather unreasonable stance to take.

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