Thursday, January 22, 2009

Are Chain Stores Evil?

It's the "in" thing to do - bash the chain stores, complain that Uptown is "selling out," and whine that chain stores have ruined the neighborhood's character. And for all too many people, get in your car and drive out to the mall to do some chain store shopping of your own. Are chain stores really so bad, and is there a place for them in Uptown?

I admit it - I'm not a big fan of chain stores. I try to shop locally and to avoid the malls. But that doesn't mean I don't think that our neighborhood has room to embrace a few of these stores now and then. A primary goal should be to get local residents to shop in the neighborhood. It's good to spend money locally. Better to spend it at a locally-owned store, but if it's a question of buying your Victoria's Secret miracle bras in Uptown or out in the 'burbs, might as well keep the tax dollars in the city.

Rather than gripe about the evils of chain stores we should try to speak with our own actions. Buy in the neighborhood whenever possible. Support local stores. And, needless to say, walk, don't drive, to get there. Try to expand your shopping radius to beyond the stores within the Hennepin-Lake core. Smaller, newer stores pop up where the rents are more affordable, and we should do our best to support their entrepreneurial owners. Besides, smaller commercial hubs scattered throughout Uptown give the neighborhood increased vibrancy.

Locals also often talk about "mall stores." I do it, too. But not all national chains have only mall stores. Walk the streets of New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, or other big cities to see what I mean. They can, and do, fit into urban streetscapes. We as a neighborhood have the right to make our opinions known, and to voice our beliefs that the stores should enhance the area. Done right, chain stores can bring in additional shoppers who will, ideally, turn around and extend their shopping trips, stopping off for lunch at local restaurants, hitting a few other local boutiques, and topping it all off with a drink at a local bar.

Are chain stores evil? If it comes down to an empty store front or a chain store (done tastefully and appropriately) I'll take the chain store. The thought of a Walmart or any other "big box" store makes me ill, but the old Pier 1, Best Buy, and Borders fit the area well and served plenty of neighborhood residents as well as visitors.

Uptown's business community changes with time. It always has, and always will. Favorite stores leave, while new favorites come in. If you don't want the future Uptown to look like an outdoor Southdale then do something about it, starting with your wallet.

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