When Shopping Locally Isn’t Possible

Amoeba Music in San Francisco

Cities in America are getting more boring. Of course only boring people are bored, we’ve heard that before, thank you, but walking around often feels like we’ve been here before, and in a different way than Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders versed, My City Was Gone.

No matter which direction I walk in from my Dallas apartment, I can expect to encounter a Starbucks, a Chipotle, a subway and I’m sure there is a chain or two I have forgotten. There are no corner groceries, and while there are one-of-a-kind places to eat, if you’re not hungry, there’s not many other places to go.

Book stores, forget it. Record stores, nope. Funky hardware stores with various housewares, none of those either. Part of this can be chalked up to Dallas, where much of the variety is in the suburbs- but its not all Dallas. Even chain stores are closing outlets. Office supply stores, Radio Shack, video rental stores, there haven’t been electronics and stereo stores for a while now.

A major reason for this is of course the Internet. Very specific items are available more economically without as much searching online, while brick-and-mortar stores have focused on offering only the most frequently-purchased items with the widest appeal.

The other day I was looking for a door hook that would straddle the top of the door. I needed this because the hollow-core door could not support the weight of a bath towel. I was unable to find anything else but several finish options of one screw-in hook version at the major retailers. Online however there were dozens of options. Two decades ago I may have happened upon such a thing randomly through my travels. (It may not be long before such a thing can be quickly and economically manufactured from a home printer).

That’s all good and well, however. I like to live in a dense area because I like to walk around. And what do you do when you’re tired of coffee? There are at least three locations of Starbucks within walking distance, and two smaller coffee shops. The smaller coffee shops are both further, and at least in one case in places where it isn’t so pleasant to walk.

There may be other reasons for the transformation. Not long ago an article appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Insanely busy schedules are the new status symbol (April 4, 2014) noting how frantic schedules may be the new two-week vacation. As the article notes, one 2012 survey found that 38 million Americans shop on their smartphones while sitting on the toilet. Soon drones may be delivering goods to our door and there won’t be need to wait, let alone cause to browse a physical store.

In fact, in a world where people compete for busy, casual store browsing may be permanently out the window.

Of course there is still much more to do in cities than in suburbs, and that’s why they are being rediscovered and reenergized by new residents today. Much of it centers around activities that require scheduling, however. And it seems the more of life’s activities that are online, the more need there is to live in a place that’s not so isolated as sitting at a computer.

All this business isn’t getting any more done, I’m afraid. And multitasking (according to a British study) has the effect of lowering your IQ, to the point of “you might as well be stoned.”

There isn’t a near solution for this that I can see. I could say support your local retailers, but good luck finding them. Support your local farmer’s markets, flea markets and the like when you chance upon them- they can certainly liven up a space.

Luckily there has been a proliferation of local breweries, and there are still no shortage of bars and options for what is to tap. Drinking is best not done online.

Oh, and there’s a new thrift shop opening not far from here, so maybe…

About Eric Miller

Rick and I started this web magazine as The New Colonist back in 1999. I was in San Francisco, and he was in Los Angeles. We had a common interest in sustainability and city life. We're still at it. Today I am happy to have lived in both New York, San Francisco and Pittsburgh and to now reside in Dallas. Find more at ericmiller.me