“There is Now a Starbucks in my Pants.”

home_img1_starbucks.jpgThat is one of my favorite George Carlin lines of all time, and I can’t think of a line that is more appropriate for my post today…

It is nothing new to complain about the overkill of the chain store. The first blatant example of over-expansion that I can recall in my 25-year-old life was Benaton. As the small upscale clothing retailer went from a handful of corners with a store to a handful of corners without, society became aware of the problems that accompany these massive chains. Then there was WalMart and KMart. But, as time went by, we became somewhat desensitized to it, and our fears managed to be culled by the promise of low prices and good deals. Plus, here in Gotham, we were fairly insulated to the growth of the “chain” phenomenon because of the prevalence of the local store and neighborhood identity.

Up until about 8 months ago, I lived on 10th street and 3rd avenue in the East Village. It was a GREAT place to live. Really interesting people, somewhat fair prices (in NYC standards, at least), and most importantly, a comparably eclectic mix of local stores and restaurants. But, there was one blatant example of corporate over-expansion in the form of literally three Starbucks shops within a 100 yard walk of each other (Standalone shops on 3rd ave and 8th street and Lafayette and Astor, and one in the Barnes and Noble store on Astor between Lafayette and Broadway). Now, there are also two Cold Stone Creameries very close by each other. When you couple that with the obligatory McDonalds, Blimpie’s, Subway Sandwich Shop, KMart, and Ray’s Pizza, even those rare outposts of under-saturation seem to be dwindling. It really makes you fearful of what is next.

One thing that I have always detested is when I go to visit new places, and someone I am with insists on going to a mall. This to me is the ultimate in ignorance. Every mall has the same 10-12 stores, and the rest is just different variations of the same one (ie Baby Gap, Pottery Barn Kids, etc). What the hell do I need to go to a JCrew in Dallas for? Do they somehow have different things than the one in SoHo? Why not go to see a local landmark, piece of history, or museum? As time goes on and we begin to ponder the future and what is in store for our city, it makes me very worried that we will become a society of zombies, totally devoid of any individuality, with the same branded items in our homes and on our backs.

Am I being too cynical?

5 Comments so far

  1. Cully (unregistered) on April 9th, 2007 @ 11:08 am

    I’d say, perhaps not cynical enough. Manhattan is turning into America’s biggest strip mall and it sucks. With rising rents only the large corporations can afford retail space in the city these days and with the news of what is happening with Barnes and Noble this week it seems they can’t even do it any more.I wonder sometimes if some of the larger corporations don’t keep store in the city at a loss just to be able to say they have a store in SoHo, or on Fifth Ave or the like.

  2. eric (unregistered) on April 9th, 2007 @ 1:01 pm

    Cully’s probably right. A lot of chains can afford a drag on their bottom line and cover the loss through high-selling other stores. I mean, my crappy hometown probably does enough over-business in its Wal-Mart to cover a potentially disastrous Wal-Mart here in the city. And when you think of the size of the chain, they might be more than willing to brand here in the city simply to say they are here.
    I won’t say I avoid all chains, but I generally do attempt to buy a product from a non-chain if I can do it without reasonable and undue stress on my time and my wallet.

  3. Josh (unregistered) on April 9th, 2007 @ 2:12 pm

    I worked for a retail company for a few years, and they don’t have an issue with loosing money at an NYC Flagship store. It’s more about advertising to tourists than actually making money. Nikon, for many, many years, had a store in Rockefeller center that did not sell a thing, it was just so people could go in an play with cameras and ask questions without a pressured sales environment (they did do repairs there, but by appointment). That was in the middle of great real estate.

    I watched Annie Hall over the weekend, and a good portion of it takes place outside in neighborhoods near mine. I was watching the backgrounds a lot and was amazed at what some of the streets used to look like. Movie theaters were gone, small stores were replaced by large chain-type stores, and the most depressing was that in just about every outdoor scene, I was able to say that a Starbucks had either moved into the block they were on, or one or two blocks away.

    Duane Reade is now the worst. At work, there are three within a two block radius, and home is no better with two in a two block radius.

    If you’re bored, check out 57th and Park. Two Chase banks right across the street from each other (and they both have the short ATMs that I can’t use without hurting my back. *$@%#!) And then check out 47th and 3rd…two FedEx Kinko’s right across the street from each other. Why? (I assume that both were caused by acquisitions, but still, it’s beyond ridiculous)

  4. Chris Trent (unregistered) on April 9th, 2007 @ 2:50 pm

    yeah sure, when i think of corporatization and the homogenization of american culture, benetton sure is what springs to mind… ;)

    all kidding aside, it is pretty gross. can’t say i ever wanted to live inside a shopping mall.

  5. correction (unregistered) on April 15th, 2007 @ 10:43 am

    its “Benetton”

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