Sunday, December 31, 2006

Chains vs. Locals, round 17

Posted By on 12.31.06 at 06:16 AM

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BALLE, an international alliance of 39 independently operated local business networks, opens its December newsletter to the "naysayers." More advocates should have the guts to do this.

One sharp if predictable naysayer is Virginia Postrel, libertarian journalist and self-described "dynamist," who writes in praise of chain stores in the November Atlantic. Key points:

"Stores don’t give places their character. Terrain and weather and culture do."

"The idea that America was once filled with wildly varied business establishments is largely a myth."

"Expecting each town to independently invent every new business is a prescription for real monotony, at least for the locals. Chains make a large range of choices available in more places.... When Borders was a unique Ann Arbor institution, people in places like Chandler [Arizona]—or, for that matter, Philadelphia and Los Angeles—didn’t have much in the way of bookstores."

Surely she's wrong about Philly and LA, but in smaller towns (I grew up near Peoria) the chains undoubtedly made books easier to buy.

Of course, one could agree with Postrel and still prefer to shop locally whenever possible. Local First Chicago, a BALLE affiliate, now has an online marketplace where you can view the individual profiles of 80 LFC members, find each by zip code, map its location, and visit its Web site.

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