Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Retail: More of The Same, Wherever You Go

Far be it from me to decry the appearance of yet-another H&M (what one friend calls "cheap Euro-trend"), but there is still sometimes too much of a good thing. In a rapidly (suburban) sprawling metropolitan world where every new mall has the same stores (Gap, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, H&M, etc.) but cleaner parking lots and fewer black people, one wonders where it all will lead. Is there no such thing as independent retail anymore? Is there no--dare I say it?--local character? Must every place be any place?

Coventry, as we all, know, is a perfect example of the trend. Once lauded as a hive of local, independent retail with genuine personality, it is now increasingly the home to chain store operations (Jimmy Johns, Panini, etc.). Sure, Tommy's and Mac's Backs are still doing well, but the co-op is gone, and the independent theatre too! Coventry is becoming a frat boy paradise of uniformity...

Visiting Chicago for the first time last year, I made sure to check out the mythic Magnificent Mile on Michigan Ave. According to guidebooks, this was the mecca of shopping for travelers. It offered the best of the Big City to podunk visitors like myself (from pipsqueak Cleveland!). What did I find? The same stores that already populate South Park, Legacy Village, Crocker Park, and Beechwood. Why did I travel 400 miles just to shop at another H&M? I couldn't tell you. I was disappointed--Chicago let me down.

And now Paris faces the same challenge. The New York Times reports that the Champs Elysees, since 1990 Paris' trademark spot for luxe indulgence of which the Olympian gods (Elysian Fields, Olympian gods, you get it!) would be jealous, has been slowly but steadily turning into yet another upscale mall of (inter)national retailers. Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Adidas, and so on. Now H&M wants a piece of the pie, to the tune of 47000 square feet. But Paris fights back! The city denies the permit!

Is the homogenization of retail abated? Or merely put off for a few months until the corporate lawyers overturn Paris' decision?


Anonymous Charles Dickens said...

Une introduction:

*Je suis Marxiste, tendance Groucho?

Retail madness! Or am I the one who is insane, overly disturbed by homogenization? What we need is "a sanity clause? There ain't no sanity clause..." (see the the link). And now back to our regularly scheduled program... Shoppers of the World: Unite!

A Retail of Two Cities:

Snoop Dawg had the best of rhymes, M.C. Hammer had the worst of rhymes, it was the age of credit cards, it was the age of bankruptcy, it was the epoch of “have my cake,” it was the epoch of “eat it too,” it was the season of reality shows, it was the season of escapism, it was the spring of sales, it was the winter of more sales, we had everything before us, we had nothing different before us, we were all going directly to the mall, we were all going directly to the other mall (with the same stores)--in short, the retail here is so much like the retail there, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, like it was swallowing medicine, that uniformity is a good thing.

*A famous French witticism (often attributed to Jean-Luc Godard) was, "Je suis Marxiste, tendance Groucho," i.e. "I'm a Marxist of the Groucho variety". This line was notably heard in the 1972 comedy by Claude Lelouch "L'aventure c'est l'aventure", (starring Lino Ventura, Aldo Maccione, Jacques Brel, Johnny Hallyday and Charles Denner) where the would-be heroes get involved with a central-American guerilla; it spread to other nations as well in the 1960s and 1970s. The Youth International Party, a 1960s-1970s ad-hoc political group of Anarcho-Marxists known for street theatre and pranks, were denounced in a Communist newspaper editorial as "Groucho Marxists".

1:51 PM  

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