June 15, 2009
Big Box Bitch
I’m the first to admit that Amazon.com is like the 8th wonder of the modern world and I love poking around Home Depot, but as a society I think we have to rage against the Big Box stores. They are soul-sucking.
There are many things I hate about this continent I live in (car culture, suburbs, garbage) but today I think I’ll just bitch about shopping.
I think the draw with box stores and malls is convenience, familiarity and security. Parking is a definite benefit. But it’s not news to anybody that malls and stores like Wall-Mart suck the vitality out of the established down town areas in many a small town or city. This can be witnessed in Premium T’s post of June 11.
It can be witnessed in my home town of 5,000. Townsfolk think the arrival of the monolithic stores signify success. But never a thought is given to the vibrancy of the old main streets with their wealth of architecture and history. It used to be in my hometown you could walk for 5 minutes and be at the grocery store to pick up a loaf of bread. Now there is nothing left to do but take the car and drive out to the conglomeration of box stores, while the old main street itself could soon be housing 10-pin bowling.
It seems to me that the proliferation of big box stores is akin to the airbrushing of North America. Unique differences are gone - as if a patchwork quilt has been drained of all colour. Independent stores are going the way of the Dodo. The sameness of these tumorous outcroppings of Pottery Barns and Barnes & Nobles will certainly make clones of us all.
I feel that quality of life has given in to so-called convenience. And we should rage against it.
We’ve all had those “Aha” moments when we find a really neat second-hand book store, or funky restaurant, or a stretch of art galleries or a hidden café. Those discoveries make us pause and think “Hey, life’s pretty wonderful.” We can live like that all the time. Let’s put our money into our neighbourhoods and our neighbourhoods will pay us back with quality of life.
Some of you might think I sound ostentatious but I like to shop like a European. I have the good fortune to live in a very vibrant neighbourhood and I can go with my shopping bag up to my top road and grab cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, coffee, meat and bring them home to stock up my little fridge. In a couple of days I'll do the same. It may sound poncy but it’s anything but. My eco-footprint is very small. I haven’t used the car. I’ve met people on the street, made some local shop keepers happy. I’ve seen posters for things happening in the neighbourhood. I’ve had the experience of hearing at least two languages different from my own.
A lot of people don’t have the luxury of such a great neighbourhood, or the surplus of time that I have. But a quick Google tells me that 80% of North Americans live in urban settings. We don’t all have to get in the car on Saturday and shop till we drop at The Gap, or H & M, or Banana Republic. We should shun Cineplexes and East Side Marios for the local Rep theatre and the Polish café around the corner.
I say shop locally; shop small; shop independent. What say you?
photo of French Market:www.franceguide.com