Are Our Internet and Big Box Habits Killing Locally Owned Stores?

For things you don’t necessarily need to touch and feel (books, electronics, DVDs, etc.) internet shopping is quick and convenient.  For bargains or the illusion of bargains on staples like bottled water and toilet paper, we gravitate toward Costco, Sam’s Club, Target and Wal-Mart.  Even when we buy our food, it’s so much easier to pop into Safeway, or Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods than to wait for the weekly farmer’s market to come around or visit our local butcher or seafood purveyor.  Why go to several shops when you can buy everything at one?

A column by Danny Westneat in yesterday’s Seattle Times is making me question that philosophy.  The column focusses on the slow death of bookstores, particularly in Seattle.  We’ve lost Horizon Books and Bailey/Coy Books in Capitol Hill, Epilogue Books in Ballard, all the B Dalton bookstores, and M Coy Books Downtown.  Our beloved Elliot Bay Books – an institution in Seattle since 1973 – is moving from its Pioneer Square location and moving to Capitol Hill in an effort to stay in business!  (On a side note, they are liquidating their used books inventory – 40% off – so snatch up those deals while you can).  How can this be? 

Barnes & Noble and Borders likely led to the decline of many small bookstores.  Amazon sped the death and e-books threaten to put the final nail in the coffin.  One of my favorite things to do is browse through bookstores, but I’ll admit, if I know what I want to buy, Amazon or Barnes & Noble online, both of which offer free shipping for purchases of $25 or more, are easier, carbon footprint be damned.  I resorted to both this past Christmas. 

And while I really like Elliot Bay Books, I buy more books at Barnes & Noble because it’s closer to my home and easier to find parking (Elliot Bay Books relocation in March will eliminate this excuse).  This addiction to convenience, however, may be killing the very things we love.

Bookstores are not the only stores feeling the effects of the economy and the internet era.  Clothing stores, which should be safe from internet poaching (most of us still want to try on clothes) have historically lost out to department stores and when Macy’s and even Nordstrom are cutting prices, it’s hard to pay full price at a boutique for a similar item.  The result?  More boutiques are closing.

When we dine out many of us turn up our noses at chain restaurants, seeking out unique, locally owned and operated options.  To me, the proliferation of these small restaurants is one of the many perks of living in a city like Seattle.  So why doesn’t this selectivity in dining experiences carry over to our shopping habits?

Coming from Southern California, I’ve seen the landscape of a predominantly chain and big box world and it isn’t pretty.  The solution?  Shop local.  Maybe not every day and maybe not for every item.  But for every trip to Costco, Whole Foods, or Macy’s stop into one small bookstore, or clothing boutique or your local farmers’ market.  I’ve discovered some great boutiques this way and supporting a small business and the local economy is guaranteed to give you a feel good feeling. 

As for Elliot Bay Books?  I’m not waiting til they move to Capitol Hill – I’m hitting that used book sale now.

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5 Responses

  1. You always have interesting posts…seriously. This is an interesting article…I have been reading about some of this also….it kind of reminds me of the concept of that movie “You’ve got Mail”….not the same (little vs big bookstore survival) but kinda the same idea. Have a great day 🙂

  2. It’s a sad ending for small business in today’s market. I buy locally as much as I can but I too need to pinch a penny here or there. I find it very sad that business are closing so fast and families dreams are being lost; but it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there right now. =(

  3. I think that because “time” has become a hot commodity for most of us. We eat out at local restaurants because we believe that’s a luxury and a good use of our time – spent on leisure. We don’t usually look at things like food shopping as leisure – we have to do it. I think if we had a different perspective on it you would probably see a lot more people treating it like a leisure activity and buying locally. I think likewise, people have ceased to see book shopping as a leisurely activity. We read a review, get a friend or co-worker’s recommendation, or just read online reviews, and click “buy it now”.
    Interesting topic! I’ve often wondered where this is all heading!

  4. Here! Here!

    Unfortunately for me I live in the more rural side of Georgia so you won’t find to many small book shops, but I do believe it’s sort of a sad reality coming to pass. Like you mentioned, especially with e-books. However, I think it’s positive too. E-books are less of a drag on the environment. Still, I don’t like how e-book distributors are using draconian DRM like the music industry did 10 years ago. Anyways, it’s never a good thing to see small shops lose business and as you suggested making time to spend some money with them can make a difference.

    I’ll admit it though. The first place I usually go is Amazon.com to see if I can buy any books used.

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