When Do Chain Stores Become Part Of The 'Neighborhood Fabric'?

Two decades ago, when Barnes & Noble stores began popping up in every shopping center, strip mall and vacant lot in America, community advocates and fans of locally owned stores pointed at the chain as another example of a homogenized corporation coming in and erasing part of a neighborhood’s identity. But people still shopped there, and most people have gotten accustomed to the B&N being part of their local landscape. So much so that the NY Times has penned an elegy to one Manhattan Barnes & Noble that is closing its doors.

“We recognize that this store has been an important part of the fabric of the Upper West Side community,” a rep for the store tells the Times.

Keep in mind this was the same exact neighborhood that was the setting for the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan rom-com You’ve Got Mail, about a Barnes & Noble-like megachain bookstore coming in and potentially putting a little niche shop out of business. (Yes, there was also apparently a romance plot in there too, along with much AOL product placement.)

Regardless, the Times piece uses words like “lamented” and quotes a septuagenarian customer as saying, “Oh, I really am sad,” about the store’s closing.

A rep from the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District goes so far as to say, “It is a community gathering space… I think the larger bookstores have worked hard to become those kinds of spaces.”

So the question really is: At what point does (or can) a chain store overcome its sameness and actually become part of the community?

For instance, the Dairy Queen at which I toiled through my teen years was always more than just another franchise of a national ice cream chain. And if it would close for good, I suppose some might shed a tear. But then they’d just go to the new DQ up the road.

Or as one sensible Manhattanite tells the Times about the B&N’s closing, “It’s not like I’m going to miss it that much.. There’s another Barnes & Noble on 82nd and Broadway.”

At Bookstore, Even Non-Buyers Regret Its End [NY Times]

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