By Richard Bleil
The problem with big mega super stores is that the myriad of choices within them are an illusion. Their goal is mass sales, and complete sales. Anything “left over” is written off as a loss, so, they stock their stores with the items that they believe you want, and that, frankly they will tell you that you want. But try to find something unusual or old-fashioned and outdated, and you’ll see how limited their selection truly is.
Today, I met a friend for lunch. We ate at a little overpriced place right next to a kind of strip mall. It’s set up like an outdoor strip mall, just one line of stores on a sidewalk, but the sidewalk was inside so it was kind of halfway between a mall and a strip.
In the center(ish) of this strip was a hobby store that has not paid me to advertise for them so I won’t mention their name, but, it is NOT the mega hobby store that is, frankly, just a department hobby store with no more choice than any other department store. No, this was a tiny little neighborhood store, with such a marvelous selection of new and old things that I adore.
Among the treasures, there were two telescopes, and a microscope. Although I have no children, I have often thought about what I would do if i had them. I decided long ago that I would want my children to have a very nice microscope, and a very nice telescope, just to expand their world a little bit. My friend pointed out to me that it wasn’t so much about their world, as sparking their love of science, and interest in the world around them. Let’s be real; most telescopes have enough magnification to make a tiny bright spot that is mercury a slightly larger bright spot that is mercury. Look as hard as you can, and you’ll never see the bases left behind by the Apollo lunar landers. But, focus in on a star with your children, and you can start talking about the fact that there are more stars in the sky than there are grains of sand on the earth, or find an amoeba in the microscope in a water sample and you can talk about the variety of types of life in the world.
They had so many paints available, and sold figurines for role-playing games, and models. In graduate school, in exchange for room and board, I watched my friends’ middle-aged son after school before they returned home. One year, I bought him his first model airplane. Little could I have guessed just how addicted he would become. He bought models constantly, primarily war equipment models, and began modifying them to include damage to create panoramic battle scenes.
The store was filled with games, rocket kits, remote controlled vehicles and planes, books, puzzles and even a few dolls, although, honestly, they did look out of place. Soldering kits, electrical components, multi meters, all kinds of things that made me want to beg them to take my money.
But the point is, this isn’t a mega nationwide superstore. It’s a small, neighborhood, fun ma and pop store. I urge my readers to take some time to walk into these stores, and discover the marvels within.
While we’re on the topic, I would like to make a prediction. See, I believe we will see a resurgence of these stores in the near future. I’ve watched the fall of them in the rise of the national mega stores, now those national megastores are falling because of online mega merchandise delivery companies. These online retailers can build huge warehouses, and are dramatically improving robotics to make the space ever more efficient. They not only hold a great variety of items that don’t sell well, but also work with independent vendors to offer out-of-stock and classic items that are rarely sought, but, since they are selling world-wide rather than just within one city, the demand will be higher. Add to this that the overhead is considerably less, mega department stores, who must pay employees even when sales are low, pay for space to display their merchandise, and pay for multiple locations, it’s no wonder that so many of these department stores are folding.
But, the reality is that people will always need to periodically go out for a quick purchase of certain items, and I’m guessing that we will always enjoy window shopping and just spending a day out. These smaller ma and pa stores have fewer employees, can specialize in their merchandise thereby requiring smaller stores, and offer distinct personality that is hard to find in large impersonal stores.
So have fun. Support your neighbors and neighborhoods, and make some marvelous discoveries. But don’t do it out of any obligation. Do it because it’s fun!