Amazon’s Showroom: Barnes & Noble

Funny, but this book is out of print!

I recently published an article for the Stationers Guild describing how changes in consumer behavior are radically changing the nature of our towns and cities.  Clearly, there is more at play than consumer spending patterns as other factors such as urban sprawl, declining education standards, antiquated planning and zoning regulations and the costs of maintaining a deteriorating infrastructure are finally beginning to catch up with an economy that is simply not growing fast enough to maintain it.

These changes – some for the good and some whose consequences have yet to be manifest – are occurring so quickly and with so little time for reflection that it is a bit frightening.   As some of Gourmay’s readers are aware, I have served for the last couple of years on a committee to study and recommend action to improve the town of Greenwich’s (CT) long-term transportation planning.    This has been a useful experience to work with concerned citizens to address some of the complex issues and conflicting demands that affect effective town planning.

While this has been a rewarding and educational two-years, I come away from the process with the sickening feeling that planning and zoning for our town and, perhaps, many other towns is based on a framework to accommodate the automobile and not people.  This 70s planning framework is simply out of date and, town leaders seem incapable of recognizing the new “realities” and change direction.  It is a tragic mistake and one that will have serious consequences for many generations to come.  In any event, please find below “food for thought” rather than a recipe for urban planning.

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As most people are aware, I do try to remain upbeat for the stationery industry and local business in general, but the drumbeat of Armageddon beats louder than ever.  Yesterday,  CNBC’s “Mad Money” Jim Cramer stated that Barnes and Noble was simply a showroom for Amazon; and that food stalwarts like McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks and Domino pizza were core assets in one’s stock portfolio.  Personally, I think listening to Cramer would drive me crazy in a couple of hours, but he is smart and, if you buy into the theory that the stock market is a leading indicator of the future, then it just might be a wise idea to follow his advice.   But, then again, if you follow his advice to its logical conclusion then both you and I will either be eating at McDonald’s, working there or, quite possibly both.

If Jim Cramer is right, then mom and pop retailing is dead.  The small businesses that were so integral to our communities across the United States will simply fade into oblivion since there is no economic incentive to become a “showroom” for Amazon or the growing number of vendors who find it easier to connect with the consumer directly through their online store.  There are many who do not think this will occur, but  sadly, I am not among them.   Americans tend to be oblivious to the impact of their purchasing decisions and, quite frankly, it is probably far too late to reverse course once our small towns and communities are decimated by the “convenience” of shopping online.

Just yesterday, a woman walked into our store and said “I’m so happy you are still around with the number of stores closing in Greenwich.  You know, I occasionally shop locally to make sure that a few stores are still around so I can actually see what I am buying online.”    Mind you, she is not the only one who is oblivious to the impact of these seemingly insignificant one-off purchasing decisions that are radically changing our communities and way of life.  For instance, a friend of ours who loves books was touting his new Kindle until I pointed out to him that Kindles would be the death of Borders, Barnes and Noble and hundreds of book shops that he frequented over the weekend.  He argued that they would co-exist “in some form or other.”   How wrong can you be.  I’d keep a eye on the libraries and the local Post Office to see what happens over the next several years.

Let it be said, that when  ETs pick over the remnants of our civilization I would hate for them to conclude that we simply ate ourselves to death in fast-food  restaurants and simply washed down our civilization with a Venti Latte.  I would prefer to think that the Pietà,  the Gutenberg Bible and Shakespeare’s plays still have relevance in today’s society, but I am not sure.

Now some will argue that I am a Luddite and don’t embrace change.  Quite the contrary, I grimly tolerate change – both good and bad – but I don’t think our Towns and the guy in the street fully comprehend what is going on in our rewired society.  In fact, I would argue that this “change” in the way we interact with each other is what these worldwide protests are all about:  a sense of powerlessness to affect the changes that are radically transforming our communities and way of life.

Our towns and communities are at the core of these changes and, if you would like to learn more, I suggest that you visit Strong Towns.org and take action in your community before it is too late.  Watch the informative 15-minute video by Chuck Marohn and, if you would like to see what you can do to play a more active role in your community, download the free Fireside Chat.

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

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