Talking Chain Stores & Big Boxes

Let’s talk about chain stores & big box stores. Let’s begin with a bunch of questions for thought about the location of chains & big boxes.

Chain establishments are sometimes inevitable. We all know that. We see that as we travel the country (and world). And most of us cannot avoid chains completely. (If you do, please share your secrets). When we accept that fact on some level, we are left with the next step: how to make chain stores work with our communities, specifically the built environment.

Remember this Dollar General found in historic Fair Haven, VT? Would you shop here? Why or why not?

Maybe proper location is one answer. That goes hand-in-hand with proper zoning and a community master plan. Does the location of a chain store or big box store matter to you? In other words, if you do shop or eat at chain establishments (and most of us do, however infrequently), are you more likely to patronize one in a downtown/village/neighborhood setting or one in a strip mall or in its own structure? And are you more likely to be a customer if you feel the building fits with the built environment? Or less likely if you find the building to be intrusive and inappropriate?

Smaller chains might be a better example for this question, those such as Starbucks or Subway or hardware stores like Ace or Aubuchon. If you see one of those businesses in a downtown, would you be inclined to shop there? Are you then more likely to ease up a bit and shop at one that is outside of downtown or in a less than ideal location?

Do you have a pet peeve for a particular chain? For instance, I am perturbed entirely when giant drug stores insist on having their own building and parking lots. If you have a particular big box that you always avoid, at what lengths do you have to go to do so?

If you’d like to contribute to this discussion, one question or all, please answer in the comments.

Chains that Change?

Chain stores. Big box retailers. Corporate America. Capitalistic society.  Independently owned. Mom & Pop. Local business. Local economy. Small scale.

All businesses started small at some point. Right? And some just kept growing. Or some went too far. Yes? No?  We could debate the American economy and society all day long, as well as the pros/cons, and roots of all large businesses. (Feel free to start the debate in the comment section if you’re up for tangents. I’ve written about big boxes here and here, among other times.) Instead, let’s think in reverse.

Have you noticed any big box chains giving back to “their” communities? You can usually find a business donating money/supplies/food to a fundraising or community event. That’s normal. It’s good PR, tax write-offs and just a good thing to do. (People are genuinely good, I like to believe. And, for the record, when I mention that big boxes are evil I am referring to the system of big box retailers and the negative effects it has on the core of communities where something existed prior.) Back to the point. Big box corporations help out communities in some ways, it seems.

However, more often than not  you can find that big box retailers often try to replicate the local, independent business –  in subtle aesthetic references and connotations such as calling the food section a “market.” These companies have long ago recognized the value of small scale operations in feeling, only they wanted to create a monopoly of sorts. 

Yet, why should one business offer every service or every product? Granted, this type of consolidation goes way back. Sears & Roebuck is probably familiar to most of us, but it has happened in all generations on varying levels.

Drug stores are an example of a ubiquitous big box store; if you don’t have a CVS or Rite Aid, you probably have Walgreens or Kinney Drugs — or all four of them. Modern drug stores have wiped out local pharmacies in most towns and cities. You can even buy food in the drug store, toys, etc.  With flu season approaching, you may have heard drug stores advertising offers for flu shots, saving you a trip a doctor. Vinny brought this to my attention the other day after hearing it on the news – drug stores are attempting to be seen as “health centers.”  (Oddly enough, these “health centers” are the same drug stores selling junk food.) This is taking business away from an unexpected source – actual doctors and physicians.

Retailers snagging business from non-retail businesses? That is a new level of “Corporate America” complications. Obviously, drug stores are not going to put doctors out of business; but I would imagine that small things like flu shots add to their revenue. I don’t know the economy of the health care world enough to actually comment; but, I will say that when one business sector attempts to control too much of the market share, no good can come of it.

So, I wonder, if chains are doing more to help the community, is it just for business purposes or are they actually trying to be a part of the community. Do you know what I mean? It is sincere or is it business strategy only?

Should chains be changing? Say a drug store chain decided that it wanted to be more like a pharmacy or a health center and less like a mini superstore, would you choose that chain over another?  What if a chain decided to stop building ridiculously large, brand new stores and chose to integrate downtown. Would business practices pertaining to sales or business practices pertaining siting and location matter more to you? They are here to stay, as history indicates, so what can we do to make the economy of chains and local businesses symbiotic?

I have never liked chain drug stores, mostly because every store seems to be one of the large rectangles with giant facades along the highway. I suppose I will not like them unless the entire business policies change: location, products and services. How likely is that?