Do "Big Box" Retailers Harm the Quality of Life?
By Russ Roberts
Near where I live is a charming little stretch of shops called "the Loop" that caters to students and the university community. There are bars and restaurants and a gorgeous restored movie theater from the 1920s and a bike shop and a juice bar and a used book store and a vintage clothing store and a used CD store and you get the idea. In many ways, it's much nicer than it was when I moved here a dozen years ago. The stores are a little more upscale and everything is cleaner and nicer as older buildings have been renovated.
The Loop is about a ten-minute walk from my house. We love being able to walk there and we're happy it's nicer than it was when we first arrived. But in another dimension, the Loop is not as nice. Two wonderful stores have gone out of business and have not been replaced: a lovely independent bookstore called Paul's Books, and Smith Hardware, one of those phenomenal hardware stores where the owner and his daughter knew everything from bird seed to PVC pipe. Paradoxically, the best way to describe Smith Hardware is the smell. You can't convey smell in print or online, but it doesn't matter. You know what a hardware store like Smith Hardware smells like. It's that mix of mulch, bug spray, and who knows what else.
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