Friday, July 1, 2011

A meaningless phrase.

The phrase I'm tempted to use, hell, I DO use all the time is, "You'll miss us when we're gone."

I usually elaborate. "You don't think so right now, but later you will. In ways you haven't even considered."

While true, it's a pretty meaningless phrase.

And one in which every threatened industry can indulge.

I just read a story about newspapers that used those exact words. And -- it washed right over me.

For one thing, what can I do about it? I do buy the Bulletin and the Sunday New York Times, but a paper I used to buy every day, I now read online: U.S.A. Today. Part of me says, "Well, they'll just have to figure out ways to survive..."

It's so easy to get caught up in your own industry, that you forget that other businesses are even more threatened.

For instance, I had a German tourist in who was looking for a camera shop because he needed his camera fixed.

"There is no camera shop downtown," I said. "But you know what? Camera shops used to survive by not only fixing cameras, but also by selling cameras and film and processing the film and accessories. But you don't MISS the camera shop until you need your camera fixed."

Like I said, I still believe that people will miss the brick and mortar stores, but I understand that
saying so makes absolutely no difference. Appealing to people to buy local and support their small town stores works with some people, but not all people.

The problem is the 20% of people who are simply going to leave without looking back. (I'm making up the 20% -- it could be 10% or 50%, more likely the latter than the former....)
A simple question: Can you do as good a job with 20% less revenue? Well, neither can most stores. And of course, that just creates a downward spiral.

I'm very aware of all this, and have found a bunch of ways around the problems, but ultimately the problems will get too big for most stores. So, for instance, one of the ways you'll miss us when we're gone is that you'll have a bunch of decaying storefronts everywhere, right? I guess we can turn them all into parks, right?

It's not going to happen all at once, but I'm glad I'm nearer the end of my career than the beginning, because it's going to get real challenging for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

I know that a lot of people are going to say, "Why not go online and also run a brick and mortar?"

But if the online part of the business is what makes you viable, and the brick and mortar requires that you be there every day paying rent and employees and overhead -- why bother? Just go online.

There will always be the exceptional people -- who are smarter, work harder, and are just more talented than your average person. They'll create exciting storefronts (at least until they burn out being "harder worker"s) and it will seem all is well. But the exceptions don't prove the rule.

I'm thinking boutique businesses, who depend on shopping browsers, in high rent districts, may survive -- as well as low rent, extremely thrifty stores. It's the middle that will disappear.
By the way, that first description describes downtown, and I think it's no accident that downtown Bend has managed to keep up appearances.

I'm sure something will fill the hole. Service businesses, who need actual people to accomplish the services, seem to do better in this new world. They can expand into areas that were once retail oriented. Secondary stores -- who take all the mass of material that is sold online and in mass market stores -- and repackage it, will probably take the place of stores that used to buy new material.

I'm not sure a world of high end boutiques and thrift stores is exactly healthy, but we're well on our way. There is nothing that can or should stop it. And saying, "You'll miss us when we're gone" is as useless as saying, "Gosh, I really miss the old A.M. radio stations playing the Doors, and my bell-bottoms, and all those headshops."

NOTE: I should always add when I write a blog like this -- we're not going anywhere. Both Linda and my stores are doing just fine, thank you very much.


Duncan McGeary said...


Wall Street Journal currently has an article entitles: "Cherish the Book Publishers--You'll Miss Them When They're Gone."

Anonymous said...

I would rather sit at the toilet with a book than a 'pad' ..

Most funny is all these 'heat pads' is sterilizing the young.

Personally I will never give up print, because I love to highlight with those flourescent markers, and make notes in books.

But I do agree that book shops like duncs will be like 'vinyl lp' shops in pdx, ... just something rare for the odd-bird who goes retro.

The good news is post-peak oil, everything will revert to the mean. Meaning of course deja-vu the return of the print, as the chinese had invented paper and printing 1,000's of years ago.

Anonymous said...


This comment
"I'm not sure a world of high end boutiques and thrift stores is exactly healthy, but we're well on our way."
Seems to be mirroring the way our national economy is going, so maybe the demise of the middle as you call it is just a reflection of the struggles of the middle class?

Anonymous said...

"Go where the money is ..."

In a town where ONLY the old have money.

You can assume to only find 'adult diaper stores'

Anything oldsters need like buffet's where they can see the food before they eat it, or order it, ...

Thrift stores for the young, so they can buy estate sales items of the dead, which Bend will create by the boatload.

Boutiques for the blue-hairs who only live to shop, of course virtually everyone will be chasing Bend's few blue-hairs with money, and that will be the chase to hell, because virtually every blue-hair in Bend, her self owns a boutique as well.

Then there is the wild card tourist, ... but in my mind a downtown biz is always about 'repeat customer', not the occasional idiot wandering through town.