Thursday, May 1, 2008
What’s an article from the libertarian “Reason” magazine doing reprinted in “Utne Reader,” an alt-left reader with a picture of Barack Obama on the cover this month? The reason is an essay by Michael C. Moynihan arguing that land use laws restricting big box retailers such as Wal-Mart are silly and unnecessary. The reason? Big boxes chains don’t know their clientele as well as local retailers, and many customers prefer the local touch and knowledge –- many of the same reasons touted for land use restrictions. Moynihan relates the success story of an indie music-and-sundries store that has outlasted big-box music retailers in Boston. Its secret? Tattooed employees (among other factors, I’m sure) that appeal to hip young Bostonians.
I’m not sure that Moynihan’s choice of music retailing is the best example (downloading and online shopping has all but killed off the industry entirely) but his larger point seems sound. He also relates the story of the fears back in the 1920s that big retailers such as Woolworth’s and A&P (young people: ask your grandparents about these) would kill off mom-and-pop stores, just as Wal-Mart-phobes do today. The lesson seems sound: If people want to shop at a big box, land use laws probably won’t do much good (they will simply drive till they find one) and those who prefer locally oriented stores will patronize them. And there always a lot in the later group, at least in certain places. So now we see why it’s in Utne …