A.J.'s recent post about the dreary state of hardware stores touched a nerve for me. I've been ranting about the demise of small business for years now as I see one after another bulldozed into oblivion by the "big box" mentality.
I have two main concerns (outside of the destruction of the small business economic base). The first is the loss of diversity. It seems like, no matter what store you pick, no matter what the store calls itself, it will pretty much have the exact same stuff on the shelves as the last one you went into. There is no chance of stumbling across something unique. It's like going into a fast food franchise restaurant (an oxymoron to be sure). The ones in New York City have exactly the same "menu" as the ones in Dallas. You will never see anything different.
The other thing that I really miss about the "big box" stores is Homer. Homer was a guy who worked in the hardware store in the town where my shop is. He was almost 90 when they were shoved off the table by the last straw blow of a third "big box" hardware store opening up in the town. Homer went to work there when he was 16 and he knew where every speck of dust in that store was. He knew hardware like no one else I've ever known. What a contrast to the well intentioned young man who greets me with a huge grin that quickly morphs into a look of puzzled confusion the minute I ask him for something Homer probably would have had right there in his pocket.
I used to work on old cars and that meant lots of hours spent in junkyards. There was this guy everyone called Stringbean. Yes, tall and skinny, dressed in grease stained coveralls and rarely speaking more than a word or two. We were convinced that Stringbean was physic or had some trick because no matter what tool you asked him for, it was always right there in his front pocket. He never had more than one tool in that pocket but it was always the one you needed. These days, you can't even find a good junkyard, much less a Homer or a Stringbean. What a loss ...