Even if you're never been there, you've been there.

Always I've been a city boy, and everywhere I’ve lived there are mini-malls and maxi-malls where the same stores sell the same merchandise as anywhere else. Also everywhere I’ve lived, luckily, there are still some ‘cool areas’ with unique and interesting shops and restaurants.

In Seattle, it’s Pike Place Market or the U District. In San Francisco, it’s the Haight or the Mission.

Sure, there’s a McDonald’s down the block and a Starbucks at the corner, because this is America and big corporations own it.

But there are also little businesses where the worker who's answering your questions or taking your order doesn't hate every moment of being there and every customer who comes in. Where the person who says "Good morning" might own the place, or at least have met the person who does.

Imagine that — a store or an eatery owned by people.

Here in Madison, one of the cool areas is State Street, just west of downtown. My wife & I often had ‘dates on State', with no destination more specific than that. What restaurant we’d be eating at, what store we might wander through, hardly mattered — State Street itself was what drew us. Behind every door was someplace powered by the people inside.

It's “capitalism that doesn’t suck,” as opposed to the omnipresent capitalism that certainly does suck, which is Every Single Company so big that both you and I know its name. 

I still frequent State Street, and it's still small-scale, friendly, and mostly local, though I’m a little concerned that a Target just opened there. (I’m also concerned that, inexplicably, Associated Press sent a photographer to wander the aisles and take pictures … of a Target store? But that's a different rant for a different day.)

My wife & I lived in Kansas City for several years, and their version of a 'cool area' is called Country Club Plaza. Perhaps the name should’ve been a tip-off? It stretches across 10-12 city blocks, with local stores and restaurants, of course, and people told us that the Plaza used to be great. Sadly, though, it's now dominated by big-time chains and familiar brands.

On our first of not-many visits to the Plaza, we wandered inside a sprawling store stocked with knobs and knickknacks and household stuff for fancy households. Some of the merchandise was interesting, but all of it was startlingly expensive, the staff was icy cold, and the vibe was like being in a T-Mobile cell store. When we got home we Googled it, and yup, it wasn't a real shop; it was a nationwide chain, then called Restoration Hardware, but since rebranded as simply ‘RH’. And we hadn’t been in one of their stores, because they don’t have stores — they have ‘galleries’.

At Country Club Plaza, there's also an Apple store, Banana Republic, Coach, The North Face, Old Navy, Urban Outfitters, and Victoria’s Secret. You can eat at Brio Italian Grille, Cheesecake Factory, P F Chang’s, or Shake Shack. You've been to Country Club Plaza, if you've been in any of these chains' locations in Dubuque or Albuquerque, New York, L.A., or Chicago, or anywhere else. Even if you're never been there, you've been there.

That’s not what I’m looking for. 'Different' is preferable to 'the same', and I hope State Street stays different — mostly local, with real boutiques and barbers and bars and a hundred other storefronts where workers and customers the owners all live in the same town, and in the same reality — the owner isn't a billionaire. Probably isn't even a millionaire.

We’ve all heard the “buy local” mantra, and I'm not the right guy to repeat it, because I'm not all about incense and patchouli, recyclable bags, farm-to-table, or stickin' it to the man. Sometimes I've been seduced by the ease of Amazon.

I'm weaning myself from it, though, and my Prime membership lapses in a few weeks — woo-hoo! I unknowingly chipped in to pay for Jeff Bezos's last vacation in space, but his next rocket ride won't receive funding from me.

It's better, I think, to buy books and belt buckles from someone who's put time and thought into what they do — not from proprietary algorithms, or in a store owned by people who've never even been to that store.

Buying locally is part of living locally. It can be a little more expensive, but there are more important things than saving a dollar or two, and my city and yours would be a wasteland if those local stores weren’t there.



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  1. "omnipresent capitalism that certainly does suck, which is Every Single Company so big that both you and I know its name. "

    Beauty. It's the distance. If 2 ppl are in the same place then sure, you know the same companies, but if you're talking to someone a thousand miles away every time you mention any company you should have to explain what it is. The same companies in Californa and Maine? Absolutely ougght to be a violation of antitrust.

    1. Absolutely. I'd say go through the Yellow Pages, if there are still Yellow Pages, and break up any company that's listed in both the Milwaukee and Chicago books. Just for starters.


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