Years ago I often joined a co-worker who drove into Wilmington on his lunch hour mostly just to browse around the stores. His favorite, and mine, was an art and drafting supply store that had all sorts of specialized items we saw nowhere else. I still have a Koh-I-Noor Technical Fountain Pen from there that uses India ink. Of course I don’t use it anymore, but I like to look at it now and then.
Many people enjoyed city life for just such a reason—access to specialty stores that did not exist in the suburban shopping districts. Supply stores for unusual hobbies, and particularly specialty bookstores, earned city residents the reputation of being more sophisticated than suburbanites. The big draw for many of my early trips into Philadelphia was Williams, Brown & Earl, a Chestnut Street store that sold optical items such as telescopes and binoculars, and the Arthur Thomas showroom of laboratory supplies. Later, I was drawn to The Print Shop and the Peasant Shop (where my purchases of Georg Jensen jewelry impressed my future wife) near Rittenhouse Square.
The next stage in retailing was the growth of suburban superstores that expanded on the city specialty stores. The first one that blew me away was an Office Max in Pompano Beach, Florida. That had everything I remembered from the old art and drafting supply store in downtown Wilmington, and more. Maybe one would come to my area someday. Of course it did, and so did many others. We now have the usual compliment of Staples, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond, Dick’s, etc.
Some of these familiar superstores are in trouble as the Internet eats their lunch—the third stage of retailing. I don’t have to travel to the University of Penn bookstore to find a book on Sumerian culture. I don’t even have to drive 10 minutes to our local Barnes & Noble. Like everyone else, I log onto Amazon where a search on any subject turns up a dozen books, all with customer ratings and comments.
And this works for anything: shoes, jackets, or jewelry. I can still get Georg Jensen jewelry, but now directly from their website rather than traveling to their Chicago store.