Corner Stores

The neighbours on California Street here in Palo Alto are fighting to keep their small, non-chain stores as rents go up and Starbucks moves in. Once, living here, I needed to buy a spool of thread and some needles and learned I would have to drive to Redwood City, 4 suburbs north, where there was a chain store for that. Just last week I ordered a three dollar packet of iron-on mending tape from Amazon Prime. Mending tape!

So now the Greeks are being ordered to modernise in ways that will replace the neighborhood bakeries with supermarket bread and the local pharmacy with a behemoth selling industrial quantities of halloween candy alongside the aspirin.  I see it all around me here, and maybe it's better for something but it's not so good for a whole lot of other things. You end up with streets that have all the personality of a shopping mall: CVS, Starbucks, Restoration Hardware, West Elm, Walgreens, and the Carpet Store that has been Going-Out-Of-Business for six years. A dozen absolutely uninviting chain restaurants. And I can see there are two sides to the Greek question, but do we really have to lose so much character to gain what? Bland efficiency? Economic viability? Something is wrong here somewhere.


Sure, I like one-stop shopping--I couldn't have managed otherwise when I was raising a family, but I also like the texture of, say, Paris streets, with one pharmacy every three or four blocks, and the pharmacist knows you, and if there's a line, well, it's a chance to talk to the person ahead or behind you, or eye the  display of magnifying mirrors.