Sunday, August 04, 2002

on 8/4/02 6:02 AM, Nan wrote:

> "In fact, it's safe to say that we've become a nation bound by the
> familiar. Which is one of the reasons chains do so well here and mom and
> pop stores are being inched out."
> This is so true! I have been trying to put my finger on this for a while,
> but you said it. ...

Well, thanks, but, actually, I didn't say it. That blog entry was quoted from the GET PUBLISHED! e-newsletter put together by Penny Sansevieri. My reaction was pretty much the same as yours, however, which is why I posted it here.

The thing is, being "bound by the familiar" is not necessarily a bad thing. The familiar is comfortable and reassuring. The problem is that what's familiar to one of us shouldn't be what's familiar to all.

Leslie and I avoid chains (particularly food-wise) as much as possible, yet we are "bound by the familiar." When we get our weekly dose of BBQ, we stay away from Tony Roma's and head to a little, local, very unique place called The Cats. At The Cats they've got fresh meat on an open fire, live blues, a well-stocked bar, and they great me by name when I walk in the door.

When we go for a weekend brunch, there's no way you'll get us into a Denny's. Instead we head to the Los Gatos Cafe, with omelets as big as your head, the best home-made herbed-potatoes, and when we miss a week, the next week they ask if we were sick or if we managed to get out of town for the weekend.

Having our "regular spots" where we're well known to the staff is a wonderful comfort, and very familiar. We also get better food and better service than we'd find in any chain restaurant.

When we head out of town for a getaway, we seek out local flavor as much as possible. Why eat chain food on vacation? I can get Red Lobster or Chevy's without paying for a hotel and airfare. When I visit a new city, I want to experience that city.

The trouble, I suppose, is that the public commons is no longer that little park where we all go for our evening walk; it's the television set. Our neighborhoods no longer each have their own general stores where we can get the word-of-mouth on what's new locally; economic forces and our growing fear of being in outside in public have forced us into shopping malls, where the higher rents keep Mom & Pop operations out.

But as much as the quest for the familiar sends us to these national brands that we can find anywhere in America (or the world, for that matter), there's still a strong desire in each of us to return to the local community commons. Witness MCI's "The Neighborhood" or AT&T telling us to "get an mLife." Major breweries are coming out with beers pretending to be micro-brews.

That mass-produced warm, cuddly feeling of community can only go so far, however. Maybe it will re-kindle our need for the local in a way that will allow us to leave the mall, if we all hold hands and walk through the double automatic doors together.

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