Monday, June 21, 2010

I Love Chains (and so does Meg Ryan)

For those of you paying attention to my intro, you noticed I only wear "Biz Cazh" six days a week. Saturday being a day full of sporting events and super-casual clothes, it's a bit of an orphan. It might take me a little while to figure out what I'm going to do with Saturdays, but since I'm behind this week anyway, I guess it doesn't really matter.

Last night (Saturday), my mom, sisters, and I watched You've Got Mail. While it's hard to find a chick flick I don't like, You've Got Mail comes dangerously close. The first is the technically-not-wrong-but-mildly-redundant-and-very-informal-title, which (if it hadn't been for AOL popularizing the phrase) could simply read: You have mail. Stylebook preferences aside, what really bothers me is that the movie can't get to Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks falling in love, because it keeps getting interrupted by anti-chain-store rants.

Going to school in Manhattan, I hear my fair share of this drabble - the importance of "buying local," supporting boutiques and start-up stores, the need for "character" in a neighborhood, the evils of suburbia, and on and on. Of course these little shops are adorable - the problem is, they charge a steep premium for charm, when convenience tends to be the non-tangible good of choice.

Certainly I love going to a little bakery decorated like something out of Anne of Green Gables, but most of the time I'm just looking for something to feed my sweet tooth quickly so I can get back to homework. If I want an experience, I'm probably not going to head to Starbucks - but if I have a friend in crisis mode, I'm not going to make her walk a mile to get her a cuter scone to cry over.

Magnolia Bakery is a favorite in Manhattan - from college students like myself to tourists who saw it in an SNL Digital Short, it seems that Magnolia has a recipe for success (I couldn't help the bad pun). With popularity came multiple locations - technically making them a chain. (OK, it's not Wikipedia and it's not a multivolume tome - cut me some slack on sources, please!) defines a chain store as consisting of "two or more retail outlets, operated by the same company, which sell the same kind of merchandise." So anything with two or more locations is a chain and is (according to the writers of You've Got Mail) evil.

In other words, as soon as a sweet, charming place like Magnolia is busy or popular enough to need a second location, it goes from adorable, authentic, and neighborhood-oriented to one of the most atrocious aspects of modern life. While I'm sure these well-meaning people would prefer having a four-location chain like Magnolia (although they are about to open an L.A. store, which will send them into the next category of maleficence - a national chain) to a megastore like Target or Wal-Mart, or national brand like Dairy Queen, they have still turned on a former friend.

Magnolia tarted with one location in Manhattan, grew to four, and are now expanding to a national market. Assuming their popularity continues, we could have a Magnolia in every major city in the US - or if they expand to an online store, perhaps you could have Magnolia on demand anywhere in the world (plus shipping and handling, of course). Can you imagine it? Delicious red velvet cupcakes whenever you wanted? The horror!

Chain stores are success stories - they are business models that worked, were well-received, and duplicated. Hating chain stores and calling for their demise raises interesting questions - few would say that Magnolia is at the same repugnant level as something like Dairy Queen, but where does the difference lie? The number of stores? That's arbitrary. Are 200 locations really worse than two? The length of time they've been around? Also arbitrary. An established store like Macy's versus something newer like Kohl's? How they treat animals/the environment/other politically-loaded pet causes? If one store treats them well, why not have six stores treating them well? If one store treats them badly, it seems they have bigger problems than becoming a chain. In other words, there is an arbitrary "success-level" that sends a provider of goods and services from the realm of "we're so proud of you" to "we'll picket you until you die." We see this in tax brackets as well - the more successful you are, the bigger piece of your pie the government wants. This helps (among other things) disincentivize doing well - which makes less sense than dressing like Lady Gaga to be inconspicuous.

As long as everyone plays by the rules, you can't cry foul when someone wins the game. It seems that (despite loads of left-leaning preaching) the writers of You've Got Mail eventually understand this. In the end, Meg Ryan's cute bookshop goes under thanks to Tom Hanks's Barnes-&-Noble-type megastore, allowing Meg Ryan to explore new, better career paths and fall in love with Tom Hanks without feeling like she's betraying her hatred of chain stores. Although, who can blame her? She met him over dial-up. If painfully-slow internet connections can't bring people together over chain store disagreements, what can?

I thought of all this in:
Bright, multi-colored plaid shorts (not bermuda-length), a pale green empire-waisted spaghetti-strap cotton top, white beaded hanging hoop earrings, and black flip-flops.


  1. Thank you for justifying my passionate dislike of that movie! Tom Hanks was fine, Meg Ryan... is not.

  2. Any time! I think we're going to be friends. :)