One of the reason small towns are struggling has been America's love affair with chain stores. While widely derided by cultural critics and generally condemned as cookie-cutter retailing, they also obviously fill some retail need.
You can show people pictures of a Pottery Barn with nothing but the name changed, he says, and they’ll love the store. So downtown stores stay empty, or sell low-value tourist items like candles and kites, while the chains open on the edge of town. In the name of urbanism, officials and activists in cities like Ann Arbor and Fort Collins, Colorado, are driving business to the suburbs. “If people like shopping at the Banana Republic or the Gap, if that’s your market—or Payless Shoes—why not?” says an exasperated Gibbs. “Why not sell the goods and services people want?” [More]Like the idea of sprawl representing the dream of owning a house, chain stores exist because we want variety and value where we live, not just where others live. And big-box retailing may actually make the pie bigger for local businesses.
My theory is chain stores likely have a shorter business half-life than one-off establishments simply because the ubiquity will over time make them unfashionable - even lame. The Gap is struggling with this curse right now.
In other words, if we let them consumers will solve this problem with free choices.