A recent newsstory in the St. Louis Post Dispatch relates how more and more American corporations are using what they call “localization” to customize their product mix, merchandising, pricing, and marketing to fit a specific neighborhood or area. Way back when in a land and time before Wal-Mart people did this on their own. We humans have always had a tendency to group things together, and the first retailers knew this. If you were a fishmonger you realized that people who lived near the sea ate a lot of fish and that’s where you had your stall. In my old neighborhood there were several small businesses that catered to specific needs. George’s grocery store was really not much more than a confectionary. The equivalence of today’s convenience store, it was where you went to get bread, candy, milk, and coffee. For more serious shopping you went to Maurer’s down the street with its rows and rows of canned goods and a meat counter in back. Once a week you went down to the Farmer’s Market (still popular) to get all of your fresh fruits and vegetables. The corner drug store had a soda fountain and magazines and they filled all of your prescriptions. For dry goods there was Leuben’s right up the street. If they didn’t have what you were looking for then a short bus ride to the Cherokee Street shopping district brought you to a JC Penny’s, a Woolworth’s and a Kresge’s. If it was Christmas time or you had a little extra money then you stayed on the bus until it got all the way downtown and stopped by the Famous Barr or Stix Baer and Fuller. I always equated the Famous Barr (which has now changed to Macy’s) as a sort of rich old uncle, not very fashionable, but his house was stuffed with a lot of toys. Stix, on the other hand, was like a spinster aunt, prim, proper, and very sparse.
Then along came Sears Roebuck and rode the exodus to the suburbs all the way to become the number one retailer in the world. Families were loyal to Sears. No longer did they have to go to several different stores to get what they wanted. Their tools, appliances, house wares, and clothing all came from the same place. Then Sears turned its back on its loyal base and tried to appeal to the slightly higher end. This allowed the deep discount department stores like Target, K Mart, and Wal-Mart to take over.
Today in the St. Louis area stores are getting away from the “one -size-fits-all” philosophy and going back to customizing to fit the neighborhood. Only now it’s all under one roof. My Shop and Save now has a large Hispanic and Bosnian section. If you shop at the Macy’s in the Galleria, you’ll find a different selection of clothes than at the one in working-class Crestwood. The Barnes and Noble there sells different books than the one in Ladue. The Wal-Mart in Chesterfield has a much larger electronics department than the one in Brentwood. Other Wal-Marts have tried to soften their lower class “cheap” image by carrying more expensive items without much success.
I realize that stores have to change to fit the ever-changing tastes of a fickle public and it’s nice to have a little ethnic diversity at the supermarket, but somehow it just feels a little like stereotyping. Why shouldn’t I be able to buy INC clothing at my local Macy’s if I live in Crestwood? Oh well, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ll just get on the bus and head downtown.