A general store is a wonderful concept where a merchant would enable people to have items of nearly any kind shipped to a single location, convenient to a town square. The idea is simple: the postal service, parcel services, and general shipping would all come to the general store where the customer could freely shop and even order things from any supplier, provided the merchant had the catalogue.
Naturally, in this era of fascination with steampunk and other modern interpretations of Victorian/Edwardian culture, some of us are bound to get an idea like this buzzing in our heads. Add that to developments in New Urbanism culture, and one has to ask why are there so few general town markets?
The Social Benefit of Community Shopping
In all honesty, I have the privilege of being close to a corner market which supplies all my needs, is locally owned, and owned by people who are fantastic and even know my name. It shouldn’t be a novelty though.
With the advent of instantaneous communication and procurement of products from nearly anywhere, the internet age has a few limitations, mostly that are detrimental to the social aspects of person-to-person contact. So, how does one manage these impacts, use good technology, and still go to their corner market? I’m not completely sure, but I do have an idea:
Re-invent the General Store
The general store of the future would be stocked with all kinds of normal goods which you’d expect to find, and would even have a small warehouse full of “one of everything”, just in case someone needs it (all digitally catalogued and searchable online). This general store sets up an agreement with Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Ponoko, and other online retailers, enabling them to have cheaper shipping by shipping in bulk to a central location. Then, you can choose a cheaper shipping option on any one of these sites so that the product you wish to purchase is available either immediately (in stock) or within a day or two (better than 3 to 5 business days).
The added benefit over heading to a big box chain is that these operations would be small, serving the needs of local communities, employing local people, and would enable you the customer to have a more intimate experience with the proprietor and even social opportunities as your neighbors also stop in to pick up their needs. Making this primarily a pedestrian-accessible business would also enhance the image of the community and the overall social atmosphere of the neighborhood in which it exists.
The big road block I have here is how to make this community-participation driven…
Perhaps the general store would have built in a coffee shop or library or bookstore or some other social infrastructure that would act as a platform for community idea sharing and involvement. Perhaps it could function as a co-op where use requires service in the running of day-to-day operations, or something like that. Another cool idea would be to enable in-kind trading, effectively reviving the concept of the trading-post. This would allow people to purchase goods of a specific intrinsic value with goods of another intrinsic value, etc, etc.
Now it’s your turn! If you have any ideas on how to improve the social aspects of trade and markets, send in a comment and get ideas flowing.