By Garland Pollard
There are a large number of helpful websites that detail retail history. While Wall Street has finally understood the dangers lurking in American retail, these websites have been detailing what has been happening, some of them for the last decade. Many of them also have ideas and answers and solutions, should the investor class take the time to look and think.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Society for Commercial Archaelogy: This is the Margate Elephant of organizations that has raised the importance of telling the story of roadside commercial history, from gas stations to local motels to national chains. They do important advocacy work; recently they helped save the Queens Pepsi neon spectacular sign, and have done this sort of thing hundreds of times across the nation. Founded by Chester Liebs in 1977, they have a strong relationship with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Smithsonian.
- Not Fooling Anybody: This is genius, a website about chain stores and their conversions into other uses. The “not foolin” part is that no matter what you do, you cannot erase the original mark of the chain store that was erected, no matter how hard you try. Oddly, as national chains have grown, they open up space for locals as margins deteriorate and the national tenants move on or disappear. Unfortunately, the national aspect of the design tends to imprison the local brand, and it is hard for local companies to break out. Its subtitle is “a chronicle of bad conversions and storefronts past.” The reality? A Fotomat is always a Fotomat.
- Groceteria: This is all about supermarkets and grocery stores. I have a special appreciation for it as they have a history of Colonial Stores, the Norfolk, Virginia chain that my great grandfather worked for. I also sort of am obsessed with grocery brands. Colonial was originally D.P. Pender and then became Colonial Stores and later Big Star. The site was put up by Greensboro, North Carolina historian, archivist and librarian David Gwynn.
- Deadmalls.com: Peter Blackbird, Brian Florence and Jack Thomas put this site up perhaps 15 years ago, and it is also on Facebook. They were the first ones to understand the value in these malls and also understand their lack of value, despite the protestations of un-imaginative commercial real estate brokers and investors.
- Sky City: A compendium of Southern and Mid-Atlantic retail history. This has lots of in depth information on small towns and lesser known chains. Emphasis on deep south, though some great discussions of places from my home state of Virginia, including Eastgate Mall in Henrico County. At right, the simple but handsome modern Patrick Henry Mall in Martinsville, Virginia.