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I was very surprised on my recent trip to New York City to observe how rarely I came across chain stores (except for of course in the very occasional "mall" and the high end chain stores around 5th Ave). The city is not set up for strip malls (a west coast staple) and I noted only one (ONE?!) Gap during my week long trip and didn't spy a single supermarket.
This observation paired with the knowledge that NYC is home of many flagships; is generally known as one of the top shopping cities in the US and is the most densely populated city in the US got me thinking - is this a independent retailing mecca or are chain stores just well hidden?! In chatting with a few locals it was a point of pride that there were majorly independent retail locations and grocery stores, many are greatly concerned that retail giants will continue to box out mom and pop shops.
As the top vacation destination for Americans and one of the top vacation destinations for explorers across the globe an interesting point is - tourist shopping. Tourist shopping as opposed to local shopping: to an American, New York symbolizes something very different from the international travelers. To an international traveler NYC=USA, items purchased from chain stores (many, including Express have been popping up at Time Square) are going to become a souvenir to the international traveler.
I decided to do a little bit of research to see how the actual numbers came out. New York City (the 5 boroughs) boasts a total of 3 Walmarts for their 8.2 million population vs 20 Walmarts for the greater Los Angeles' 9.9 million inhabitants. To put that into perspective, 2.2 million people live in Portland and they have 14 Walmarts. Regarding Gap, there were comparatively as many Gap stores per capita as in Los Angeles.
Target has 4 locations in the 5 boroughs of New York vs over 50 in Los Angeles County. When Target finally opened a store in Manhattan (Bronx) it was an exciting addition to the island and many locals remembered it clearly.
For a resident of NY the small market on the corner of the street that has all of the basic staples they may need (soaps, milk, Bandaids) and will charge more than Target but be far more convenient. The battle of convenience and service will continue to play out with the local residents.
Additionally, the largest chains in NYC are Dunkin Donuts and Subway. Starbucks comes in #1 on the island but #5 out of all boroughs.
It appears that NY independent retailers are competing against large chain stores just as much as the rest of the US, it just appears that the fight against big box giants is also being fought by the local communities. Whereas resident West Coasters have long since become used to going to their local Target for bleach and Gap or Nordstrom for a new pair of jeans. Speaking of Nordstrom, there is one for all of the NYC boroughs vs 10 in the greater Los Angeles (3 are Nordstrom Rack).
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