I admire fellow progressives with social media death wishes. In these politically correct times, it took some guts for Jim Scheppke to post this on the Salem City Council Facebook page, which leans decidedly liberal in its readership.
(Note: this page is just where City Council-related stuff is discussed; it has no official connection with the City Council.)
Most were along the lines of Amazon being a corporate devil that makes drivers piss in bottles while working warehouse employees to death and killing retail stores all across the United States.
Personally, I think this is an idea worth exploring, though it is a long shot.
I suspect that most of the people who commented on Scheppke's post hadn't read the Strong Towns story. Here's how the story starts out.
Last week brought the surprising news that Amazon intends to open a series of department stores. Yes, department stores. Remember those things?
CNN Business reports that a number of new Amazon retail stores, starting in Ohio and California, will operate much like department stores, selling clothing, household items, electronics, and other products, and facilitating returns and exchanges. Amazon will strongly emphasize its own private-label products, and these stores will occupy smaller footprints than conventional mall anchors: closer to 30,000 square feet than 100,000.
It seems counterintuitive that the mall killer, the company that brought on-demand, two-day delivery of nearly anything under the sun to millions of people, would follow in the footsteps of its vanquished enemies by opening brick-and-mortar stores. Department stores have long been a waning presence in U.S. retail, from 14.5% market share in 1985 to 2.9% today.
But there are clear reasons why Amazon sees this as a strategic move. And those reasons are worth understanding, even if you have no love lost for Amazon itself (and I think it's safe to say that here at Strong Towns, we don't).
Me, I'm a progressive who believes in strong towns also. But I'm perfectly willing to admit that unlike the Senior Editor for Strong Towns who wrote the story, I do love Amazon.
I've had Amazon Prime for as long as it was offered as a paid way to get free shipping on most Amazon purchases. Over the years I've used Amazon more and more. Now that Amazon has a warehouse in Salem, I'm thrilled when stuff I've ordered comes even faster.
It's just so damn convenient to buy from Amazon. Rather than drive all over town looking for an obscure item, I fire up Amazon on my laptop, search for the item, and bingo! -- it's in my hands in a couple of days.
So I probably wouldn't do much shopping at a physical Amazon store even if one were to be built in Salem one day. However, a lot of people do enjoy walking around a store. By and large they're called women. Thus since Amazon is going to be a major force for the foreseeable future, cities like Salem might as well embrace Amazon, warts and all.
The Strong Towns story says that Amazon isn't looking to put stores in existing malls, which usually are on the edge of a town. Instead, they want to locate them in areas with a lot of pedestrians. Downtown Salem might qualify.
Since an Amazon store would only be about 30,000 square feet, this would leave a lot of room in the JC Penney building for other uses like local shops. Having something occupy that building sure seems better than having it vacant.
Several commenters on the story noted that a large grocery store is needed downtown. One person suggested that Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, could occupy a floor of the JC Penney building.
Anyway, I'm glad Jim Scheppke raised this idea. Amazon has been successful because it is meeting the needs of both consumers and business owners. A great many small businesses sell on Amazon. They couldn't survive without Amazon. Sure, Amazon deserves much of the criticism directed at it.
But this shouldn't stop Salem's Urban Development Department from telling Amazon that the City of Salem is interested in exploring the possibility of having an Amazon store in the JC Penney building. Maybe a better use for the building will emerge.
Yet maybe one won't.