I don't expect you to shed any tears because Aron's is gone.
Unless you grew up in L.A. as I did, you've probably never even heard of it. Aron's was this used record and CD store that I discovered 30 years ago. It was a quirky place, an audiophile heaven where there was never any telling what offbeat treasure you might find.
More to the point, it was "my" place, a store where I spent endless hours browsing for rarities and oddities you could never find elsewhere. To this day, no trip back to the city of L.A. is complete without an afternoon at Aron's.
Or at least, that used to be the case. Recently I read online in the L.A. Times that Aron's will soon be closing its doors.
The paper played it as a sign of hard times in the music industry, noting that the number of independent music stores has dropped by half in the last 10 years. But for my money, the demise of Aron's is symptomatic of something larger: Mom and Pop are dying. Or at least, starting to smell funny.
You remember Mom and Pop, right? Mr. and Mrs. Small Business? Used to own that diner down the street, that coffee shop around the corner, that record store across town? Used to run that bookstore with the long aisles of dusty paperbacks where you could while away a rainy afternoon browsing to your heart's content. They gave the neighborhood personality. They gave it soul.
Then somebody bought them out, knocked down the building and put up a Wal-Mart. Or a Starbucks. Or a box store with low prices, huge selection, and all the soul of tuna fish on white bread. And one by one those storied places, yours and mine, winked out of existence.
At this point, the Commerce Department would want me to remind you that the vast majority of businesses in this country are still small ones. Which is true, but also misleading. In 2002, the last year for which numbers are available, the Census Bureau reported that music stores racked up $7.2 billion in sales. Of that, just under $5 billion, roughly 70 percent, was generated by only seven chains, each employing a thousand people or more. In 1992, by contrast, big music stores accounted for "only" 60 percent of the market.
Similarly, general interest bookstores reported sales of almost $9.5 billion in 2002, roughly 80 percent of which was generated by four large chains. In '92, the mega chains accounted for less than half the bookstore market.
The big are eating the small. Indeed, ask Bob Perry of Blue Note Records in North Miami Beach what business is like for independent music sellers like him and the first word out of his mouth is, "Sucks."
"It's very, very bad," he adds. Perry says his store thrives only because he's diversified: he sells posters, memorabilia and does Internet auctions.
This is not the business page, I know. But this lament is not for lost business. Rather, it's for a loss of here's that word again soul. Meaning the things that once made our communities unique.
Drive across the country these days and "unique" is not a word that comes often to mind. Increasingly, Richmond could be Rochester could be Dayton could be Duluth. We shop at cookie-cutter stores in cookie-cutter malls and eat at cookie-cutter restaurants, not because the food is special but because it is familiar.
A former colleague called it the Wal-Martification of America. It's as good a term as any for the process by which we become uniform. And regionalisms that thing they say only in Cincy, that funky bookstore in lower Manhattan, that dish you can get only in that little dive in Jackson become fewer and further between.
Progress is inexorable, so I suppose there's nothing to do but wave Mom and Pop goodbye and mourn what they represent, a world before Velcro and digital clocks where families watched TV together and neighbors knew one another by name.
Not to sentimentalize. Time passes, yes. Things change.
But man, Aron's was my place. And I'm sorry, but Amazon.com just ain't the same.