Mostly gone, too, is record-company advertising. Before that business was disrupted, the labels would give record stores — remember them? — big bags of “co-op” money to advertise the new releases, and even reissues! Video stores — remember them? — were big advertisers, too. Amazon has helped to clean out whole categories of retailing that once advertised in alt-weeklies, such as electronics, books, music and cameras. Big-box stores have displaced many of the indie retailers that long provided advertising backbone. And while Hollywood still places ads, it’s nothing compared to the heyday. [...]
These retail shifts have made it harder for publishers to distribute their weeklies. Before Tower Records went under, a paper could drop thousands of copies a week at the store’s many locations, and the stacks would disappear in a day or two. The video stores that once distributed them? Gone. Borders Books? Gone.
This is part of a so-far-unsolvable problem. We know that urban life is becoming fashionable again, and cities like Boston can't build apartments fast enough to meet demand. But so many appealing aspects of living in a big city are becoming extinct, such as retail stores where people can browse, hang out while waiting to meet friends, and just kill time. Movie theaters are becoming sparse and expensive, diners are being replaced by more upscale eateries that can cover downtown rents, and both the police and neighborhood groups are ready to shut down any bar that gets too popular. Alternative journalism, which boosted urban arts and commerce as much as it made money off them, is another victim of a glossed-out city.
Is the convenience of the city and the selection at Whole Foods enough to justify living here? Are you happy having friends over to watch Netflix and admire the view from the balcony? Or do you feel there's something lacking in the commercial bustle and the street life of your city and neighborhood?
And if we can't get back the bookstores and repertory cinemas and the divey music clubs that advertised in papers like the Phoenix, can you think of anything to take their place? What would you financially support in terms of spaces that can house serendipitous city life?
Maybe Starbucks is enough. But I'm genuinely curious about the younger city dwellers that some of us write off as a lost cause, too absorbed in technology to even notice things disappearing around them. I'm not convinced that they're fine with what's going on.