My new office is in Framingham, and it’s surrounded by big box stores. Coming in, I pass a financial services complex and a big box mall on my left, and a big box strip on my right. Just past my office is a big box grocery store (the “super” version of Stop and Shop). In a two mile radius can be found Office Max, Office Depot, Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, Target, Macy’s, Filene’s Basement, Best Buy, Tweeter, Comp USA, BJ’s wholesale club, and Old Navy, among many others, plus an assortment of supporting stores like Panera and Starbucks that seem to accompany the big boxes like birds picking insects out of a crocodile’s mouth.
Is it odd that I feel a sort of relief in the litany above? These are stores that can be found next to most white collar office parks. They were in Fairfax and in Redmond (or Bellevue), and tend to show up near most of the places I have traveled on business. Their purpose in life seems to be to place everything within reach that you might need to pick up on your lunch hour or on your way home from work. At this job they are very good. Big box stores are a little like APIs for office worker shopping; they make it easy and simple to accomplish known tasks and are present wherever you go.
Of course, that is their downside as well. There are no surprises with big box stores, only the same things you can buy everywhere else. And there is a terrible cost—in wasted space, in environmental impact (you need an SUV to take home all your big big purchases!), in health (have you ever eaten in the restaurants that cluster next to big boxes? They should all have standard defibrillators to go with the hubcap sized plates), in soul.
But oh, the convenience.