Starting now, I am going to start reviewing a particular kind of local San Diego small business. It is the kind of business that embodies what small business is all about. It is pretty much the opposite of large businesses. A little dusty, a little cluttered, but offering a visceral social experience; standing in opposition to the stark facelessness of 'shopping'. What sets these businesses apart?
The first thing that comes to mind is service. The kind of businesses that I'm talking about invariably offer the best service around. However, it is important to remember that corporate chains and big-box stores have almost completely perverted the meaning of the word "service" in this context in many people's minds. Real service means knowing your products or services, relaying that information honestly and in a way that is relevant to your customer's needs, and to the best of your ability, getting the product that best serves the customer's needs into his hands. A secondary aspect of quality service is providing the customer with a memorable, interesting, entertaining, or stimulating experience that transcends "shopping" - building community and strengthening social awareness among those you interact with.
Corporate stores have totally abandoned this service paradigm, and replaced it with one that is not only inadequate, it is ultimately harmful to society in general. They have sold not only themselves, but the society at large on the mantra of "the customer is always right". They are interested only in keeping you calm, focused on acquisition, and out the door with as little money left as possible. Not only does this service paradigm shortchange the customer by overcharging him for shoddy products and encouraging pacification of the customer on the part of salespeople rather than legitimate "help" and personalization of service, but it fosters in the public a sense of entitlement and resentment, even distrust of real social interaction.
When a customer breaks a product through misuse, they return it to the store demanding a refund, knowing they will receive it. They see the people they do business with as less than human: machines there to serve them. They know that if they yell enough and make a scene they will get their way. By training people to behave this way in one type of social interaction, we are teaching them that it is an acceptable way to deal with people. Throughout human history, going to market has been one of the primary defining social experiences.
When I go into a shop, and they remember what I like, have what I need, or know where I can find it, I go back. Almost religiously. I suppose some people don't want that kind of market experience. Certainly, Wal-Mart is doing well enough. But for those people who do, I feel like I should make my knowledge and impressions available to people who wish to patronize this type of establishment.
Likewise, if you know of a business in San Diego that fits this paradigm, please let me know. I am always on the lookout for small, respectable businesses to take the place of the Targets and McDonalds' in my life, and if I like it, I'll review it here on the site.