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Shopping for a Shop

In another time in America, food was purchased from small corner markets where the owners knew every shopper’s preferences, tastes and predilections and could look into a wicker basket of ingredients and give unfailing guidance on how to turn those simple items into a savory, satisfying meal. This was a time when shoppers’ purchases were driven not just by family traditions but also the wisdom and knowledge of purveyors who still held passionate opinions about food and its preparation.

Now consumers blindly throw boxes and cans of bland, processed comestibles into grand piano-size carts as quickly as they can race through the megamart. Should help be needed on how to cook polenta or how to prepare a certain cut of meat, God help ’em. The majority of supermarket employees today would not know polenta from oatmeal-the encyclopedic experience of yesterday’s shopkeepers, and their obvious devotion to good food and that intimate, personal service is long a thing of the past.

Unfortunately, by and large, most retailing has followed this trend of depersonalization: you buy tires from a warehouse, food from a warehouse, stereo equipment from a warehouse and CDs and books from a Web site.

Ever try to get into a meaty dialogue about late ’50s Coltrane or Tony Williams’ contribution to contemporary drumming with the shopping cart of an online CD seller? We used to have those afternoon-long chats in real record stores where clerks shared a passion for music and were generous with their time and opinions, often opening new windows on new players and recordings.

Now imagine assembling a dream stereo or home-theater system based on advice from a minimum wage “associate” whose last gig was at Burger King. Mention you want a system that will bring the most out of your old Blue Note collection and see where that gets you.

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