Virtual economic reality



I may be overreacting a bit here, but a couple of events occurred last week that made me wonder about the future of brick and mortar stores.

I’m not referring to small businesses, but national chains.

Radio Shack and Staples both announced that they planned to close large numbers of their North American outlets. Radio Shack plans to close 20 percent of its total number of stores, while Staples plans to shutter 12 percent.

Radio Shack has five stores in the Berkshires, while Staples has two, and both chains have outlets in Bennington, Vt. But it’s unclear how these plans will immediately affect the Berkshires.

Judging from the information on each company’s website, these seem to be long-term plans that haven’t been completely formulated yet, at least not publicly. Staples’ store closures won’t be completed until the end of 2015.

But both chains are going ahead with these plans as cost-cutting measures because they’re losing money. In Staples case, part of the reason is due to competition from the Internet. And this is what concerns me. Little by little, more and more, we seem to be heading toward a totally virtual economy where everything we purchase can be accomplished with a click of a mouse.

Don’t get me wrong. I like technology. I’m sure you’ve noticed that The Eagle has followed the latest technological trends that are transforming the media industry, which have made us a better and more immediate news source. It’s the way the world works nowadays. But I don’t know if I’m ready for a completely virtual economy.

Say what you want about national retail chains, but they provide a lot of jobs in the communities where they are located, particularly in the Berkshires. Yes, they’re not the most high paying positions. But they’re still jobs. What’s going to replace them if all these companies suddenly go digital?

National chains also provide a lot of basic goods that most people can afford. Under our current economic conditions, where lots of people are struggling to make ends meet, I would argue that places like that are needed.

Look, technology is our future. It’s where we have an edge on the rest of the world. Think of all the services that have transformed the Internet -- Facebook, Google, Twitter. They were all developed in the United States.

The economies in some nations may be booming, but they’re mass producing goods based on an economic model that our country outgrew 30 years ago.

Advanced manufacturing is growing in this country because we can make quality here not just quantity. There’s always going to be a market for that. There are a lot of small firms in the Berkshires that are manufacturing some of these items right now.

We’re heading toward a virtual economy whether we like it or not. I just hope it doesn’t come too fast.


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