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Store Wars

I first learned to drive in the abandoned parking lot of a boarded up Almart store in Bethlehem, Pa. It was 1982. Almart was our family’s go-to place for school clothes. I was, of course, jealous of the kids in my class who got to go shop at Hess Brothers. If the Almart didn’t have it we went to Two Guys. When Two Guys closed up it became a Woolco.

Several months after I got my license I started working at a Rickel Home Center in Allentown. It was in a large strip mall anchored by a Montgomery Ward and a Laneco supermarket that had previously been a Pantry Pride.

Once I started making some money I would save up for trips to the recently opened Lehigh Valley Mall where I would spend my hard-earned salary on records and books at Waldenbooks, and clothes at Bamberger’s and Wanamakers. I got my magazines at E.J. Korvette and McCrory’s.

Then I got a job in Manhattan and spent long, leisurely hours browsing at J&R Music World and The Wiz.

Change at retail is nothing new. Stores come and go. Some of them die a spectacular death like hhgregg or, a few years back, Circuit City. Others, like RadioShack, die from a million small cuts year after year. Sears and Kmart are following that path as I write this.

Nobody wants to see any company go out of business. Even competitors realize that competition makes them work harder, invest more wisely, and drives them to innovate and evolve. Some win, some eventually lose. As Gordon Gekko said in the movie “Wall Street,” “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” At least, it’s good for business.

For those of you who lament to me that retail is dying, you’re not paying attention. Retail sales grow almost every year. Online retailing is growing by leaps and bounds. Americans are bigger consumers now than at any point in our history. Retailing isn’t dying, it’s evolving, and for those businesses that can evolve with the times, there are bright days ahead.

Best Buy is revamping its mobile departments to be more shopper-friendly, and Walmart is completely redesigning the way it sells technology in its stores. If two of the largest chains in the world can evolve, independents and smaller chains should take notice and stay nimble.

There is a lot of new business out there to grab; those who act quickly and thoughtfully stand to gain the most. There are plenty of examples of this in our Top 50 Major Appliance Retailers Report.

The majaps retailing scene is in constant upheaval and, in most cases, it’s continuously growing. Some of that can be attributed to a better economy and a stronger housing market. But a lot of it comes from innovative approaches to finding and holding on to a consumer. Take a walk through a Nebraska Furniture Mart, or an Abt, or a Pirch store.

For some, shopping is fun; for others it’s a chore, but even the surliest of shoppers can be won over by a good display or an engaging demo. It’s what sets your store apart from a lifeless page on the internet. Embrace change and it will embrace you.