The rise of the "buy local" phenomenon is understandable given the omnipresence of chain stores across the nation and corporate control over the economy. Normal people distrust mega-sized entities having so much influence over their everyday lives. Supporting a local business, even if they sell mass market products, or purchasing local products, even if it's at a chain store, allows ordinary people push back against wealthy and powerful outsiders who are trying to gobble up the local ecosystem.
At the same time, we shouldn't mistake being local to a community with being rooted in that community. Depending on where you are in the country, a majority of the "buy local" businesses may not have been around for even five years, and may not exist another five years into the future.
This is part of the broader pattern where businesses catering to trendy upper-middle-class tastes go through a much more rapid and volatile churning, as yesterday's stairmaster farm gives way to today's yoga studio, or as one shabby chic design store becomes too predictable and gets replaced by another, more refreshing shabby chic design store.
These locally owned and operated businesses do keep outside corporate influence at bay, but they do not provide local residents with a sense of belonging to a community. Feeling anchored within a place requires that place to be fairly stable itself. No one can feel secure within a house that becomes unglued from its foundation and keeps shifting all over the landscape.
Chain stores, too, may be here today, gone tomorrow — especially if they're chasing after those with large disposable incomes. In one of the main shopping centers where I grew up during adolescence, there used to be a Whole Foods that arrived sometime during the 2000s, but has since moved 20 to 30 minutes away to a wealthier suburb. I don't think it lasted even 10 years.
As for places that are rooted, some may be local and quirky — such as the few mom & pop grocery stores still left — but others may be nondescript chain stores that have been there forever.
If it's been in place long enough, even a bland generic chain store may serve as an anchor for local residents' experiences and memories, in effect making it a one-of-a-kind and distinctly local place. Particular experiences of particular groups of people have unfolded there across several generations. Only to an outsider would the place look and feel "just like any other chain of its kind," blind to the social history within and around the built environment.
The inability to recognize one's outsider ignorance of local history and conditions stems from autism, which runs high among people who like to gab about architecture, geography, space, place, etc. And of course the handful of longtime residents who whine about nearby rooted businesses most likely never fit into the community in the first place.
"Why can't the city council just knock down those ugly two-story brick apartment buildings next to that lame barber shop and that useless hardware store? It could literally be a mid-rise tower with luxury condos above a Starbucks and a Panera on the ground floor. Oh wait, I forgot — the tacky locals here can't conceptualize how epic a mixed-use space would be. I swear, I'm getting out of this dump and moving to Minneapolis!"
It's disturbing to think of how much influence over commercial and civic life is wielded by this coalition of tone-deaf autistic outsiders and bratty local misfits.
Cohesive communities where folks have deep roots are not so easily destabilized, as the intentional lack of dynamism encourages the local brats to leave and makes it unattractive — BORING — as a target for colonization by trendoid transplants. Likewise, you can easily spot which areas to avoid living in, where none of the shops have been in place for more than five to ten years, mirroring the flux-driven anonymity among the residents.
On the practical side, how can these patterns be used to try to cement an otherwise rootless area? Rootedness would have to be an intentional plan at first. Start with something as "simple" as passing municipal legislation about turnover rates for commercial real estate. "Simple," assuming the will is there to begin with.
That would also go a long ways toward solving the problem of high turnover among residential real estate, as only those residents who prefer stability will stay or move in.
Attacking residential turnover is hard to accomplish directly. People will rightfully chafe at having their residency being regulated so closely by the government, even if it is in the best interests of communal stability. Regulating businesses for the greater community's interests is far more palatable politically.
Moreover, businesses, churches, libraries, and the like can remain in place indefinitely into the future and serve as anchors across the generations. A particular person living in a particular home cannot do that. Those who were closed to them may remember their house as "the house where Mrs. Baumgartner used to live," but that doesn't spread out too far as second-hand or third-hand knowledge, and will not be understood by future generations who don't know who Mrs. Baumgartner was to begin with. But they all may have worshiped in the same church, spent summer days in the same pool, and eaten at the same mom & pop cafeteria across the street.