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The Death and Life of Great American Retailers, 2013

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Like last year, I spent a considerable part of the past week/weekend traversing retail space in Southern California.

I made my first-ever purchase at Lululemon (LULU). What a fantastic experience. Beautiful and friendly retail associates getting the job done without bonehead-like stops and starts. Of course, LULU has the product -- unique and high-quality -- that draws me in.

I also spent time strolling the classic case study in the privatization of public space -- Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. Unless I know what I need and am confident I can walk right in and painlessly purchase it, I spend very little time in the stores along this jaunt with three notable exceptions:

  • Apple (AAPL)
  • Tesla Motors (TSLA)
  • Barnes & Noble (BKS)

Yes, Barnes & Noble.

There's still something to be said for the way bookstores -- local and national chains -- organize their selections. I'll probably always appreciate and utilize the experience. Sadly, no brick-and-mortar bookseller has even come close to leveraging this still-worthy experience into corporate survival.

Whereas my wife still tends toward actually buying items at BKS, I rarely do. In fact, this past Wednesday I spent over $100 on Amazon.com (AMZN) while browsing and scalping ideas off of the Barnes & Noble shelves.

I think my wife dropped $30, $40 tops at the register. This cannot be a good tradeoff for BKS. But it's on them, not Amazon. Amazon innovated, while Barnes & Noble slept. And they're still sleeping, unable to reinvent the physical retail experience in a way that even resembles how Amazon came along and trashed it over a decade ago.

Barnes & Noble relies on low-hanging fruit and that I want it now, not tomorrow or the next day impulse. Again, not good. And the local booksellers have done very little to innovate for survival, short of trying to guilt you into buying local. Because, somehow, you commit a civic crime -- often, they make it sound like a crime against humanity (!) -- if you don't overpay to "support" your local community.

It's not their job to provide value in one way or another; rather, it's your job to subsidize their lack of creativity and vision. Such an odd view of reality.

I would digress here, but there's no digression required.

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