Have you ever gone to a big city and visited an area filled with many of one type of store? Perhaps you went to a “garment district,” for example, or even a Chinatown. Even smaller cities like Provo take this approach, clumping groups of restaurants together. What’s the point of grouping all these like businesses together? Convenience and mutual benefit, I’d argue. Symbiosis.
Since my last post I’ve had a few conversations with people (online and in real life) about how a Guitar Center would affect the music stores already in downtown Provo. I’ll skip how I think it’ll impact Bill Harris because I think that Guitar Center is the least of that store’s problems. But The Great Salt Lake Guitar Co. (GSLG) truly is a Provo gem. I wouldn’t want to live in Provo if there weren’t unique mom-and-pop businesses like that. (In the ideal world there would only be stores like GSLG, but the current downtown is proof that that isn’t yet possible.)
However, GSLG and Guitar Center are not really competitors, no matter where they’re relatively located. For one, GSLG specializes in custom built acoustic guitars. Guitar Center, on the other hand, carries name-brand acoustic guitars and furthermore makes most of its money on its many other products — electric guitars, primarily, as well as band and DJ gear, keyboards, etc. GSLG and Guitar Center also cater to clientele with totally different financial resources; my understanding is that GSLG doesn’t really have “entry-level” guitars for under a couple hundreds dollars (if they do, they need better marketing). Buying a guitar at Guitar Center is like picking up sweat pants at Wal Mart, while buying a guitar at GSLG is like purchasing a suit at Brooks Brothers. (Note: Guitar Center does carry many fine products.)
As I mentioned on Facebook, I actually think that a Guitar Center would help GSLG, because the former would expose new musicians to the latter. And to fear that Guitar Center would put GSLG out of business is like worrying that a Pizza Hut would drive Communal out of business. In reality, putting a Guitar Center next door would simply create a kind of mini “music district.”
That type of district is something that Provo could benefit from. Right now, everyone in the state has to drive to Salt Lake County to get a decent selection of music gear at a decent price (I have personally done this many times, and know dozens of people who do the same all the time). If a Guitar Center went into Provo, it would suddenly become the most convenient location for everyone from Point of the Mountain down through central Utah. It would help make downtown Provo what it now only aspires to be: an inter-city destination. In other words, this isn’t just about making Provo a nice place, it’s about turning it into the second metropolitan epicenter of Utah, drawing people (consumers) from all over the state.
As I indicated in my original post about bringing chains to downtown Provo, it’s a mixed bag and it’d be better – culturally, financially, etc. — to have only local business. That’s my dream. But local businesses generally do better in thriving areas, not on blighted streets like those we currently have. So in the end, stores like Guitar Center won’t just be benign neighbors to existing businesses. Rather, Guitar Center et al. will save them.