Stores as Art
While trying to decide which of ninety-seven different models of headphone to buy, I was also contemplating the nature of Fry’s. My conclusion was that Fry’s is best understood as a work of art. It combines an elaborate variety of features, from the hours it keeps to the flashing lights that notify you that a checkout clerk is free to the junk food in the checkout aisle, from the selection of goods to the décor—my local Fry’s flaunts an ancient egyptian theme—all designed to convey a single consistent feel, appeal to a particular sort of customers.
In the case of Fry’s, an electronics supermarket, the target is geeks. The whole ensemble is designed to make geeks, technophiles, feel at home, feel that this is their place. To fully explain how they do it I would probably have to be an artist capable of creating a similar work myself, and I’m not. But I am enough of a geek to recognize what they are doing and admire their skill in doing it.
Fry’s is merely the example ready to hand, since I live in Silicon Valley. If this piece were being written by my friend Steve Landsberg he would probably cite Wegman’s, a supermarket chain limited, so far as I know, to northern New York state. Steve can go on at some length about the MegaWegman stores that are the stars of the chain; he has been known to argue that the existence of Wegman’s is itself a sufficient reason to live in that part of the country.
There are, of course, many other examples—Apple stores surely qualify. In each case someone with artistic abilities much superior to mine has figured out to create an ensemble, a combination of aesthetics, products, marketing, that sends a consistent message. Properly viewed, it is a new art form, and one of considerable depth and subtlety.