Why Isn't There A Gap In Hyde Park Anyway?
Over at Crescat Sententia among other places, there has been a relatively long-running and little-noticed discussion revolving around the U-of-C culture and -yes, The Gap. basically, it can be summarized thusly: there is no Gap/A&F/B&R/clothing retail chain in Hyde Park (there are book retail chains - a Borders, and a miserable tiny Barnes&Noble, which pretends to be the college bookstore), and the reason for this is, variously, that U of C students don't buy new clothes often enough to produce sufficient demand; or that U of C students don't like people to know that yes, they buy new clothes on occasion, and hence prefer to do it far outside the 'hermetically sealed' bubble that is the HP. Volokh has more here, while Blogo Slovo adds another viewpoint in response.
my answer to the question is compeltely egocentric (of course!) and totally devoid of economic reason. Volokh has provided that, in spades. instead, it's going to focus on why i am happy there is not a Gap in sight on 55th St.
i'm a U of C student, and clearly am as proud of our tradition of intellectual eccentricity and masochism as anyone. i tell people to run away from the U of C when they come through as prospies -wouldn't anyone?- but secretly i am happy as a clam that i go to school there. i like intellectual pain, so shoot me.
i do also, however, like new clothes. yes, even The Gap and BR, i'll admit my little guilty secret now - i don't buy all my clothes from little stores where they are handmade in Guatamala, or all my jewellery from precious little hole-in-the-wall stands in Bohemia. -grin- good ol' chain stores. if there were a target or a walmart nearby, i'd shop there all the time. (if i could get there, and back, carrying all my stuff, without dying, that is.) i also like good food. not just restaurant food, like Cafe Iberico or BaBaReeba (i am craving tapas at the moment, and have no idea where to get them in Singapore. how sad is that?), but also chains like Chipotle and Potbelly Sandwich Works, and oddly enough, Panda Express.
this doesn't mean that i necessarily want my two desires to spatially coexist, however. (this is not to say if Chipotle were to open in hyde park i would boycott the store. on the contrary i would eat there every day until i got too fat to come in the front door.) if there were a shopping strip in the HP to rival Michigan Ave, what reason would i ever have to leave the HP? and when, oh when, would i ever do any work? (not that i do, anyway, but that's not the point.) if i could spend my mornings in class, and then wander up to 55th Street for some Cosi Coffee (preferably Intelligentsia, if they would only open a cafe; they already serve Intelligentsia coffee on campus and it is the best), and lunch in a little french bistro, and then shop aimlessly in a Gap, or a BR, or -gasp- an Urban Outfitters or American Eagle on my way home, who could guarantee i would make it back to my 55th Street apartment before sundown? or midnight, for that matter - if there were, say, a ten-screen Lowes or AMC around. though that would probably heed to occupy the piece of land my apartment is currently standing on, so perhaps not.
less flippantly, i return to the notion of Leaving The HP. yes, it seems to be rather a bigger deal for some U of C denizens than others (you know who you are, people who Leave The HP all the time, on a whim). but i think it is sort of nice to have the City as a distraction from all of this work that goes on on the U of C campus. it's good to know that putting in twenty minutes of effort -taking the bus downtown, standing with real people for a little while- allows me to take a complete break from academic life for a few hours while i browse the shops, watch a movie, grab some (non-thai) dinner. it's a reminder that the rest of the world -and real people- exist, and also a reminder that i have to make time to do things other than study, or mope around in my apartment, or take out twenty books from the Reg, you know, things like that.
so even though i would visit retail chain stores if they managed to fight their way through red tape and political maundering, it doesn't mean that i am unhappy they are not here. or even that i would be -happy-, really, that they were. because i like the HP (mostly) the way it is, even though 55th St is sort of a 'barren wasteland' (i can say that, i live there) and the 'shops' on 53rd St aren't very exciting, and i enjoy the fact that it's a college neighbourhood that isn't, and that our claim to retail fame is to have some of the best bookstores in the country. because i'm a masochistic U-of-C geek, and proud of it too. =)