Style Vomit: Big box versus boutique

Victoria is a city blessed with the success of small businesses. Clothing boutiques of different styles and price points line the streets of downtown. There are shops that specialize in higher-end wares and those that offer something more affordable. Several options for secondhand garments exist, too: consignment, thrift and vintage stores, all within a 10-minute stroll.

Smaller cities where small- to medium-sized businesses thrive are becoming something of a rarity in Canada. Boutiques are often found nestled in trendy areas of a larger metropolis, but are becoming buried everywhere else beneath the competition of larger companies, which are able to offer lower prices for similar products.

The Uptown Shopping Centre in Victoria is bringing in several large clothing retailers not seen before on the Island. Forever 21 opened in January. According to the Uptown website, H&M and Joe Fresh are slated to open this year. These big box stores offer trendy clothing at low price points, something ideal for Victoria’s student population. However, Victoria’s boutiques will almost inevitably take a financial hit with prospective customers drawn to the appeal of affordable fashion.

I grew up in a small town in the British Columbian interior. During my teenage years, our town boasted one mall. The shopping centre had few options for clothing purchases. Most memorably, it had two Mariposas. Mariposa was a retail chain specializing in tentative club wear and slacks and sweaters that passed for half-assed business casual. One Mariposa, potentially an outlet, hunkered next to the entrance of the mall. The other location held a more glamorous position next to the cinnamon bun bakery.

My fear is that Victoria’s delight in different boutiques will fade beneath the sparkle big box businesses can offer. They’re bright, they’re cheap, and a large store can offer more jobs than a family business. On the other hand, small businesses support local families, keep currency circulating within the local economy and generally offer a better work environment than a monolithic corporation that moulds its employees into congenial drones. Victoria offers local quirky business owners and hole-in-the-wall boutiques with individual aesthetics. This business individualism offers consumers a much larger variety of product, as opposed to big businesses, which generally churn out the layman’s version of whatever styles have strutted down that season’s catwalk. I would be heartbroken to see the proliferation of big box fashion retailers on the Island diminish the success of small business in the city.

It’s hard to strike a personal balance between supporting small business and being tantalized by cheap, trendy clothing. I am not immune to the charms of affordable style that stores like H&M can offer. However, my decision to spend my disposable income at a retail chain or a local business does affect which is successful and which remains in the community. With this in mind, it is my most sincere hope that the citizens of Victoria will continue to use their purchasing power to support boutique business. This city slumping into the fashion option equivalent of a mall with a Mariposa at either end would be disappointing.

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