- balloon shops seem to do really well because we have several here and every major city seems to have one
- foam shop for when you need to fix your upholstery
- venetian blind store which only sells the vertical kind
- Ketten Wild was a chain shop that only sold chains but chains in all forms and sizes
- la porcelaine blanche's slogan is "only china, only white" and that is what they do
- elk shop for everything elk related - not that we have any elks in Germany but elks are cute
- Schrauben Preisinger sells only screws. They claim they have 30000 different types in their store and this is absolutely credible. A few years ago I was there to get some M1 screws for a project when I witnessed an interesting exchange between another customer and a salesman. The customer had brought a screw with a quite wide thread. It was a straight screw, not tapered and not a wood screw, just with an obviously non-metric thread. He inquired if they had this type of screw in stock. The salesman answered slightly offended that this was a shop for machine screws and they would not sell furniture screws.
Also button shops are super useful. If you lose a button you go there with your piece of clothing and they will find a suitable replacement in no time. I never visited the one in Berlin but the one in Munich saved me good money.
EDIT: I just remembered two more:
- Gummi bear shops are a bit like balloon shops. I don't understand it but there seems to be enough demand to support several of them in a single city.
- Berlin's Ampelmann. Maybe doesn't quite fit into the category because it's more of a tourist curiosity. On the other hand: A shop that only sells stuff related to the graphic design of a symbol on the traffic lights of a defunct state is quite hyper-specialized I guess.
- Der Lautenladen sells only lutes, Anatolian lutes to be precise.
- Almost next to it is the "Spy Shop". I don't know if real spooks buy there but you can take the name quite literally.
It's properly old-fashioned in appearance. A small, dark customer area, bounded by a counter staffed by grumpy men of oddly indeterminate age. Backed by rows and rows of ancient-looking wooden shelving, containing literal tons of different bolts (or any kind of threaded fastener).
I once went there because I needed a particular bolt for a 1972 Land Rover engine. Certainly not metric, but I had no idea what kind of thread and precise size it was. The clerk glanced at it, turned briskly, walked to a particular shelf, and picked up the bolt I would need. No looking, no measuring, no scratching of heads, no hesitation. He just eyeballed the bolt size and thread right there. He was correct, too.
I'd love an excuse to go there again, but I sold the Land Rover :-D
Edit: just remembered:
- a shop that sells combs. Yes. Combs.
- a shop that makes bespoke suspenders
- a shop that specialises in sausages from a particular region in Germany (which is far enough from Munich to feel entirely random)
And btw, did you know moose/elk were first described on paper by Julius Ceasar during his "trip" to Germania? He thought they have no joints in their legs and sleep propped up against trees.
Just a little moose fact for you.
I wish this store was still open.
Edit since I want to share this; other moose-related businesses I've been to in Europe:
- Moose Coffee chain in north England (excellent)
- Moose Garden in Sweden where you can live with the moose.
Bones for Dogs, a butcher just for raw meat to feed your dog.
This sentiment right here is why more people are killed by Elk every year in Canada than bears.
Not only is their slogan descriptive, the name alone suggests as much as well.
Here are some pics of it:
Edit: Sad to say that I passed that shop for many years going to uni in the Grassmarket (both as a student and working there) and never went in!
The HTML source is a mix of old / new HTML, which shows the author has been updating by hand for years and improved their skill (slightly).
That said, I'm absolutely delighted that toilet brushes can be rebristled, and sad that it seems there isn't any place in the US that does this. It irks me that when a brush is retired, a gigantic chunk of plastic heads into the landfill. I have yet to find a low-impact scrubbing solution, and rebristling with some organic-origin bristle that breaks down amending the soil would be ideal. I'd pay 2-3X the cost of a normal throwaway plastic brush to mail in a brush head and get back a rebristled brush head, and wonder if the rebristling could be automated.
I feel this way about toothbrushes. They've gotten very expensive and seem to be designed to last only a month or two.
I picked up a couple of eco-friendly ones in the supermarket recently. They're made of bamboo. They're also crap. Now I'm back on the plastic toothbrush treadmill.
Interestingly, there is a company that rebristles antique brushes and also sells toothbrushes . No idea if they rebristle toothbrushes.
Blizzident  sells an interesting product for $340, rebristles for $90, and you have to spend up to $200 to get a dental impression because the Blizzident is custom fit to each user . Verified experience seems sparse on the ground , , and actual controlled study seems non-existent.
And sewage is regularly sent through the mail as well, many municipal sewage-treatment plants ship samples to specialized labs for analysis. Toilet-brushes are far from the most disgusting things sent through the mail, and unless you clean your toilet without flushing any waste in the bowl first they aren't even that dirty. Considering the prevalence of sanitizing toilet cleaner, it wouldn't surprise me if the average brush is cleaner than the door handles of a public restroom.
Also, when you flush and wipe the skidmarks from the bowl, use the flowing water to immediately clean the brush. Don't put it away with poo in the bristles.
But if your neighbors flush vinegar down the toilet, it will react into chlorine in the sewer.
I used to keep a bottle pre-mixed. It won't last very long though, so mixing before use is better.
Of course, the risk is that they will just tear it all down and convert it into lofts, office complexes or something instead, leaving nothing except lofts, office complexes and huge malls.
In Nuremberg, a city much smaller than Berlin I had a model rocket shop (strictly model rockets, absolutely no branching out into RC planes or fireworks) in walking distance, and one specialising into some specific subset off fishing lures, in a region completely lacking any fishing culture (the carp farms that are the traditional fish supply are harvested with partial draining and nets). A sub-kilometer move later, in a quarter developed mostly with residential ground floors, nothing like this exists. Still some empty shop fronts, but maybe your enough to drive commercial rents down to the point where "exotic online specialist with occasional walk-in business" becomes viable.
Class-A malls tend to be in busier, higher wealth, sometimes more urban areas, have best in class furnishings, and have tier-1 national tenants, with many of those tenants catering to more of a premium/luxury consumer.
Most B-class or C-class malls, however, are dying.
Indians even have last names based on their hyper-specialized occupation. I was in Thailand and I saw a tiny shop whose only job was to take old torn notes and exchange it for a new one by charging a small flat fee. I had an Indian friend that told me that specializations in old cities was also geographically organized. One part of street would only sell pressure cookers while another side would sell watering cans.
That’s how London used to be, which is why the area around St Paul’s has roads like “Leather Lane”, “Milk Street”, and “Poultry”.
Small store size, walkable streets and alleyways, cheap rent, not many rules about what you can do. People will take care of the rest.
Buttons are really something you have to see and touch in person.
As a child, my mother used to take me with her to "Parker Buttons" in downtown Pittsburgh. I remember plunging my arms elbows-deep into containers of shiny black buttons. Nothing else like it in the world.
Mr. Lossoff always reminds me of another Button Man, Ted Selker, inventor of the distinguished "Joy Button".
Sounds like they realize that people going "Have you heard of the store that only sells stickytape?" is great buzz marketing generator.
I assume they'd need space to store the tape to sell to their online and industrial clients, so why not stack it up next to a counter and make a little side cash from the consumer market?
(I also have noticed in Germany they're much more cash-friendly, so I can totally see more people in DE preferring to go to a store and pay cash than submit PII like credit card and home address to purchase some sticky tape)
I never understood how they could possibly do enough business to stay _in_ business, and always suspected that if you asked in just the right way they might sell you some ... not-blank tapes.
Boringly, the available evidence suggests that actually it's just that the person who ran the shop was really interested in cassette tape and didn't mind not making any money to speak of.
I do miss Norfolk Street Bakery though (which I hope is still going).
To be fair, I’m not sure exactly where you’d buy a currywurst cushion, but there’s a shop selling bones and stuff near NYU, if you someday decide that your living in room needs more of a Natural History Museum vibe.
In Berlin I'm not surprised there's a meat furniture store.
Chicago had a button store in the last ten years or so, but it is gone. It became a Barneys New York.
Roaming through the Nevada desert a few years ago (Tonopah area, I can't remember exactly where) I came across a small town with a book store that sold nothing but old 1940's-1970's cowboy paperbacks. $1 each. I bought 50.
That's not just what he calls it, that's the official name for them.
On the internet hyper-specialisation is obvious since space is virtually unlimited. But in real life, I mean, real estate is limited so why wouldn't darwinian market forces make a shop with product diversity + epsilon out compete a shop with a more niche spectrum of products, until only walmart and such remains?
First, WalMart doesn't have everything. Only a few people in any city are interested in buying specialty items, it doesn't make sense to WalMart to stock that everywhere when some stores will never have a sale. A specialty store brings in customers from all over the city.
A human who knows one product well is very useful. WalMart salesmen don't know their product. Going to a specialist who knows the product well makes sense because you can get advice. Also, WalMart as limited space: the specialist shop will often have the exact thing you need, while WalMart will have at best something similar, for real niche items you can't even get a substitute.
For the above to work you need a large enough population. The small hyper-specialist shop only works when there are enough people who will buy from it. Small towns in the middle of nowhere have a specialist store selling only farm equipment, you won't find that in the middle of a big city (you will on the edge). A big city will have specialist stores to support the industry (and hobbyists) in that town.
When the item needs to be custom fit you need a store. WalMart can fit glasses, but they don't know anything about pens. I bet many of you didn't know that some pens are custom adjusted to the user - there are enough people who like expensive pens to support pen shop in some cities. Likewise golf clubs, bowling balls...
I think you also need a sanely designed city with effective public transport. For example, Atlanta or Charlotte have millions of people, including hobbyists and artists and enthusiasts, but I don't think many of the shops in the linked article would survive in a strip mall.
You don't need a sane design, you need a large enough population. Walmart needs to be every few miles because if they aren't people will go to a competitor who is closer. For specialty stores though there is no competition. Customers often will drive for over an hour to get there and put up with a really bad location because that is the only choice.
I have seen such stores in strip malls - not the new ones, but the old almost dead ones often find a new lease on life by renting to specialty stores that bring in people from all over.
But can the employees advise me on which to buy?
I'll sometimes pay a premium to go to a specialty store, so I can speak to an expert.
(Ex: if I was going to buy a vaporizer, I'd probably go to a vape shop rather than spend days reading on the pros and cons of various models)
With online purchases, you're limited to pictures, price, technical specs to make decisions.
One feature of Berlin is that it is very spread out and people mostly don't use cars to get around. It has a center technically but it's not where people live or shop. All the action is in the dozens of neighborhoods and micro neighborhoods around this. You can walk for two hours without leaving what most people would consider the downtown area or reasonably close to it. These micro-neighborhoods is where you find loads of small restaurants, bars, art galleries, and indeed weird, specialized stores and pop up stores. There are many thousands of these all over Berlin.
Part of the reason is simply that there's a lot of space for small stores all over building. Most apartment blocks have space on the ground floor. That type of space does not make sense for bigger chains since the locations are wrong and the spaces are too small. So if you want to open a small store for whatever, you can without spending too much money. Most of these efforts are short lived for obvious reasons but some of them succeed or at least survive.
Given that Berlin is crawling with tourists, foreign students, entrepreneurs, artists, etc. pretty much any time of the year, there's plenty of business for small quirky stores selling whatever. You don't attract tourists by being a bland boring franchise in Berlin. Star Bucks tried to open up a branch near where I live. They pretty much got laughed away and got replaced by a Poke bowl takeaway within a year. Just not a thing when you have several of the top coffee bars within a 3 minute walk.
Post internet, retail is increasingly specialized. You get all the staples online. Amazon is huge in Germany and Amazon Prime is operating in Berlin with their full set of services (including groceries).
What another comment said about showrooms makes a lot of sense.
Also there are some fringe businesses that will never go online.
Portrait photography businesses come to mind. Pharmacies are a thing where I live, because subsidized prescription only drugs can only be sold there.
But apart from that I wonder what will happen to all the smaller sales rooms in the inner cities?
I think they kind of act as showrooms for online sales.
It always looked closed; I walked past it for a decade or so every day without realising that it was still in business.
And then there’s the top floor of Stephens Green shopping center, which mostly just contains very strange specialised shops, with no visible customers.
So the value of brick and mortar retail becomes the ability to get you exactly what you need, and this often involves human expertise which by its nature specializes.
The button store on the Upper East Side in New York City has a lady there who just hands you the button you need. You show her your jacket where the button got caught in a cab door, and she doesn't even have to hunt -- she walks to one of her thousands of teeny drawers, and pulls out your exact button or something pretty damn close. In the article, the scotch tape guy knows exactly what scotch tape you need, and that's the reason for his store existing. He could as easily have an office where he then orders you the tape online for drone delivery.
This sounds like a Monty Python sketch brought to life.
In a shop I can browse through the wares much easier. I can examine them, look at the size and specs, feel the weight and texture, get ideas.
More often than not, crucial specs of the product I am looking at are not available. Dimensions and weights are often missing, I often can't look at more than 5 or 6 articles at the time.
Webshops are great when you know exactly what you need. They are hell if your need is "4 or 5 buttons that would look good on that fabric"
I ended up trawling a few local plumbing supply stores and was really surprised how few washers they had, about the fourth store had a few random open boxes they let me rummage through and we agreed a price. It was unexpectedly difficult.
I've found similar problems getting screws I want (for a ceramics kiln). Gave up and used the best thing I could find in Screwfix (which aren't that good).
The guy with a million kinds of tape can help you find a product that does X and Y, but won’t Z and matches your color scheme, the ukulele shop owner might recommend one that fits you or your style.
You could probably call around and get similar advice, but the places offering this kind of advice aren’t going to have free overnight shipping either.
If you have the store to find mid-century burnished widgets at, people might regularly come from a hundred or more miles away when they really need just the right sort of widget, and when they do -- if your stock lives up to the hype -- they will tend to be big customers, buying a lot (since they weren't casually dropping in), being fairly price insensitive (since they have few alternatives for what they need), and repeat customers (since you seldom end up needing a specialty item once).
You might still need an online storefront, or you might take phone orders from your regulars, but the clientele of a specialty shop is radically different than the clientele of a generic shop, which relies more on people wandering by and which competes with ten other stores a mile away, and the big box store off the highway.
No. The Internet is.
Although in this case I would say YES, that specialist shops are needed to combat Amazon being non specialist.
EDIT: Why am I getting downvoted for a factual, accepted, well researched and well known statement?
It’s an interesting point. Is there a perceptible difference for Berliners between E/W shop types?
Neukölln was in West Berlin, although it’s geographically to the (south-)east of the city.
It's just about the shortest, blandest way to make that statement. That it's borderline "vitriol" or considered offensive to say X did Y when that is fact (or as close to fact as you can get with a subjective matter like this, nobody is going to say that communism was good for Eastern Europe) says something about culture here in 2019.
I'm literally writing this comment from mobile while standing in a crowd near anti-communist protest in Prague. I can't really wrap my mind around this culture change.
(I think your original comment would have gone down better if it had been clearer about the past tense - that communism did destroy a lot of small businesses, but this is not an ongoing thing)
All right, but I was saying so from the perspective and for the potential benefit of US readers, who celebrate Labor Day in the fall.
As for your other point, at least here in Switzerland, the delineation between "march" and "protest" is not so clear, and May Day usually features both.
I had no idea about that and misinterpreted your comment. Sorry about that.
Yeah usually it's not so clearly separated here as well, but this year they made a separate protest, probably because of the EUP elections.
> In such a skewed retail landscape, many small shops found they could compete by specialising in goods neglected by generalist department stores, especially since retail space was cheap and in plentiful supply behind the Iron Curtain.
So while you may be right, you may also be wrong. Maybe it's not as black&white as you make it out to be.
All the small businesses in Prague city centre were destroyed, today it's dominated by various minishops with Russian matrioshkas and other scam shit and Vietnamese (they rent it, not their fault) marketplaces selling fake weed and overpriced chips, drinks and cola, and of course by scam exchange places. This used to be space full of small coffee shops, restaurants, specialised family businesses etc in the 1920's. My home city Hradec Kralove (100k citizens) has nearly completely empty wider city centre - since the revolution, no one even wants to do business there. All small business owners were killed or killed by proxy (uranium mines, all of this uranium was then "given" to/taken by the Russians for free), their property confiscated and never recovered (to whom anyways).
Did all single goods-type shops close, like butchers, bakers, etc.. How was supply managed?
Presumably those killed refused to give up ownership to the state?
Individual state-owned butcheries were managed by regional centers, which belonged to the ministry of meat and dairy industry. They planned how many pigs would be grown, how they would be distributed among butcheries, etc.
Everything was at the mercy of central planning. If they planned for less than the actual demand (a very common occurrence), then there'd be no meat left by the time the last 40-50-60% got to a butchery.
Personal contacts were very valuable. People in the know could tell you in advance when the next shipment of meat would arrive, or even hide it away for you in a backroom.
Over decades, a huge acquaintance-based shadow economy formed. Positions like butchers and store managers became some of the most desirable jobs in the society, since they effectively decided who got to eat meat (in return for similar favors) and who didn't.
Since there were no real elections and no competition, there was no way for an average citizen to express dissatisfaction neither politically nor economically.
And it was like this with pretty much everything. Even toilet paper was something that had to be hoarded, because its supply was unpredictable. Being a woman was especially difficult as central planners assigned very low priority to female hygenic products.
If you complained enough to get noticed, there were psychiatric hospitals waiting for you because one had to be mentally ill to believe in the superiority of free-market capitalism.
Those killed were killed not because they refused to give ownership (the communists usually just sent people to uranium mines in that case, or later to prison), but because they were undesirable.
Your last clause, is the kicker, just as it is now in Western Democracies, the State is supposed to be "the people" here now too, but in both cases it instead appears to be some small cadre of an in-group instead. However, none of that seems particularly pertinent to whether you keep using a bakery and the bakers you have when you transition from private to collective ownership.
Consider an example, Woolworths - a general store in UK and elsewhere - collapsed and in some locations the workers bought it for themselves to run as a collective. The same people did the same jobs, largely, immediately after the change just that the profits [and liabilities] were shared amongst them instead of belonging only to the owners.
That is not what happened. What happened is that Stalin ordered to kill them. It was paranoia on top of other things (breaking the nation was not ment just as a side effect). They reorganized the society very quickly once they could start organizing people into agricultural communes (JZD in Czech) and steal everything (literally) from them in the process. Of course we know how well it worked.
Why do people need paint in more than one or two colors? Why do people need multiple styles of clothes, beyond a "summer uniform" and "winter uniform"? Why do people bother to maintain both vi and emacs when only one is necessary?
Most of the time, any tape will do, but sometimes you want the perfect paisley to complement your wrapping paper choice. Since most people don't care most of the time, most stores that sell tape won't have more than one or two kinds, so you go to a specialty retailer to find the unusual stuff for unusual circumstances.
“Imagine you are a stage technician and you need to tape a lamp that gets very hot to a pillar,” Ghouneim says. “If you go to [DIY store chain] Bauhaus, they wouldn’t know what to do. But I can tell you that you need a polyester film with a special type of silicon glue that can stand up to 300 degrees. I have sticky tapes in my store that mere mortals would never dare to dream of.
When I go to a specialist store, which I do every so often, my choice has been made before I walk in. That's why I'm there; because I already know what I want, and I know that I can't find what I want in the supermarket or by trawling eBay. I'm just hoping the specialist store has it or can get it. I spend less time choosing in the specialist store.
We waste a lot of productivity on providing choice.
I don't think pure utilitarianism is the answer, but it seems we could do better.
But then, noone needs party balloons at all ...