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What I've gained and lost because of Amazon Prime

What I've gained and lost because of Amazon Prime

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Like a lot of readers of The Verge, I don't know when I stopped going to Best Buy, but I know why. Around 2010, I subscribed to Amazon Prime.

In New York, where I lived at the time, shopping meant sacrificing time and energy at the altar of commerce, first to hoof it to the store, then lug whatever back to the apartment and up however many floors into your room. The nearest Best Buy was a mile and a half away, with no direct subway line. Amazon Prime delivered for free — minus the annual cost of the subscription, of course.

In NYC, shopping meant sacrificing time and energy

For most of my life, visiting Best Buy had been a habit bordering on an addiction. My mother worked Saturdays during my childhood, so my father and I would pass the first day of the weekend with a weekly pilgrimage to the only real electronics store near our Kansas City suburb. Like some act of devotion, we'd take the same stroll through the corridors of music, movies, and video games — slightly modified to add new stock and remove the old — and if I played my cards right, I'd leave with an old movie or game that had been marked down and tossed into a last-chance display bin.

We attended church with my mother on Saturday evening, but those trips with my dad were their own spiritual experience. We didn't bond because of Best Buy, but Best Buy provided the set and setting.

When I moved to New York, I'd often stroll to the Best Buy closest to my dorm because — and I know this must sound twisted to most people — the look and the smell reminded me of home. I went regularly enough that I even knew about the secret bathrooms: the one on the second floor by the video games, and the one in the basement way back behind the TV displays. I had no money as a college freshman, so I never bought anything. That didn't seem to bother the employees, many of whom were people I knew from the university.

We didn't bond because of Best Buy; it provided the set and setting

Eventually, I got busy. My home sickness faded. I found more entertaining things to do in New York City than hustle to an out-of-the-way electronics store in Soho. And if I really needed new headphones or a camera, I had the local J&R Electronics megaplex, a wall of electronics stores lining the street south of City Hall.

As I grew older and had the opportunity to do more things — my childhood was limited to so many places: the mall, the movies, the neighborhood — shopping became an errand. Amazon Prime seemed to understand that the least interesting thing about a product is purchasing it. Buying games, movies, alarm clocks, suntan lotion, toilet paper, anything really became just that: a purchase.

Amazon stock image

There is no path to follow through Amazon each week. It is largely a singular and practical experience, minus the newly invented Prime Day and Black Friday, when the online store replicates the hysteria of brick-and-mortar.

I don't miss shopping at Best Buy

I now live in Texas, near a Best Buy, and have a car, which simplifies heading to the store on a whim. I've visited a few times, but whatever love I have for Best Buy — and most retail shopping — erodes when I enter the store and find it half empty, out of the memory card or charger or whatever else I need that day and can't just order online. I don't miss shopping at Best Buy. I do, however, sympathize with its employees, some of whom, like me, have some nostalgia for what the store once was.

For the most part, I am grateful for the on-demand future that Amazon, along with companies like Netflix, FreshDirect, and Seamless, provides. But what I miss is the space to spend an afternoon in the air conditioning on the cheap. I miss all the giant book stores, where in high school I would buy philosophy books I couldn't comprehend, hoping to impress my friends while we sat outside and drank coffee as if we were imitating the great critics in French cafés.

What I miss is the space

Most of those places don't exist in my hometown — or in other cities across the country — any more, and I'm partly responsible for that. Because 90 percent of the time, it's just easier and cheaper to click Buy Now.

When my parents visited me in college, I was too cool to go to a name brand store like Best Buy, so my dad and I would scour through the J&R complex in Lower Manhattan. It had everything: television, CDs, records, shower radios, PC games from decades ago. The complex was so sprawling we could spend an entire week inside and never see the sun.

Last year, one by one, that row of J&R stores closed. I never made it downtown for its final week, but I was notified there would be a going-out-of-business sale online.