Annalee Newitz has coined the term “chainshock” to depict one’s reaction when “a store you once thought independent is now part of a chain.” However, I’d like to put forth an opposing term: “indieshock,” when one learns that a place maintaining a troubling chain-store like atmosphere is actually independent. Here are my own “indieshock” moments:
1. Black Oak Books. Far too antiseptic in its layout. Its owners regularly hassle customers, demanding that they hand over their bags or purses in a rude manner that implies the customers are criminal and/or Gestapo victims. This is the kind of treatment one expects from Borders, not a reputable indie bookstore. (Technically, one might argue that Black Oaks is a chain, by dint of having two stores. But I let this discrepancy stand.)
2. Cafe Reverie. You walk into this place, shocked by the fact that you’re the only one wearing a Spam T-shirt and ripped up jeans and probably making a lot less money than the yuppies seated at the tables, who are all hypnotized by the azure glare of their laptops, as if they are awaiting a message from Xenu. You get shit from the staff for not being particular about your order. What chain-like perdition is this? Oh, it’s actually “indie.” Never mind that the people here are scared shitless of anybody who looks even remotely impoverished.
3. Lucky Penny. The decor of this place resembles a Howard Johnson’s circa 1977, steeped in hideous beiges and browns — the kind of layout only a heroin addict would respond to. The staff here are burned out. Nearly all of them have the telltale look of someone who has spent their shift contending with borderline criminals. The food is terrible, and I’m talking worse than Sparky’s at 3AM, where the only edible thing you can get is a grilled cheese sandwich. And even then, you have serious doubts. I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to dine at this place. If ever there was a San Francisco restaurant that slung homogeneous-looking hash, the Lucky Penny is it. And yet, astonishingly, the Lucky Penny is independently owned and operated.