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.


  1. Whenever I pass by Lucky Penny, I always think (not entirely non-sequiturishly) about how it’s a bad luck joint for high class whores. A friend of mine used to work in San Francisco as a rather exclusive sex worker, and she would always meet the gentlemen first for coffee or lunch somewhere to make sure they weren’t cops or creeps. One guy insisted that they meet at Lucky Penny, and then when she arrived became so smitten that he suggested they spend “a lot of time” together. He waved several hundred-dollar bills around, and then said he had to go get more money at an ATM to be worthy of her. He ran out of the restaurant and never returned — leaving my disgruntled friend to pay the bill for their wilted sandwiches.

  2. Good call. I could jump in with Seattle places, but you wouldn’t know them…suffice it to say this syndrome rattled me as well. Props on the awesome word coinage! SJ YOINKS!

  3. Ed, I am horrified by the way that House of Leaves house style has recently taken over your blog!!! It’s positively viral…

    More TK at Light Reading on the Danielewski thing….

  4. Black Oak asks for your large bags because of past problems with theft. Being close to both the UC Berkeley campus and Berkeley High, they’ve had problems from both the student body population and the vagrants walking around.
    Most retail stores near Cal have this policy, regardless of what they’re selling. It’s not a personal comment so much as general precaution.

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