Consumer Culture and Small Business in Hanover

On October 29th, Forbes announced that Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, has become the richest man in the world. Bezos outstripped the former financial king, Bill Gates, when he made ten billion dollars over the course of a single day last week – putting his net worth at a staggering 93.8 billion dollars. Bezos has frequently stated that when he founded Amazon, no one thought it would go anywhere. His critics, and even his own wife, believed that shoppers would never give up personal interactions in bookstores to buy books online. Now Amazon is the largest online retailer in the world, and certainly not of just books. Amazon ships almost any item imaginable to over 100 countries worldwide. Perhaps the most shocking statistic for the company is that it has been estimated that over 50% of all Google searches immediately reroute to an Amazon item page. For millennials — who use Amazon at more than twice the rate of baby boomers — this company is not merely an online retailer, but it is also a defining aspect navigating the commercial world. Bizos doesn’t just sell the millions of products available on Amazon; rather, he sells convenience — something Dartmouth students are only too willing to buy it.

Walking around campus, Amazon boxes are as ubiquitous as backpacks. On any given afternoon, the busiest storefront in downtown Hanover is arguably the Hinman mail center. The only true argument here is whether or not the Hop counts as being in downtown Hanover. For those students living in the McLaughlin cluster or the River, it certainly does. As a result of this phenomenon, the only Dartmouth students that can be found venturing down Main Street are those that either have such atrocious planning skills that they are unable to order an item they require two days in advance — thus not qualifying for Amazon Prime shipping — or those that go forth in search of food that is not sold by the illustrious Dartmouth Dining Services. The latter group may find it harder than they expected to find restaurants that are not affected by the College’s culture.

There are many good restaurants in Hanover, but much as with the case of Amazon, convenience frequently trumps quality in the minds of hungry college students. For the most part, Dartmouth students couldn’t care less what they are served as long as they can order it at 1 a.m. and have it at their doorstep approximately 25 minutes later. This means that perhaps the only box more common on campus then an Amazon box, is a Domino’s box. Hours and delivery capabilities such as theirs are nearly impossible for smaller-scale restaurants to maintain. It was certainly not shocking to anyone that the long-time Hanover pizza restaurant, Everything But Anchovies, closed promptly following Domino’s arrival to campus. This is certainly not a phenomenon unique to late night pizza-places. Even when Dartmouth students are eating during regular hours and not in a massive rush, which perhaps occurs once a term per student, they still do not often wish to patronize small local businesses. Despite the proliferation of coffee shops downtown, Starbucks remains the most popular option for students who do not want to brave the line at KAF in Baker-Berry. If this weren’t evidence enough that students gravitate towards familiar national chains over establishments unique to Hanover, one needs only to listen to students for five minutes to hear Hanover’s like of Dunkin Donuts and Chipotle lamented. Students making such complaints are to be consoled by the fact that Amazon undoubtedly will be delivering both shortly.

One business that has escaped the Amazon culture is Tanzi Salon on Main Street. As a full-service salon, they offer haircuts, manicures, and many other services that one cannot order online. Some alumni and even students may not be familiar with this establishment, as it has only been open for a year. Members of the class of 1970 and earlier, however, will experience some nostalgia upon reading its name. The owner of Tanzi’s Salon is Heather Simpson Blake, a lifelong Upper Valley native. Ms. Blake is also the great – granddaughter of another Hanover entrepreneur, Angelo Luciano Tanzi, who opened what would become Tanzi Brothers Groceries in 1897. Tansy’s Brothers Grocers became a staple establishment for Dartmouth students, and remained that way until it’s closing in 1969. Ms. Blake accounts fondly the stories of her grandfather and great-grandfather interacting with Dartmouth students to those students who patronize her business today. Despite the youth of her salon, its very existence is a testament to the history of Hanover. Ms. Blake understands this and goes out of her way to educate an entirely new generation of students about the 70 year history of her family’s store. Interested students should be encouraged to go see the old photographs and the brief written history of her family that Ms. Blake keeps in her salon’s waiting area.

Ms. Blake is not the only Hanover business owner with an intimate understanding of local history. Students in search of truly excellent tale about the College or the surrounding area need look no further than Bryan Smith. Manager of International DVD and Poster, Mr. Smith is another lifelong Hanover local and a figure of quite a bit of lore on campus. Students who patronize his store always speak quite highly of his storytelling skills and kind demeanor. Mr. Smith comes from the oldest of Dartmouth families, even including a grandfather who served as the College’s vice president. Although he turned-down admission to the College himself (a charming story that every Dartmouth student should hear), Mr. Smith has very real affection for both Dartmouth and all of her students. When he references sadly the long list of “20th century” businesses that defined Hanover during his childhood and his father’s childhood that are no longer around, he does so because he views it as a loss for current and future Dartmouth students. It truly bothers Mr. Smith that we will never have these quintessential Hanover experiences during our time at Dartmouth. Over the course of our nearly three-hour conversation, Mr. Smith repeatedly mentioned his desire to engage more with Dartmouth students both personally and through his business. He has incredible ideas for everything from a mini Winter Olympics during Winter Carnival to a campus-wide video game tournament with semi-finals and finals played in Collis. He would like his business to be heavily involved with activities such as these, advertising and hosting prizes. The College would only benefit from a greater inclusion of locals such as Mr. Smith whose energy and well-developed respect for tradition are integral facets of the Dartmouth community itself.

In years past, the College employed an individual to work as the liaison between the town of Hanover and the College. This person working to engage locals, faculty and students collaboratively. This position was done away with during the economic downturn and has not since been reinstated. We at The Review are always hesitant to advise adding to an already oversized administration. This distance, however, is healthy for neither the College nor the town, especially considering that they are frequently seen as one in the same in the eyes of students and visitors. Hanover’s charm is an unmistakable draw for all prospective Dartmouth students. The preservation of such charm should be of real importance to the College. This includes everything from the support of the local florist club to support for local businesses that are filled with dynamic and informed locals like Miss Blake and Mr. Smith. On the other hand, the College coupled with Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center are the predominant employers in the Upper Valley and thus play an important role the lives of many locals. To that end, locals should always be looking for the College and its students to succeed. As most Dartmouth students would tell you, Hanover locals are excellent about doing this.

Where the relationship stands now, the locals appear to be doing their part whereas the College seems to have retracted from this partnership. This could certainly be due to debates that are ongoing regarding some of the College’s expansion plans – particularly those proposed plans that are in close proximity to residential areas. Despite this strain its relationship with the town, the College should still actively support local businesses in a way that they currently do not. Dartmouth students, however, should not use the College’s lack of support as justification for their own lack of support of local businesses. In an era of convenience centered shopping, we have become a convenience centered generation. This is not healthy for us personally or professionally here in Hanover as students. Taking the time to interact with locals is meaningful and valuable — in many instances students might find the value of these interactions to be greater than the value they put on their own time.