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Street Talk

‘Brick And Mortar’ Merchants Carry The Load

by Mickey Howley

When the online shopping started, there was, in the press, a contrast between online shopping businesses and traditional “bricks and mortar” businesses. I don’t know exactly why the term bricks and mortar came to represent the established retail ways of selling.

Most retail stores, certainly most malls or shopping centers are built from steel and glass and concrete. By using the term “bricks and mortar” it made walk-in retail sound, to my ears, old fashioned and not hip. Had retails stores been tagged as say, “steel and concrete”; that sounds not nearly as old fashioned and much stronger.

Steel and concrete, the materials of most modern shopping spaces, still sounds strong and current. Skyscrapers are steel, concrete, and glass.  Steel, even though we import most of it now from India and China, still brings to mind solid American (Pittsburg in the north and Birmingham in the south) strength.

Say “Brick” and what comes to mind?  Okay, if you say brick to me, I’ll say “house” and we’re off on a Commodores inspired seventies funk riff, but for those of you not disco driven, hearing the term brick might mean something else for you and bring to mind a not always positive connotation.  Think about it. There’s the Pink Floydian reference to being just another brick in the wall. That is pretty depressing. There’s the expression to be “dumb as a brick”, which I guess is one step up on the hierarchy of materials from being dumb as a stump.  Bricks just get no respect anymore.

That’s too bad, as bricks have a long and illustrious history. Since man first started building things, bricks in one form or another have been around. Of course, stone is the most permanent material one can use for building, but there isn’t stone everywhere available on the planet and big rocks are a real logistical pain to move around. All you need for a basic brick are clay, water, a basic form and some heat.  Not only can they be made close to the construction site, they are easy to carry and don’t burn like lumber. Bricks are like Lego; lots of ways to put them together and make things. Buildings, roads, aqueducts, sewers, fireplaces and all the other stuff that separates us from our cave dwelling ancestors have all been made of brick. This might be a stretch, but the invention of the brick is right after the invention of the wheel and the domestication of crops and animals in importance in making us civilized and social beings.

So, have a little respect and be proud of the common brick. It is a tough and thankless job being a brick.  Bricks are the load bearing backbone of Main Streets and your “ brick and mortar” merchants may not be nanosecond quick and digitally flashy, but they have been carrying the load a long time. With a little help from you, they’ll still be doing the heavy lifting job for years to come. More on mortar later.

Last week’s online survey had most respondents saying they are Facebooking and might even tweet on Twitter given the chance. Start thinking about May 8 and in preparation for 2nd annual Main Street Market Festival, see for this week’s question on what type of music bops your head and moves your feet.

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