Survey history of the alt-commerce movement that connects some major players in the modern retail space with the counterculture of the 1960s.
Rejecting capitalism and the quest for money back in the day, many an activist nonetheless went into business. Some of them pursued avenues that were not likely to lead to wealth. One of Davis’ (History/Univ. of Baltimore) case categories centers on the founders of African-American bookstores in Harlem and other urban areas, places that they viewed “as free spaces or sites of liberation and empowerment,” not necessarily as profit centers. As it happens, he adds, according to a contemporary survey, only about a third of those stores ever showed a profit, which did not keep activists from opening them throughout the era. The feminist founders of Liberation Enterprises had more success with aprons bearing legends such as “Fuck Housework,” which found a ready market and proved a pioneering move in the specialty mail-order business, the germinal ground of the internet economy. Just as successful by any measure were the head shops of the 1960s, which begat activist organizations such as NORML and High Times, which begat—well, among other things, a culture that has made it possible for many states to permit marijuana use, either recreational or medical. And nearly ubiquitous in the modern economy is the offshoot of the organic produce store, with all its built-in tensions: organic food costs more, limiting the market to the better-off, which gives us, in the end, Whole Foods. Davis capably traces that evolution through forerunner organizations such as Erewhon, in its time “the country’s biggest wholesale purchaser of organic produce and grains,” and the Good Food chain of Austin, Texas, in which Whole Foods founder John Mackey cut his teeth.
Scholarly in tone and approach but accessible and of interest to students of business history as well as to budding entrepreneurs.