In this debut memoir, Stein combines personal reminiscences with business insights derived from a half-century of experience, both as the child of a midcentury retailer and as an experienced designer and brand manager. Stein places his story within the context of cultural and geographic trends. Born shortly after the end of World War II, he grew up in Milwaukee’s Jewish community and was part of the family business. His father and uncle opened a jewelry and toy store, then a small chain of drugstores. Although he studied interior design and initially pursued it as a career, Stein found himself returning to his retail roots in recent decades as companies began to understand the importance of managing the customer’s entire shopping experience. The book abounds with insider details (the precise lumen range of the Apple Store’s lighting system) as well as broader analyses of the evolution of retail in the late 20th century. From his Midwest base, Stein is in prime position to describe the changes caused by Minnesota companies Target and Best Buy, among others, but as a seasoned trend-watcher, he draws on examples from throughout the United States to explain the role of the mall and experiments with large chain stores designed to blend into urban spaces. The book also examines the challenges contemporary retail faces from the growth of online shopping, and Stein makes a convincing case for a sustained resurgence of independent businesses. Elements of personal history and industry analysis are woven together throughout the book, which at times dilutes the narrative’s focus but more often humanizes the bigger picture; the changing opportunities for store design, for instance, become far more vivid when Stein realizes that adding employees to his firm makes it less convenient to live in his office.
A broad but detailed look at the evolution of retail in the United States through the story of one Midwestern family with a long history in the business.