Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The chicken creates the egg, the egg grows into the chicken.
Similarly, our knowledgeable neighborhood hardware store is disappearing too, as folks go the Home Depot or Lowes, and encounter a lot of help who can tell you about which aisle to find stuff, but little about the technical details of topics like plumbing or electrical basics, or about tool selection.
Wilt, I can't answer the chicken/egg question, but your comment about the local hardware store minded me of something I was wondering a while ago. We have a nearby local hardware store that is affiliated with the "ACE Hardware" group. Great little store. I'm not sure if that's a franchise or what, but it does give the owner the advantage of some significant group buying power, and advertising. At the same time, each store is not a "cookie cutter" building and the owner(s) have the ability to customize their stores to the local market. It's my first choice when I need hardware.
I've wondered why camera stores couldn't operate on the same concept? A loosely organized business group with centralized purchasing and advertising clout, while still maintaining some of that "local" store flavor?
As OhLook pointed out, it's just a matter of time when the no tax advantage disappears for on-line firms. Perhaps the "ACE" Camera store business model might work then.