At one time urban centers were dominated by unique retail. Except for a few national chains like Woolworths you could go from city to city and find completely unique one of a kind stores on every street. Today of course if those cities even have stores anymore they are most likely going to be major national chains. America went chain crazy especially over the last 20 years.
I was looking at some of Dan's Austin pictures recently and did not recognize a single chain store among the many illustrated. In Chicago you can go through endless miles of dense neighborhood commercial strips without seeing more than a sprinkle of Gaps or such. In my own home town of Buffalo you will not find any chains in the neighborhood commercial areas ELmwood, Hertel, and Allentown (though this has more to do with local economic stagnation than anything.) I also heard that some commercial development / restoration project in Toronto (the name slips me right now) has banned chains from leasing.
I know my own preference is local versus chains (especially for restaurants). I wonder, is there a new trend toward local? or are my observations anecdotal based on my own biases?