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Flyer Flashback

To mark the Flyer's 20th anniversary, we're looking back at stories from our first two decades.

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"Can America's Distribution Center make a profit on the Internet?"

That was the question posed in a Flyer cover story on this date 10 years ago.

The difficulty of answering that question is apparent in the opening paragraphs of the story, which touted a hot new company called EveryCD.com as "the biggest music store in Memphis." The business sold compact discs from a catalog of 350,000 titles.

The iPod was a few years away, needless to say.

Memphis enjoyed a business boom as companies such as Toys 'R' Us, Nike, Planet Rx, and Williams-Sonoma built or occupied warehouses in Memphis to serve their online businesses.

An expert quoted in the article predicted that the distribution of physical goods would drive local employment to ever higher heights for years, thanks to the online economy. And a would-be entrepreneur cited "the unexploited supply of tech workers in the area who can be hired at a fraction of the salary they would demand in high-tech centers such as New York or California."

The tech revolution left Memphis somewhat short of Silicon Valley. Warehouses proved easier to build than to turn into long-term businesses. Companies got millions of dollars in tax incentives for promised jobs that never came. And the blight on roads such as Shelby Drive, Holmes, and Lamar bears witness to that.

As the article noted, talk was cheap on the eve of the new millennium.

"In May, Amazon.com, the nation's number-one online book retailer, scuttled plans at the last minute to locate a major distibution center here that would have employed hundreds."

It wasn't all hype, of course. Nike and other companies had staying power, and the infrastructure of FedEx and Memphis International Airport drives the local economy to this day and will, sooner or later, lead Memphis out of the recession.

As for Planet Rx, we can't for the life of us remember what all the fuss was about.

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