I think the two most opposite geographic markers, in terms of income and class dynamics in the United States, might be bookstores and check cashing establishments.
I was just driving in Fremont, CA and realized that there are no bookstores there.
Same with Newark, Milpitas, Union City, etc. They have no bookstores, no Philz, no Apple Stores—none of it.
But there are plenty of Check Cashing places.
Check Cashing places are horrible, predatory establishments—often owned by big name banks, by the way—that feed off the misfortune of poor working people. And bookstores are for people who read for fun, a.k.a., “the rich” in today’s messed up world.
If I were a parent I’d be looking closely at this ratio when deciding on places to raise children.
I’m sure there are other proxies for the quality of a city that are good to track as well, such as school rankings, crime rates, etc. But I’d bet they correlate strongly with bookstores and check cashers.
The next time you’re in a new town, ask yourself what that ratio is. It might tell you a lot about the place.