I agree with the OP and others that it's getting harder and harder for dealers to survive.
BUT, I disagree with the claim that hi-end is dying. True high-end hi-fi has always been a small niche segment and will continue to remain that way probably forever...it's more of a hobby than anything. Just take a look at the used market at www.audiogon.com
and there are tons of forums like ones on audiogon, www.audioasylum.com
and there are plenty more that are *only* audio. You'll realize there are a ton of hi-end enthusiasts. There are a lot of other huge forums that are AV and home theater related, like www.avsforum.com
- but there is still definitely a market for 2-channel.
I have seen numerous posts like the one above on varying forums over many years, but what I think you're missing is that the younger generation can't afford $10K+ systems at age 18. They can only afford iPods with maybe nicer-than-earbud headphones. A lot of the younger folks that are actual audiophiles just can't afford big systems yet. You will find all the young audiophiles (that care about more than MP3) at head-fi.org because they can only afford hi-end headphone rigs right now...but when they get older and start making real $, they'll move on up to the speaker rigs and get the continuous upgrade bug like a lot of you have! (Obviously, not everyone that has an iPod appreciates good sound...but an extremely small percentage will go on to invest in hi-end audio equipment.)
I live in the DC area and we are lucky here as there are at least 4 very high-end retailers here:
There are a couple other dealers that don't have a webpage, too.
The "recession" will hit a lot of businesses hard and it's very sad, but it's my belief that hi-end enthusiasts will live on and find a way - even if it is DIY...(and you can find that at www.diyaudio.com
Also, OP, you discredit yourself by mentioning Sony and Pioneer in the same sentence as Theta and Wadia - even if you're talking about the ES/Elite lines. I mean...for serious? That is like comparing a Toyota (or let's even say Lexus, since you're talking ES/Elite) with the Rolls-Royce echelon of digital audio...
(Hopefully the mods don't kill off too many of my links here, I'm only using them to prove a point.)