Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Central Coast, CA
Bikes: Surly LHT, Specialized Rockhopper, Nashbar Touring (old), Specialized Stumpjumper (older), Nishiki Tourer (model unknown)
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I think this is a personal choice with advantages on both sides. If you buy online or mail order, it's probably either because you're getting a better deal or your LBS doesn't have exactly what you want. If you absolutely must spend as little money as possible, this might be advisable. If you have to assemble, adjust, etc. the bike yourself, you may learn something, and/or you may enjoy that sort of thing. (I do. Working on bikes is enjoyable to me.)
If you buy from an LBS you may spend a bit more money, but you'll be establishing a relationship which can be very beneficial in the long run. If the people at your LBS are knowledgeable (most are) they can give you good advice. They will assemble and adjust your bike correctly. They may be willing to adjust the deal a little - swap a component or two, or throw in an accessory or two. Most shops will be willing to stand behind their product if you ever have problems.
You will also be supporting the local economy, and enhancing the chances that the bike shop will survive, which can be important. The LBS in the little town I live in was a branch of a larger shop in the bigger town next door. Some new owners bought the big shop and closed the little shop for economic reasons. It was a bummer!