When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills. ~Chinese proverb
Perhaps change is the only constant in our world, but at the risk of appearing old, I’ve got to admit: I really miss retail shopping, particularly department stores.
My wistfulness over this societal change struck recently, when my son Domer announced he’d gone shopping for a particularly hard-to-find item of clothing, and one of the places he tried was Kohl’s.
“What’s up with that?” he asked me. “They’ve got Amazon return areas, a whole section for Sephora, and all their regular stuff.”
Hmm. I think that’s called a department store. And they used to be everywhere.
Even my small town had department stores, which operated from the downtown area until the shopping mall was built.
When I was little, we’d go to Chicago a couple of times a year. One of my uncles lived there, and it was great to see him, dine in fancy restaurants, and shop … all in one trip.
The stores were fabulous. Huge buildings with multiple floors connected by an elevator — complete with an attendant who reverently announced things like, “Second floor — children’s wear” and “Fourth floor — men’s attire” and “Sixth floor — housewares.”
How cool was that?!!
But retail has changed. Today, stores with more than one floor usually have escalators, those moving staircases that are the bane of a young mom’s existence.
Ever try wrestling a carriage — with your baby inside, preferably sleeping — onto one of those things, while impatient people bunch up behind you and chafe at the delay?
No wonder so many stores switched to a single floor.
To me, the best shopping is a mall — where you can find almost anything your heart dreams up, all under one roof.
Books, hair accessories, cosmetics, clothing, shoes, music, food — what a wealth of options! Wandering from store to store is a feast for the senses, and it’s easy to convince yourself you deserve that burger and milkshake after clocking so many steps.
A shopping mall was a teen’s paradise. You could meet your friends, buy inexpensive trinkets like earrings or nail polish, and share a soda with somebody special — all while away from a parent’s critical gaze.
Meanwhile, parents could be relatively certain their kids were safe.
How times have changed, and not for the better. Today, the news is filled with stories of mall kidnappings, shootings, and other frightening things.
Do you remember mall Christmas decorations? And special performances by everything from school choirs and karate clubs to fashion shows and trading card and crafts sales?
But thanks to the proliferation of Big Box stores like Walmart and the COVID pandemic, even shopping malls are changing. Many people are shopping online and picking up their purchases curbside.
Sadly, that means you can’t touch what you’re considering buying. Can’t examine the workmanship, match the color to something you already own, try it on for sizing.
Which likely results in a lot of returns.
So maybe retail will cycle back, ya think?
I hope so. I miss trying on stuff. Nothing ever looks, on me, like it looks in the pictures.
Too true. And even with a virtual model to try stuff on, things don’t look just right. I hate having to carry armloads of jeans into a dressing room, but how much worse to order one pair (or two) at a time, just to find out none of them fit!
Don’t know. I have to admit I love shopping online. Still enjoy going to small arty stores, but if I never had to go to a big box store or a mall then that would be just fine with me. 😉
Laurie, I love shopping for some things online. Things unlike clothes, I mean. With clothes, trying on is always safest for me.
I think in years to come; some bright person will open a mall and be overwhelmed with success.
My friend, I do hope you’re right! How I miss using a couple of hours on my day off to browse a real store. Not that I feel pressured to buy everything, of course, but I find it therapeutic to mingle anonymously in the crowds, see the bright lights, and escape from the dog now and then!
I do know how that feels. I like to people watch while shopping as well.
“The stores were fabulous. Huge buildings with multiple floors connected by an elevator — complete with an attendant who reverently announced things like, “Second floor — children’s wear” and “Fourth floor — men’s attire” and “Sixth floor — housewares.”
OMG, Debbie, you have no idea how MUCH I miss that! Those were truly the days when shopping was a glorious experience. Kind of like how flying used to be. Remember that?
Trust me, I’m in the retail industry, and have been so for over 35 years. So if anyone understands how drastic (and for the worst) retail has changed, it’s me.
And I clearly remember when shopping “malls” began. You’re right, it was a teen’s paradise because you could spend the whole afternoon there and shop and eat under one roof.
We have have ONLY one mall here in Philadelphia and it’s a pigsty. I call it the the GHETTO. LOL! And the other stores in this city are junkie outlet store. This city used to be such a shopping haven.
I don’t order a lot online because like you, I like to touch and see what I’m considering to purchase. I enjoy the whole sensory experience.
And I don’t mean to be a kill-joy, but I don’t think shopping will ever be like it was before. The company I work for is constantly creating ways to make the “online shopping experience” more enticing. They even have it setup so that if you purchase something online, rather than instore, they offer you FREE gifts that come with your purchase in the mail. So I ask you, why would anyone shop instore anymore?
GREAT post, my friend! GREAT topic!
Ron, I’m happy that you — with all your retail background — can corroborate my thoughts here. Shopping used to be such FUN! Even when I didn’t buy anything. Now, it’s almost a chore, sad to say.
I am surprised to hear you only have one mall in Philly. Here in my small town, we’ve only had one mall for years, and when the anchor stores — Sears and Penney’s — pulled out, we’ve been struggling ever since. Oh, the owners are trying to lease spaces, but I swear, you could run stark naked through the thing and nobody would be around to see it!
Yes, you get it — the sensory experience. About all our mall is good for today is an indoor place for the seniors to walk and grab a cup of coffee. Thank you for your thoughts! xx
There are two things I never — NEVER — will buy online: clothing and groceries. There is one exception when it comes to shoes. Since I have a perfectly average foot, I usually buy my boat shoes online, knowing that they’ll fit. Given my work, I go through at least a pair a year; when the soles of boat shoes go smooth, it’s a safety issue more than fashion that’s involved. I never buy them from companies like Sperry, though. I go straight to ebay or etsy, and buy $100 shoes for as little as $20. Win/win.
And jeans and tees? For those, it’s the resale shops. When I buy a tee shirt for $2, it’s easier to toss it when it becomes varnish covered.
That said, I always loved malls when I was younger. My first job was as a clerk in a mall music store, and my mother worked as a gift wrapper at our town’s mall year after year. Not only that, those huge parking lots were great. That’s where my dad taught me to drive on ice — with all that room, it was easy to test out what happens when you slam on the brakes on ice!
Linda, you’ve opened my eyes! I’ve never bought anything on e-bay and, despite visiting resale shops, I don’t buy there either. Nice to hear you’ve had such luck … and saved so much money in the process.
Your memories of your dad teaching you to drive on icy roads via the mall parking lot brings back memories of my dad teaching me on country roads. I had to back the car up for what seemed like forever (no traffic to interfere, ha!), and then he’d have me parallel park in front of the house. The neighbors, I’m sure, were most amused!
And I was doing it all with a stick shift! There are crooks today who couldn’t leave the scene of the crime if they stole a stick shift.
Me, too — I learned on a VW bug!!
I hope so, Debbie. I was never a huge fan of shopping as a hobby, but nevertheless it was nice to know that the department stores were there, and later the malls, for those times like Christmas present buying extravaganzas, or for buying all your new clothes when planning a vacation trip. Or just for meeting friends for a coffee and a gossip. And for those who, like me, live alone, sometimes it’s nice to just go somewhere where you have some human contact, you know? Real contact, as opposed to virtual. I worry that we’re losing that communal feeling – it’s actually possible to live quite comfortably now without ever speaking face to face with a human. Even though I’m a hermit by choice, I don’t feel that’s healthy…
Boy, can I relate! I think we’re all becoming more like hermits. I’m rather introverted by nature so it’s not a big deal for me, but I do feel sorry for those extroverts who have to be part of “the scene,” wherever that is! And you’re right: malls were great places for people to gather, to watch other people, to walk indoors without joining a gym. And I miss being able to shop like that!
When I was a little girl in the early 1960s occasionally my parents used to make a trip to the “big” city of Hartford to shop at G. Fox & Co. and it was just as you described, a huge building with multiple floors connected by an elevator. Very exciting! I also remember when the first mall opened up in our town, East Brook Mall, in the mid-1970s. It was pretty small compared to others I’ve seen since but we used to go there every payday and have lunch at Rein’s New York Style Deli, right here in Connecticut. We felt so lucky to have it, along with the Caldor department store at the end and all the other smaller and very interesting stores in between. I even bought my inexpensive peasant wedding dress and ring at a little boutique there. Thanks for stirring up some memories I haven’t thought of for a while. 😊 Things sure were different back then.
Barbara, I’m glad my post stirred up some wonderful memories for you! I’d hoped to do that. Before we got the treadmill, I spent many a happy moment walking with the “old folks” along the perimeter of our mall (and they loved to tease me about walking so fast because I was a young’un!) Especially in winter and rainy months, walking indoors — especially when you’ve got good conversation with others and perhaps a hot chocolate afterwards — is ideal. Yes, things have changed — sigh.