I just read an article on the demise of shopping malls, as we once knew them. It is estimated that one quarter of all malls will close, or be in the process of closing in the next year. The culprit is reported to be on-line shoping. It is far more lucrative for stores to sell out of a few distribution points then having buildings and staff to maintain all over the map. Just one more example of how our newfound cyber lives, are eliminating a lot of jobs in retail but its not the whole story.
I’m going back to the 1960’s and a Mall called Brookdale in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis. It had four anchor stores called Dayton’s, Donaldson’s, J.C. Penny’s and Sears. Three of them no longer exist and the fourth, Sears, is fading fast. It seems ironic that Sears first got in business, as a mail order catalog business. That’s snail male, not e-mail. There were maybe fifty other stores that filled out the Brookdale Mall back then. Book stores, specialty-clothing stores, sporting goods stores, drug stores etc. Weekends and holidays it was a busy place.
It wasn’t like you had to go out and shop for most things. You could still sit down with the Sears. Penny’s, Ward’s catalogue and do your shopping from the comfort of your home. Most people chose not to unless it was a hardship to get to the stores. The mall gave them a chance to compare merchandise from store to store. To try on and get properly fitting clothing and shoes. To ask questions about what you were buying. But for most people they just enjoyed shopping this way. So what changed?
When you think about it shopping on line is not that different then shopping from a catalogue was, so it’s not just the ease of shopping from home. Online, pricing seems to be better and the selection bigger so that’s a plus. But I think the real reason comes in taking the time to go shopping. Everybody is too busy now days. Keep in mind the word “Hockey Mom,” was nowhere to be found in those days. People were not working three jobs and overtime to make ends meet. Moms were more apt to stay home and be homemakers. People were just more social to each other. Back in those days, you did talk over the fence to your neighbors, maybe while you were hanging the clothes out on the line. You mowed your own lawn and shoveled your own driveway and didn’t go to the club because there wasn’t one.
Then life got easier in one sense and busier in another. You found ways to bet rid of those meaningless chores but someone had to pay for that. So more hours and more jobs and mom off to work. Now you needed another car, and sessions at the therapist’s office. The roads became more crowded and traveling anywhere was a nightmare. Another new word was coined and it was called “rush hour” and pretty soon you had a belly full of driving anywhere.
Brookdale was bulldozed a while back and Wall Mart moved in. Most of the other malls have had to resort to sideshows like theme parks and water attractions. But slowly and surely they too are losing the battle like Brookdale. My thought today is, what is going to replace Amazon someday?