DEATH OF THE MALL

RETAIL WORKERS ARE QUITTING AT RECORD RATES FOR HIGHER PAYING WORK: “MY LIFE ISN’T WORTH A DEAD-END JOB”

The Washington Post, June 21, 2021

I don’t miss malls except for the kiosk where they sold watch batteries and Annie’s where they made fresh, hot pretzels. I quit wearing a watch, solving one problem — and learned to bake my own pretzels, but it was more fun (and less work) to buy them hot and fresh.

I haven’t worn fashionable clothing in a long time because women’s fashions are uncomfortable, unflattering, overpriced, poorly sewn, and lack grace and elegance.

Does anyone besides me remember the years when they decided we all needed very short skirts and really tight blouses? They did the same thing with men’s clothing. All the jackets were tight and so unflattering. It was nearly a decade when we refused to buy “shop” clothing. I thought those short skirts and tight blouses were ugly — especially on an older woman — and Garry wouldn’t buy anything because he hated the styles. Shoes were too narrow and heels were too high.

Everyone blames Amazon, but I think malls and department stores did a pretty good job of putting themselves out of business. Amazon didn’t create the market. The market was there, just waiting. Amazon jumped in and made it easy and fun to shop AND they deliver, so you don’t have to schlep heavy stuff around the store and through a parking lot.

After a while, the only valid reason for shopping in a brick and mortar store was because you got assistance. There were clerks to help you find the right size. They took away things and brought new stuff. They helped me decide what looked good on me. I was willing to pay a little more for the assistance, especially when I was buying something special.

It was probably 25 years ago when clothing and other stores made a collective decision that we — people of all kinds everywhere — were going to keep coming to their store no matter how they treated us. Someone figured the quickest way to cut costs was to quit hiring people to help shoppers. One year, right after Christmas, they let go all the temporary holiday workers, then cut back by more than half the rest of the clerks. They made every store, no matter how expensive, feel like a cheap bargain basement outlet.

Despite how obvious it is, store can’t understand why shoppers were delighted to find a way to shop, have items delivered to their door — and often for less money then they’d been spending. No parking issues, no standing in line.

They closed checkout aisles, leaving us standing with our stuff in long, slow lines. It had always been this way in bargain stores, but in “better” stores, it was just like Filene’s Basement. Fend for yourself!

You were lucky if you could find anyone to tell you where to find the petite sizes or, for that matter, actually let you buy something. I remember in Kohl’s they had one clerk serving three separate counters. There were lines waiting to be served. Lines of people who actually wanted to buy something. You were lucky to find a clerk to “let you” buy an item. I had gone there to buy a pair of earrings and maybe a watch. I never went back. It was my last visit to the store.

The shoe department was the worst. Heaven help you if the shoes didn’t fit! They got downright huffy if you asked to see the same pair a half a size bigger. You mean — you want me to work?

I suppose that’s what you get for minimum wage. You underpay workers, don’t give them any benefits or job security but expect them to do great work. Every time I hear another report about how no one can find workers, I wonder if it has occurred to them that paying a living wage and offering decent working conditions might not produce a better result for both the stores and the customers.

By the time all the stores in the malls were cutting their staff down to an absolute minimum, I had already begun to shift my shopping to catalogues. L.L. Bean had clothing that was simple, usually fit me, and if it didn’t, they didn’t charge for shipping (now they do, but back then, they didn’t) or for returning anything for any reason. Lands’ End was another port of call. Eventually I added Coldwater Creek and J. Jill to the mix and for the past 30 years, I still shop in the same places. Online rather than from catalogs, but it was an easy shift.

I wait for sales and coupons, but I know that the clothing will fit and they take returns. You don’t even need a reason because “I don’t like it” is a reason. The shops in the mall never had my size, only had whatever was currently in style, and returning things required that you had saved all the slips and the tags — and of course, there were those lines. Long lines. Slow lines.

Finally, you had to haul it all to the car. After a while, they only time Garry and I went mall shopping was right after Christmas when everything was on sale. After a while, we stopped doing even that.

I used to shop with my mother when I was a kid and continued to shop with her even when I was a young adult. We had fun. The clerks would buzz around, offering to help, taking away things we didn’t want, tempting us with new items. One day, without any warning, it stopped. The malls seemed to think we were so hooked on the “mall experience” that we’d keep coming anyway.

They were wrong.

Now they blame everything on online shopping — especially Amazon — but they were alienating shoppers long before Amazon came of age. Moreover, I don’t buy clothing on Amazon. I buy appliances, books, over-the-counter medications. Stuff for birds and the Duke. Batteries. I buy cameras from camera stores — the same ones I bought from in person when I lived in New York. If you live in New York, you can still go there but it’s a long drive from Uxbridge.

I used to go to Circuit City for a lot of the things I get from Amazon. They closed Circuit City. It was a “buy-out” closure. The store was always busy and did well, but someone wanted them out of the way, so they closed them. After that, until there was an Amazon, there was nowhere to buy many things I had gotten in that and other appliance stores.

As for the whole concept of shopping locally? I would if there were shops that sold things I need, but so many of them closed before the pandemic. These were family shops. The kids didn’t want the business, the owners got too old to keep working. The ones that didn’t close are mostly run by immigrants who work hard and see these little stores as an opportunity. A lot of Americans could take lessons from the efforts immigrants put into their work. If they are “stealing jobs from Americans,” it’s because many Americans don’t want to work hard. They wouldn’t see running a local shop as an opportunity.

And anyway, minimum wage isn’t enough money to keep even a single person from starving or enable them to pay even minimum rent, so what do employers expect? THEY don’t work for minimum wage. They should try it for a couple of weeks. it would be a real eye-opener.

Minimum wage IS slavery. Different name, same work.



Categories: Amazon, Anecdote, Clothing, Customer Service, Fashion, online shopping, Photography, shoes, Shopping

Tags: , , , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. I can’t remember the last time I was at a mall. It was well before the pandemic took us down early last year.

    Like

  2. I used to love to shop, or window shop at bricks and mortar stores but for the last 20 or 25 years there has been less and less reason to do it. It’s not just that Amazon, eBay and other stores stole the customers, the stores did it to themselves when they stopped stocking the things we wanted to buy and that started happening before the internet was a thing in Australia. Gradually all the big department stores closed or downsized to the point that they were shadows of their former selves.
    I remember going in to the store we considered the fancy one, looking for a watch I think it was only to be told. “We don’t sell those any more. ”
    I miss the fun of the outing too. Mum and I used to go around the furniture and pick out what we’d have if we were rich enough. We’d admire the Royal Doulton and Royal Albert china and go and look at the dolls in the toy department. Sometimes we’d have a laugh trying on hats. Naomi and I sometimes had a Sunday in the city, getting lunch and browsing and we nearly always found something we liked.
    There are lots of things that I am happy to buy online and never miss seeing them first but there are other things I really would prefer to see for myself first because photos are sometimes misleading about colours and details. It’s great that you can send things back just because you don’t like them but I do like the instant gratification of finding what I want right away. So I miss shopping. Luckily I can’t afford to do it much anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My story is the same. Amazon and the other online sellers didn’t come from nowhere. We were already frustrated and angry with brick & mortar shopping. I remember — I was working — and I went to find a suit for those days when we had clients coming in and needed to look “professional,” only to be told they didn’t sell them anymore. No skirts. No dresses. And no selection. Unless you were 17 and a size 8 (or less), everything looked stupid. This was not “office” clothing. it was what I used to call “junior slut wear.” So when online became a thing, we were desperate for clothing choices that were age-suitable and business appropriate.

      The malls did it to themselves. In their endless greed, they killed themselves off. I don’t cry for them. They deserved exactly what they got.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I sympathize with people who’ve lost jobs because of the mall demise. However, it is a bit of karma given how malls became the kiss of death for local businesses, the “Mom and Pop” stores which were so dependable and accessible.

        I miss a) the video store where I could just look over all the obscure old films and wonder how much I might spend with money that wasn’t disposable income. It was like the old book store for comparison.
        b) The Pretzel stand: Such delicious smells and so yummy. Now, Marilyn makes her own pretzels. Very, very yummy.

        I also don’t miss getting lost in the malls or their parking lots.

        Like

        • PRETZELS DO SOUND GRET. I LOST YOUR LAST NOTE RE APOLOGY. NONE NEEDED.WE SIMPLY SHARE OUR EXPERIENCES FREELY AND OPENLY. YOU SAID YOU ERE THE ONE HOLDING UP THE WALL AT YOUR HIGH SCHOOL PROM. I WAS THE ONE HELPING TO ORGANIZE IT BUT NEVER WENT. I NEVER DATED ANY OF MY CLASSMATES BECAUSE I WAS GOING OUT WITH A YOUNG MAN 21 YEARS OLD, AND HE DIDN’T DANCE.

          Like

  3. I WAS NEVER A SHOPPER, AND WHEN I DID,IT WAS USUALLY AT AN OUTDOOR MALL SET UP TWICE A YEAR AT OUR LOCAL PARK. MY CLOTHES WERE LONG DRESSES, OR SHORTER INDIAN CLOTH ONES, CAPES, AND HATS. NOW, I USUALLY WEAR PANTS AND T-SHIRTS. I ALWAYS LOVED GOING BAREFOOT WHEN I COULD, BUT IT’S NOT ALWAYS PRACTICAL FOR MY BALANCE THESE DAYS.WHEN I WAS IN THE PEACE CORPS, MY NICKNAME WAS “KLOBUK,’ WHICH IS SLOVAK FOR “HAT.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was always hunting for clothing that was loose, comfortable. Flat shoes, no points. As close to barefoot as shoes can be. I still am. I have to deal with winter because we live in New England, but soft Australian sheepskin boots are pretty easy on my feet and a lot warmer than anything I wore before. Expensive, but they last forever, so a worthwhile investment.

      The malls did themselves in and I do not cry for them. Ironically, the only store that has survived is Walmart, probably because clothing is not expensive and NOT high fashion. At least you can find clothing in a range of sizes and it’s not all tight mini-skirts. Though to be fair, I haven’t been inside a Walmart since the last time I needed a larger bath mat which I think was at least two years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not a huge mall fan either

    Liked by 1 person

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