Santa just might be getting his pink slip. Yep, the rumors seem to have been based upon fact—December 2017 just wasn’t Santa’s best year. Amazon has replaced the need for chimneys. Oh, it is not just the big A that is donning Santa’s cap—the entire cyber/internet/inter-galactic mall inside your smartphone and computer is pretty much reshaping shopping.
It is true that I haven’t had any warm and fuzzy feelings for malls and big-box stores since I was a young dinosaur. In fact, I grew to have nothing short of contempt for them. And then, they started to fall. Now they seem vulnerable. I am now willing to remember the good times these mammoth sprawls of indoor retail provided me.
Sharing a day with my mom to go shopping, being fitted for my first bra (the beyond embarrassing step towards teen-hood), window shopping while plotting the ways to spend my babysitting profits—all were mall rituals. Christmas shopping with piped-in holiday music, giant Christmas trees, and shiny decorations. And just as fun was the day after Christmas when we’d return clothes that didn’t fit or shop for more goodies with the monies gifted to me by Aunt Ethel.
Even my rebellious, hippy-dippy teenage years were spent inside these shopping centers. Despite the capitalistic/all-American/conventional confines of a mall, there were treasure troves of music to be had. Even Sears had a record department. Music was big money then—no freebies from some device that even Ray Bradbury had yet to imagine. Certainly, radio was big and free and a serious part of our music world, but before MTV, you listened to and watched Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, Ed Sullivan, and Soul Train on TV. But great as those televised moments were, you also bought vinyl. Albums and 45’s were an escape from suburbia—a magical mystery tour of other alternate worlds. An entire revolution was inside those record covers—and ya could find them in a mall!
I even remember a head shop in our Bel Air Mall in Mobile. You could buy rolling papers and pipes, despite the strictly enforced laws against pot. You truly could be locked up in a penitentiary for possession—but the paraphernalia was for sale and openly displayed along with those must-have suede fringe vests, headbands, macramé purses, incense, and oh, I nearly forgot—black light posters. My bedroom truly frightened my mom with a psychedelic Hendrix day-glowing from my black-light—she really wasn’t comfortable with her 17-year-old sleeping under the gaze of a black man. Oh, and of course, my Frank Zappa sitting nude on the crapper was tolerated only because it was thumbtacked to the ceiling (she hated climbing ladders).
Prior to morphing into a wannabe radical teenager, the mall was simply where we went to be cool, flirt with boys, and try on clothes that were beyond our allowance and babysitting funds. We meant no harm, but I know we were a holy terror for all clothing-store clerks. Playing dress-up was what it amounted to and at the expense of the sales lady, who had to re-hang, re-fold, and re-stock tons of dresses. Those poor shop women—the restraint they must have had to muster every Saturday as clusters of teenage girls descended upon the shopping malls of America. All they could do was pistol-whip us obnoxious adolescents with their eyes and maintain a tight-lipped smile for fear of offending any of our mothers (the real shoppers with wallets).
Through the years, malls and big-box stores came to represent conspicuous consumption and venues for made-in-China (exploited labor) products and a knife to the back of small, mom-and-pop stores. Yet, now that these retail elephants are falling and becoming extinct, I feel a pang of empathy for them—empathy that was normally reserved for the small businesses. Ironically, the same big guys that transformed and transferred shoppers to online, thus effectively taking down the brick-n-mortar shops, are now looking to reinvent themselves into those same brick-n-mortars. Is the acquisition of Whole Foods by mega-mogul Amazon a harbinger of more to come? I fear it is.
With due respect (for we must pay the devil his due) to Amazon’s online services for the extreme efficiency and economy they offer shoppers, there will be a price to pay. The devil does deliver (even free shipping), but read the small print in this contract we all have signed onto—there are hidden charges. Small and large businesses will be taken down, and Santa will be given the boot.
There is nothing new about a corporation absorbing smaller businesses and merging with other giants. Corporations are in the habit of making strange bedfellows—they lure and woo seemingly unrelated industries and grow and grow. Monsanto of Agent Orange fame—now easily known for Round-Up (another carcinogenic delight)—also owns, or is connected to, lots of the goodies we eat; say hello to Campbell’s, Nabisco, and about 60-plus food-related companies. Beginning in the late 80s, Philip Morris bought Kraft (cigarettes and Velveeta cheese—yum). Point is, Amazon is merely one of many big shots amassing power, influence, and wealth.
So, are we going to the dark side when we order online, or simply making our lives a bit easier with the convenience? Ask Santa next holiday season. Ask yourself when the neighborhood grocery folds, when libraries suffer funding, and small hardware stores go bankrupt. Was it worth it?