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Summer 2017 - The Death of the Mall

Friends and Family - Summer Shopping The Death of the Mall

Balzac wrote, “A flow of words is a sure sign of duplicity,” and so I shall attempt to be terse in this essay of a post-mortem for the mall, the shopping mall to be specific. He also stated: “Virtue, perhaps, is nothing more than politeness of soul.” Politeness of the soul shall guide my words in an even greater attempt at virtue. The truth, however, shall reign supreme regarding the celebration of shopping for fashion! Sometime around the year 2000, the concept of the Shopping Mall and the microcosm within it, the Department Store, began to die. It’s been a long, tortured death that was exacerbated in the USA by 9/11 and then by the subprime collapse of easy money borrowed against the haven of the latest cash cow, The Home. During this time, Dear Daughter and I tried mightily to enjoy her formative years as an adolescent and then as a blossoming young woman through that quintessential female social activity: shopping!

We shopped primarily in various stores in the local mall. The experiences were, cumulatively, lovingly bonding for Mom & Daughter. When taken individually, however, they were exercises in frustration if not futility. We encountered too many of a growing breed of aggressive, abrasive “sales associates” (the term, salesgirl, having somehow become pejorative) who informed us that this job of selling was merely temporary until a real and better job returns (did not happen); out-of-stock items (low inventory); declining quality of goods that were manufactured Elsewhere (“Imported”); and the sense that we were wasting our time trying to spend our leisure time shopping in the brick-and-mortar department stores at the mall. We would soon progress to online shopping but with equally frustrating results. (For some further incisive venting on a commerce sector meant for friends and family but better suited for enemies and feuds, please refer to FREE MARKET MASQUERADE.)

The Shopping Mall has long attempted to capitalize on this intrinsic desire by women to feel the experience, to feel the merchandise, to feel the sensations of females-on-the-hunt for the best bargain, regardless of the target or the prey: makeup, clothes, shoes, accessories, dishes, towels, home decor, even furniture. The years of the Great Recession dragged on, one-by-one-by-one-by-one, and as Dear Daughter became her own independent person, a woman with a paycheck all her own, she felt a sense of loss, as did her Dear Mother, that the fun days of shopping for quality goods were gone. Dear Daughter blamed the bad economy. I did not. I blamed the patent sense of privilege that the huge shopping malls have exercised (exorcised?) over the female hunters, those huntresses who, in the opinion of the mall owners, will drive miles and miles to engage in near-fender-benders to find a parking place amidst the hordes of Humvees and Hondas, and then, with their pointy elbows, machete their way past loud, obnoxious Kiosk sellers, worm their way around noisy brats using the mall for a squat or social experiment — before, finally, the women attain their objective of the opening into the mall Anchor Store, only to discover . . . their favorite Sales Associate has been relocated (re-assigned) from a Premium Makeup Counter to a Mid-Grade Makeup Counter, where she will work harder and harder to sell less and less to earn less and less until she finally moves on to a new job elsewhere, down the corridor of the mall, selling who-knows-what that is also of inferior quality: Mattresses, Closet Systems, Organizers for the Junk that has still not been replaced by Quality Merchandise, Do-It-Yourself What-Have-You, Wine-Bottle-Sweaters.

Hopefully, this Sales Associate maneuvers her way out of the selling minefield of the Mall and leaves retail sales forever! Maybe she starts an online business! She’s enterprising enough, after having been moved from counter to counter more times than any customer can calculate! In my little corner of the world, my local mall was severely scorched in October 2010 by a fire set in a computer game store by a mentally-ill young man whose dosage was not being properly administered or not administered at all. The lawsuits flared up faster than the flames; the fate of the disturbed young man remains unknown to me. That Christmas was one of economic recession, emotional depression and spiritless cheer at this retail mecca. By the Christmas of 2014, the dimly-lit place was not even decorated for the shoppers. It was a bring-your-own-bottle-of-spirits affair for retailer and customer alike.

And that retail affair has only grown more chilly between customer and cash register. The fire-at-Galleria was one excuse used to blame the decline of this mall, but it’s not a fire or a tornado or even an earthquake that’s afoot with the retail failure. The Quake of 1906 did not stop San Francisco from being re-built (some might say, too much). If the stores have something that the customers want to buy, especially that female customers want to buy, there will be a stampede. Perhaps not the size of the Oklahoma Land Rush, but I suggest never getting between a woman and a purse of exquisite beauty and quality, especially a red one of pebbled leather. In the retail world of today, there is no beauty, no quality, no purse, and no woman! We are all seeing red! During this past Christmas season, Dear Daughter and I shopped online, from our respectively distant regions of the Nation, at the same retailer for those Last-Minute/Last-Chance/End-of-The-Year/Can’t-Get-Them-Anywhere-Else bargains. These clothes were supposedly sale-priced inventory but we did not recall seeing much of this merchandise online during the previous 8 months of scouring the site for anything remotely wearable! We suspect the company held these half-baked beauties in abeyance for the hungry hounds that women become during the Holidays. The scent, however, of most of this purchased prey is enough to make me pray for natural fibers, natural anything! The odor of rayon, poly and her sister ester, and lyocell (recycled rayon made of cellulose fiber that is in turn generated from dissolving bleached wood pulp — oooh!!) could be smelled from within the ether-sphere! Dear Daughter moaned, “And all we ask for is the Basics!” Mother-Knows-This-One-Best answered: "That was our first mistake. Those things left the Stores long ago! Not sure when they are coming back . . . "

Maybe our friend who sold mattresses at the mall could give us a clue as to when the mattress companies (which are consolidating into one bed-blob mattress) will soak up all of that cellulose goodness and thereby deprive clothing manufacturers of creating the God-Awful clothes of this faux-fabric. I prefer to be in the bed, not to wear the bed on me! You wear lyocell once and discover it does not move with your body. You wash it once and it will never move with you again: it shrinks like shrink-wrap! Perhaps the people who think up how to dress Americans can just cut out this middle stage of pretending to use real fabric. They can cut out their designs from various shades of Saran Wrap. At “Holiday” time, they could provide special Holiday colors in red and green!

My daughter and I have long worked on a reward system for work, particularly labor of a mental kind that involves writing and teaching. My creative juices got flowing this morning, along with the cooler, and I realized that buying any type of female retail right now is more a punishment than a reward! The little purchases that helped us to feel that we put forth a big effort of quality result, the small-pleasures-incentive: all up in puffs of paltry smoke! There is nothing worth buying “out there”! It’s an assault to the female-brain-anatomy, and a shock to the consumer system, worse than a triple-digit heat wave. Recently, I went through an exhaustive but necessary search for personal photographs of historical record (my childbearing years) to select pictures for a future essay. The pix show me wearing wonderful clothes that CANNOT BE FOUND TODAY! And, believe me, these items of apparel were not expensive nor were they trendy. They were fun basics bought for fun, not investment.

Not only were those times of my life part of an historical record, evidently so were the clothes! The tartan nightgown with the portrait collar and white ribbon that I’d worn in the hospital after the birth of my daughter looks like an evening gown, compared to the cheap Chinese crap sold as “clothes” today in all the stores and online. I do not want to buy those pieces of junk full-price, 25% off, 50%, 75% off — I won’t even wear them if you give them to me! Every time I see “Shop New Arrivals” I flee the sight of them! They are just too monotonously the same, boring, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. Most of these pieces of apparel need the Consumer Products Safety Commission warning labels (which are now about as long as my arm, and I’ve got short arms) to inform the wearer about the threat of abrasion to the skin from scratchy synthetics; or about the wearer herself bouncing off of something, perhaps even another person, due to the high plastic content! The red-rubber-ball dress ought to score a home-run at your next dinner party!

For the sake of friends and family, I beseech, I entreat, I implore: Do not “go there” — to the Mall! You, and your Chinese-made wallet, will be mauled! I realize that this concern of frustration is quite minor compared to the real fears concerning the brave people busily fighting crime & terrorism; but these hideous fabrics and poorly made styles really do affect the way a person feels -- and we've got entire nations looking like slobs! Since I grew up in New Jersey, right across the river from the Garment District, I became a bit spoiled, accustomed to clothing designs that were not designer, but highly individualized, tailored, if you will, to the market of a given age group. Toddlers dressed like toddlers, children like children, even teens like teens. There was no photo-copying of the same look for everyone. Each individual in each unique age group had the opportunity to explore and discover “the look” that suited her or him. I don’t recall when the one-look-suits-all (that suits no one) and the smearing-of-cream-cheese design (the same design, just varying sizes, for every age group) took hold. The 1990s? It might have first begun when the Hippies ruined the world of fashion for everyone with their smelly, grody uniforms of “do your own thing” — but make sure you fit in! And wear what’s in! Wear what everyone else is wearing or — gah! You’ll feel left out! And We Will Shun You. Even their conformity was (is) intolerant. Group-clothes, group-think, group learning, group meeting, group exercise, group identity, groupie, groovy have all led to China wearing the groove very thin for any clothing that has style, taste or cotton fibers.

Admittedly, I was shocked when I first moved to California in 1979 and saw that in most offices “casual” Friday was, more or less, every day. The major exception to California Cool was in the IBM building where employees were expected to dress in Conservative Blue and White, much like the IBM punch card of the time. (Even the architecture of the office building looked like a punch card.) I recall when one co-worker, a native Hawaiian, said to me, just months after I moved to Sacramento, “I knew you’re from the East Coast.” “Why is that?” I asked this male engineer. “Your style of dress. It’s so formal. So nice.” Formal and nice ought not be the exception to the rule of dressing, anytime, anywhere. Formal and nice can come back to life, anytime, anywhere. It all starts with making clothes made of natural fibers in classic styles. And, yes, in America, not in China. (See the SHOPPING THE CLASSICS)

The time has come for the return of the Specialty Shop, brick-and-mortar, online, or even on the kitchen table, for women who like to sew with real fabric. Those retail wonderlands of the Dress Shop were the wonderful little stores of my youth, places where I went to find uniquely pretty dresses or barrettes or hats. I recall The Lili-Ann Shop in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, a specialty shop where each dress in that store felt like it was made especially for the girl and the woman-to-be. My 8th-grade graduation dress was a lovely lilac number, a dotted Swiss chiffon, double-breasted, fabric-buttoned shift with a single ruffle that bordered one side of the dress and gracefully touched off part of the neckline. That dress, like each dress from that shop, was one-of-a-kind that made me feel like one-of-a-kind. Every girl, every woman deserves to feel that way more than once in her life. In fact, she deserves to feel that way every day of her life. Many years ago, I designed and sewed clothes for myself and for my daughter. I stitched new memories from my treasured memories of those dressmakers who gave so much to my budding sense of female self. One-stop-shopping has always been for the masses and it’s well nigh impossible to develop any real sense of self from mass retailing. Dressmaking is an art form of beauty and joy that must find new life in the new economies of the USA, if not the world. If we give more of those true gifts of beauty and joy to each little girl when she is a little girl, she will not need to “go find herself” when she is a woman. I once asked a much older gal who claimed she needed to fulfill that mission: “And when did you lose yourself?”

This wife and mother gave me no answer, but I think that memories of a dress she’d loved, not a divorce, would have led her much more quickly to that trail of whoever it was that she lost. As females, we find our identity in our clothes; perhaps men do too, but for a woman, what she wears speaks volumes about who she is, and who she is not. A woman can fulfill dreams in a dress, just as the right dress can fulfill a dream for a woman. Right now, there are only nightmares hanging on the racks of retailers. I would say R. I. P. Mall, but those venues never were peaceful places and I highly doubt they will find peace in their demise. Ah, for the peace and quiet of the boutique, the shoppe. I look forward to shopping in, not The Mall of America, but the dress shop, Le Magasin of Small Town America. It’s a dream that will come true because, in America, dreams do come true! And I’m working toward that dream-of-a-dress, whenever that dream-day comes true! A girl can dream, can’t she?


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