Sunday, January 8, 2017

Elegy for the Shopping Mall (and The Limited)

I read that The Limited is closing--every single store.  I confess that I didn't shop there and haven't been to one of those stores since, oh, probably 1997.  So why do I feel this deep sadness?

Probably for the same reason I feel sadness when an icon from the past, one with personal connections for me, dies (in the past year, it seems to be a variety of musicians, plus Carrie Fisher).  Usually I reserve my sadness for humans, not institutions.

But let me take a minute and think about The Limited, and by extension, the mall--I expect that many of them will be closing too, as various Macy's locations close, along with The Limited, and other stores that I expect will close at some point in the coming year.

When I was younger, in the 70's, when I first became aware of malls, it seemed that they would be a permanent fixture on the landscape, and I, being young, did not see them as a blight.  No, they were a wonder.  Imagine:  you could get a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, which I thought were the best tasting sandwiches on the face of the planet, and then you could wander down to B. Dalton's to pick up some books, and then you could get your running shoes at a different shop, along with a cool candle at the candle stores that we had before Yankee Candles took over everything, and then a stop at Spencer's, which felt like a vaguely dangerous store, with a variety of pranky kinds of gifts and perhaps, could it be?!!! items that promoted drug use.  You could have your hair done or your ears pierced (we didn't pierce other body parts in those long-ago days) or buy an engagement ring.

In my early teen years, I'd meet friends at the mall and we'd wander around for hours, buying books, buying records, having an Orange Julius, which we convinced ourselves was a healthy alternative to other mall food.  We didn't have the mall experience that showed up in movies of the 90's--no roving gangs of youths, no sex in hidden corners, no friends who worked in shops giving us free food or turning a blind eye to shoplifting.  I had a very vanilla youth--bland, bland, bland, but at least no criminal records, disease, or teen pregnancies took place.

Later, in undergraduate school, we made a trip occasionally to a mall (which involved getting in a car and driving to the nearest biggish city, Columbia, SC), where once again, I'd buy books, records, and a treat here or there.  In grad school, my spouse worked at a B. Dalton's, so I went to the mall more often than I might have otherwise, but I could only shop the sales--and there were always sales.

I loved the clothes at The Limited, but couldn't afford them--but there was great jewelry, which I could buy on sale.  The Limited Express (or was it just called Express?) was more affordable, especially when the clothes went on sale, but those clothes were designed for women without hips.

Now we see malls that try to make themselves look like the city streets of past years--but without the interesting diners and hardware stores.  One has to go outside to walk between the stores, which I don't see as an advantage.  Now, in my older years, I see them along the same lines as a theme park:  a fake setting designed to part me from my money.

Will I say the same thing about my online shopping some day?  Perhaps.  I like to think I'm aware when I'm being manipulated, and I tend not to wander into online shopping places unless I know what I want to buy.  Of course, most of us want to think that, don't we?  It's those other dopes being manipulated by advertising and appearances, not us.

So, goodbye to The Limited and other stores of my younger years.  I probably have plenty of workplace-suitable clothes to take me to retirement.  Now it's time to put the money I might have once spent on clothes into my retirement funds.

I am now officially on the older side of middle age--sigh.

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