Day Thirty-Two: The End of Recreational Retail?

Have we finally stopped mistaking this for fun? Image courtesy

When I was a kid, my Mom did home daycare. All week she stayed at the house, tending six small, noisy children, baking chicken nuggets, microwaving frozen vegetables, chairing the Clean Plate Club, changing diapers, and gently teaching emotional regulation. More weekends than not, she just wanted to get out.

We couldn’t afford to do much by way of fun activities, and, besides, all the daycare shopping had to get done on Saturday or Sunday. So our weekend excursions were all about shopping. And shopping. And shopping.

Mom could make a day of it like no one else I’ve met. We’d go to Target to scope out the toy section, especially the clearance aisle. But the whole store had to be scoured for items of interest. Three hours later we’d hit the thrift store, where each disorganized item on the shelves had to be examined. Then we’d swing by Sears “quickly” to see if there were any sales on ride-on toys. And there was still the grocery store to go, an aisle by aisle affair. We got home late, tired, hungry, and utterly drained.

I don’t shop this way.

My Dad says I shop like a guy. The goal is to get in, get needed items as quickly and efficiently as possible, and get out. The gender stereotype is probably dated at this point. I expect I shop like most people in my age group and socioeconomic cohort who aren’t particularly into fashion.

I figured out a long time ago that if it isn’t tied to me, I’ll lose it. Designer bags aren’t for me. Image courtesy

The idea of going out for a day of shopping as a recreational activity has zero appeal to me. Maybe I just never was “girly” enough, but seriously? Bleh. I’d rather be doing so many other things, including just staying home.

I’ve read a couple of articles recently sounding the death knell for department stores. This piece looks at the sector overall, and this is an in-depth profile of sorts of Nieman Marcus, which never answers its own headline question. Really, of course, the death knell has been sounding for a long time. COVID 19 is just likely to be the final nail in a coffin that was already about ready to go into the ground. And when the department store goes, so too goes the shopping mall.

And I say good riddance. We aren’t losing many jobs that weren’t destined to be taken over by robots, anyway, though I do feel awful for the people who might have eked out a few more years behind the counter. Instead we are losing a culturally pernicious pastime.

Recreational shopping was always a perverse idea. Theoretically, recreation should be about renewing yourself. A shopping binge might be fun while you’re doing it, but, unless you have lots of disposable income to play with, retail therapy comes at a cost. In the longer term, instead of renewing ourselves, we renewed debt, anxiety, and clutter. We renewed our time crunch, and we renewed our stress.

All this is not to mention that we renewed a service sector of unlivable low-income jobs, we renewed our carbon footprint, and we renewed our environmentally catastrophic infatuation with cheap plastic crap.

Now we just renew all these things via Amazon.

Still, it’s hard to think of an activity that better symbolizes an unsustainable civilization filled with people living unsustainable lives than a day at the Great American Shopping Mall. And there has to be a social benefit to ditching consumption as its own form of entertainment. Retailers are already getting our money, for their products and for hidden things we all pay for as taxpayers, like the police who are used as security at Walmart stores and all the employees who are using food stamps. We don’t have to give them our leisure time as well.

Full parking lots at the parks is actually a wonderful problem to have.

Maybe it isn’t a coincidence that, as our shopping malls dry up and blow away, our national, state, and local parks are seeing simply hoards of people showing up to recreate in the great outdoors. Too many people wanting to get out to hike, bike, and run is actually a fantastic problem to have in a country with an obesity epidemic. Now we just need to claw back some corporate subsidies to spend on more parks.

I can say for sure that I feel a whole lot better, a whole lot more re-created, after a day in nature vs. a day in stores. So goodbye Sears, goodbye Macy’s, and JC Penney’s, and Sak’s, and Nieman-Marcus. Goodbye weekend days of mercilessly hard tile flooring and the reflection of florescent lights in linoleum. Goodbye to parking lots so vast that forgetting where you parked could eat up hours of your life.

Now I just have to figure out how to tell my nieces, who are just at that age when a shopping mall is actually a desirable place to be.

Signing off. Take Care, and Take Care of one another.

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