There Are No Winners in the Death of Retail
There is one escalator in our town. It's located in the chain bookstore on the university campus and is a novelty for my kids. With that in mind, we went to the mall as a reward for an appointment that mainly included waiting in the nearby Big City. My daughter marveled at the escalator heading to a department store's third floor. I marveled at my nostalgia for the mall experience, a feeling my children didn't share.
My 7-year-old has spent over two years with less access to everyday, communal life. He's tinged by the time; he wears a mask willingly when he's got the sniffles because he doesn't want to get his friends at school sick. Since virtual pre-K was a hot mess, my only desire for him was that he had social experiences at school. His kindergarten teacher would detail computerized test results, and I'd interrupt with, "But is he making friends?"
He clung to my hand on the escalators, then ran whooping around the fountain. He wouldn't find friends here.
While my husband grumbled about the capitalistic hellscape that the mall triumphed, I just wanted to get an overpriced coffee, browse the overpriced makeup and teach my daughter about overpriced athletic wear.
Like many, I've converted even more to online shopping during the pandemic, but it's not the same as browsing in a shop. With a coffee in hand -- and a son on an ice cream high left with my husband on some uncomfortable mall seating -- my daughter and I went to investigate pricey leggings.
I bent down to whisper to my daughter, "Those leggings I use?" She nodded and replied, "The ones you can put your phone in?" I told her, "I got mine for 25 bucks online."
I turned over the tag and made her read it. "A hundred and forty dollars!" she yelled, and we walked back to check out the shelves of leggings; the standard version was only $110. She laughed. I pulled her to the clearance section. "You know, we could get this somewhere else"— I pulled out capri sweatpants— "for 10 bucks," I said. The clearance price was $50.
I told her that people associate brands with worth; however, brands don't make your worth. "It tells you more about the person who values the brand," I said. She nodded. I continued, "As the poet of my generation, Macklemore, would say, that's getting tricked by a business."
The mall felt busy for a Monday, but indications of a dying mall lingered. Locations sat unrented. There were no updates to the map; it mentioned stores that didn't exist there or in the world. Booths in prime locations, empty.
I hesitated to discuss how there may not be any ethical consumption with my daughter. How could the pants I bought for $25 make any more sense, especially if they were shipped from the other side of the world? Macklemore would advise me to "pop some tags"— aka a indulge in a healthy consumerist spree —at the thrift shop.
Later in the week, I watched my daughter rummage around for bright clothes to piece together a costume at our local thrift shop, marveling at the deals. I sighed when I found the perfect Stevie Nicks skirt in the rows sectioned for Halloween attire. It was only $7.
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.