With the seeming demise of retail we are losing our culture…

April 22, 2017

For the most part I have never enjoyed shopping, well maybe unless I am getting something special for myself or something I desperately need — well then again, I can get excited about buying gifts for others too. But even if I am not a shopper per se I hate to see the demise of the retail trade. But that is what is in the news.

Many small retailers were pushed out by the larger retailers. But now the larger retailers are being pushed out big time by online shopping with the online behemoth Amazon getting much of the business.

There does not seem to be much of a future in being a retail sales clerk.

But that career has been in trouble for a long time. Way back in the 1970s I remember seeing members of the retail clerks union picketing a Montgomery Ward store (I just read that firm is history — no one told me). But I knew some union carpenters who walked right past them without a thought — if you need a saw or a pair of work gloves or overalls or camping equipment or whatever you go to where they have it. You gotta live.

That was before the internet and before online shopping.

But even then there was not really a future in being a retail clerk. I think it was really a job for teenagers or some family member, often a woman then, who was simply supplementing the major source of income for the family.

On the other hand, when I was a little tyke I think the man who lived next door worked in a department store.

Also when I was in high school the town we lived in had its own department store, a locally-owned establishment. I remember a beyond-middle-aged clerk who sold me my gym clothes. I’ll forgive him for putting two left gym shoes in the box resulting in major embarrassment to me my first day of high school gym class, or P.E. as we called it then. That same man also sold women’s undergarments — so I guess the mix-up could have been worse.

Dad always liked to patronize the local stores, such as the hardware store on Main Street, and since he was into photography, for his work and for family stuff, he liked to patronize a local photo studio/camera shop.

I thought the guys at the hardware store were nice and helpful and I am sure my dad thought them even more so in that he spoke their lingo more than I.

The photo place, not so much. I found the old guy to be a kind of crank.

And that was the way for a  lot of local merchants. They would go on and on about how people were ripping them off, supposedly snatching stuff when they were not looking and generally letting their little ones run amok. And often the little local stores at the time did not have a wide selection. It was common for people to go either north or south to the neighboring and larger towns that had shopping centers with larger stores.

One thing I like about little stores, particularly things like the old-fashioned hardware store, is that those old boys (girls too sometimes, but not so much then maybe) could not only sell you something but could advise you on how to use it. When the big box stores came in they sometimes hired people who through no fault of their own did not know much about what they were selling. In some cases I think that situation improved at some places over time.

Anyway, even though I myself have not always been a shopping fan, the loss of the shopping experience I realize is a major loss or will be in our culture.

I mean shopping is part of the history of all civilizations I think.

Remember the ancient bazaars, Scarborough Fair, Market Street in San Francisco in maybe the 1950s, with the Emporium, City of Paris, Macy’s.

People went shopping not just to get goods but to socialize and patronize eating establishments and walk around and enjoy their time on earth.

But in this crazy fast-paced world where everyone is racing to who knows where and gets stuck in traffic in the process and where retail service is spotty — some clerk’s can’t even figure out a discount if the computer goes haywire — it is so much easier to get on the smart phone and order.

I think we’re losing something here. And it is not just jobs.


Well don’t write off retail just yet. Just today I passed by a new shopping center going in with advertising for a sporting goods store due to open soon.