A Permanent Restructuring Is Underway
April 17, 2017 6:46 AM   Subscribe

Is American Retail at a Historic Tipping Point? [NYT]
More workers in general merchandise stores have been laid off since October, about 89,000 Americans. That is more than all of the people employed in the United States coal industry, which President Trump championed during the campaign as a prime example of the workers who have been left behind in the economic recovery.

The troubles at the American mall are coming to a boil [WaPo]
The jobs report pointed to dire problems confronting many of the stores populating shopping plazas and malls. Department and general merchandise stores — a category that includes Macy’s and Wal-Mart — shed 34,700 workers last month. Clothiers let go of 5,800.

Retailers involved in high-priced big ticket items such as furniture stores and auto dealers barely added jobs.

Nor are wages keeping pace. Average hourly earnings for retail employees, including managers, has inched up just 1.1 percent over the past year, compared with a 2.7 percent average increase for all U.S. workers.
What in the World Is Causing the Retail Meltdown of 2017? [The Atlantic]
In a long and detailed paper this week on the demise of stores, Cowen Research analysts offered several reasons for the “structural decay” of malls following the Great Recession. First, they said that stagnating wages and rising health-care costs squeezed consumer spending on fun stuff, like clothes. Second, the recession permanently hurt logo-driven brands, like Hollister and Abercrombie, that thrived during the 1990s and 2000s, when coolness in high-school hallways was defined by the size of the logo emblazoned on a polo shirt. Third, as consumers became bargain-hunters, discounters, fast-fashion outlets, and club stores took market share from department stores, like Macy’s and Sears. Finally, malls are retail bundles, and when bundles unravel, the collateral damage is massive.
The Call-In: Retailers Decline While Amazon Grows [NPR]
These department stores are faltering. But on the one hand, you have some luxury brands that are doing just fine. And on the other hand, you have this enormous rise of dollar stores that have thrived even post-recession.
posted by melissasaurus (170 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
 
Working in one of the primary retail chains, I can say I've seen my current employer refuse outright to replace any employees that are fired or quit. At one point two years ago we had 230 employees but are now down to just around 100. The biggest reason I've heard from my boss is that the store is "maximizing productivity". I know that's a bullshit answer. He knows it too. Really though it feels as if it's just one more method for the top spots to improve their paychecks.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 6:57 AM on April 17 [13 favorites]


The Atlantic link has the tl;dr--"Between 2010 and last year, Amazon’s sales in North America quintupled from $16 billion to $80 billion. Sears’ revenue last year was about $22 billion, so you could say Amazon has grown by three Sears in six years."
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:58 AM on April 17 [33 favorites]


FTFA: Finally, malls are retail bundles, and when bundles unravel, the collateral damage is massive.

This is the key, to me: I can skip a trip to the mall, and instead do individual transactions on my computer. No more Lands' End, just llbean.com; and a day later, no more B.Dalton, just amazon.com.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:00 AM on April 17 [7 favorites]


The spaces will close or adapt. My local mall now has a bowling alley/arcade/fun complex in place of a dead Penney's, for instance, and substantial former retail space taken up by urgent care and other health care facilities.

Down the road is a Big Block metromall, which varies between thriving (Wal-Mart, big movie theater complex) and rotting (Huge Circuit City corpse never resold, constantly changing small restaurant selection).

Brick and mortar can't beat online for selection, nor on convenience. They either win on customer service -- which costs money to provide -- or on necessity (things you can't easily return and can't try out / try on / pick up and look at online), or vanish. And in the latter case they still need to remain competitive on price or they become just a meatspace showroom for Amazon.
posted by delfin at 7:04 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Is this best post month?
posted by Melismata at 7:11 AM on April 17 [6 favorites]


I want "all of the people employed in the United States coal industry" to become a standard measure of people.

"Welcome to the college football season kickoff here at Michigan Stadium. 108,000 fans are here for the game, which is more than one and a half times as many people as are employed in the United States coal industry."
posted by Etrigan at 7:17 AM on April 17 [142 favorites]


Is it naive to think that in a time when real wage growth has been stagnant while fixed costs (health care, rent) keep growing, Americans just can't sustain the kind of spending-as-entertainment that was the lifeblood of malls in the 80s and 90s?

It seems like we've been restructuring the economy to be based on direct consumer spending for the last 30 years at the same time that constant transfers of wealth to the ownership class has left us less able to support that kind of an economy.
posted by murphy slaw at 7:17 AM on April 17 [103 favorites]


It's not just the shopping malls. The same thing is happening in cities.

In my own neighborhood there was an awesome consignment store that was doing bang-up business, and the landlord just recently kicked them out, to be replaced with a real estate broker's office. Meanwhile, that store was probably one of the main drivers of foot traffic in the neighborhood, so now all of the other businesses here are going to suffer, too.

The stupidity of greedy landlords continues to astound me.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:21 AM on April 17 [37 favorites]


I'm not sure how they do it, but Microcenter is a (I assume) success story in brick and mortar, most likely because their prices are the same as amazon, and they have just about anything that's tech related, from resistors and diodes up to flat screen TVs. Sure, I can get some widgets online for a few dollars less, but it's worth the extra dollar or whatever for instant gratification for that oddball cable you need TODAY to finish a project.

The last 3 times I walked into a Best Buy, I walked out empty handed because it seems like all they want to sell are mobile phones, and their computer parts/cables selection is both a joke and ridiculously overpriced.

Our local Sears is a disaster. About 1/3 of the huge retail space is filled with "outdoor living" stuff like gazebos and gas grills, while their electronics section has 2 TVs and 10 xbox games from 2 years ago. Even (what i think of as) their reason for existing tools section is a tiny corner of the store that seems to be a forgotten remnant.
posted by Mr. Big Business at 7:24 AM on April 17 [14 favorites]


I want "all of the people employed in the United States coal industry" to become a standard measure of people.

Coal: the Rhode Island of population comparisons.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:24 AM on April 17 [14 favorites]


My local mall now has a bowling alley/arcade/fun complex in place of a dead Penney's

Does your bowling alley feature an underground city located beneath the pin retrieval area of lane five, and its apparent intention to march to war against the surface world?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:24 AM on April 17 [46 favorites]


As mentioned, retail workers are more likely to be not white and not male but no politician is running on opening more malls.

The retail apolcayose is hitting older people real hard, what do you do if you live in a city and you can't get to laundromat or grocery store cause they've been replaced with e,toy storefronts cause the landlords are willing to take the hit to wait for a high price renter rather than ever lowering the price?

(In my lighter moments I think how great it is Amazon and such are creating such huge infrastructures cause that will make it easier when we nationalize them )
posted by The Whelk at 7:27 AM on April 17 [24 favorites]


Not that I know of. But we do have bloodstone circles, of course, and an Eternal Scout marking the food court entrance.
posted by delfin at 7:28 AM on April 17 [14 favorites]


maybe this is an isolated anecdotal evidence, but all 3 of my teen daughters and their friend groups scoff at retail stores like AF, American Eagle, etc. They prefer to shop at the local thrift stores and the "resale" stores like Platos Closet way more than going to the mall. Maybe it's from me refusing to give them $100 for a sweatshirt, and maybe it's because the oldest works for minimum wage and "gets" the value of money now, but it seems to be a trend among even their "could afford it if they wanted to" peer group.
posted by Mr. Big Business at 7:31 AM on April 17 [18 favorites]


The retail apolcayose is hitting older people real hard, what do you do if you live in a city and you can't get to laundromat or grocery store cause they've been replaced with e,toy storefronts cause the landlords are willing to take the hit to wait for a high price renter rather than ever lowering the price?

Yup. I have lived in a totally gentrified city, one that is gentrifying rapidly, and now I've that will likely go that way in the next 50 years. One of the most reliable things you'll see is the stores that sell necessary items will be priced out of non car range and replaced by stores that sell, say, upscale Himilayan salt.
posted by selfnoise at 7:31 AM on April 17 [18 favorites]


but no politician is running on opening more malls.

Suburban politicians at the local level have been running on this.

I was driving around the suburbs a bit this weekend, and was amazed how many new strip malls have sprung up in the past ten years. It makes me think that some sort of bubble has been going on under the surface and we only just notice now as it is popping.
posted by drezdn at 7:32 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Well, those folks can always find work in industries that require physical bodies to be present, like touris-

oh.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:33 AM on April 17 [12 favorites]


Cool my wife just got a job at Craft-Retail Fabric Chain
posted by infinitewindow at 7:35 AM on April 17


One of the problems to me, especially with mall stores, is a refusal to adapt to changing populations. Increasing numbers of us are big and/or tall and fall outside of the size range carried at all the major mall retailers. My mom likes going to the mall but for me there's no reason to go in to 80% of the stores because I know there won't be anything in my size. I know there's various reasons for it, from sizing and manufacturing of big and tall apparel to the fashion industry's outright Loathing of no traditional bodies. But the bottom line is that's stores I'm not going in, money I'm spending online, and money I'm not spending at all the other businesses, the food court, etc.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:36 AM on April 17 [13 favorites]


It makes me think that some sort of bubble has been going on under the surface and we only just notice now as it is popping.

Yeah, it's called commercial real estate.

It's 15 trillion dollars large, just a few trillion smaller than the total market cap of the NYSE.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:36 AM on April 17 [11 favorites]


Jamell Bouie on twitter talking about (and showing data supporting) the difficulty of disentangling the role of race and gender in framing the discussion of retail's demise.

The hardhats are not the only reasons we see stages full of coal miners and not too many profiles of t-shirt folders and shelve restockers.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:36 AM on April 17 [45 favorites]


From the Times: Now, many of these once celebrated malls are emptying out or being turned into trampoline parks and community colleges.

Um, how many community colleges? Quick Google search so I hope somebody can do better but aside from Highland Mall in Austin and Nashville State Community College. How many really? OK, and a Bon-Ton in Scranton into Luzerne County Community College. How many is many?

Also, do trampoline parks and community colleges really belong as sorta equivalent options?
posted by Gotanda at 7:37 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


How things happen. Slowly at first, then all at once.

I believe most retailers in mall have language in contracts that allows them out of their lease if enough of the other stores are vacant. Guess how that's gonna pan out?
posted by leotrotsky at 7:40 AM on April 17 [8 favorites]


you'd think that, since we can produce more crapola than anyone wants or can afford while labor participation keeps shrinking, it might be a good time to start questioning systemic assumptions like the 40 hour workweek and "he who does not work, does not eat"

but that's not going to put space stations to hold the clones of our capitalist overlords in orbit so i guess that's out of the question
posted by murphy slaw at 7:40 AM on April 17 [47 favorites]


Ghostride, absolutely. I stopped trying to shop at the mall, long before online took over, because there was just no point. When you go to the mall with three friends, and end up turning the ONE person who can wear mall clothes into the barbie doll for all the others to vicariously shop for, and the other three are just pretending they don't care that they can't wear anything there, well, how soon do you think they'll schedule another outing like that? I know I can find an excuse not to go.
posted by elizilla at 7:40 AM on April 17 [13 favorites]


Cool my wife just got a job at Craft-Retail Fabric Chain
I actually think that fabric is one of those things that people may still want to buy in person, because it's hard to convey all the properties of fabric online. You can't feel it, and monitors don't accurately capture color. I do most of my shopping online, but craft supplies are one of the few things that I still buy in person.
Um, how many community colleges?
I work at a university (not community college) that has taken over a big part of an old mall, although there are still some shops and restaurants.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:42 AM on April 17 [5 favorites]


Lesley College University has totally taken over the Sears building in Cambridge, MA. Kinda funny, as someone who remembers when it was a Sears. It still says Sears on it.

But that's a good question, Gotanda, as small colleges are suffering just as much due to the internet/changing market patterns...

you'd think that, since we can produce more crapola than anyone wants or can afford while labor participation keeps shrinking, it might be a good time to start questioning systemic assumptions like the 40 hour workweek and "he who does not work, does not eat"

Automation, and globalization. We lay off workers here so that we can have things made more cheaply in China, who then promptly sell the goods back to us. No wonder a lot of people voted for Trump and his empty promises about jobs.
posted by Melismata at 7:43 AM on April 17 [5 favorites]


Disposable income. People without disposable income can't buy stuff, and when they have to buy stuff, they go for the cheapest option possible. Of course people whose real incomes haven't risen in decades aren't out shopping for fun!

stores that sell, say, upscale Himilayan salt.

The thing is: these stores don't last, either. Even in the wealthiest cities, the demand rarely supports the rent, especially into the medium term and longer.
posted by praemunire at 7:43 AM on April 17 [10 favorites]


No wonder a lot of people voted for Trump and his empty promises about jobs.

Please, let us not forget that most of the people hardest-hit by this very phenomenon (that is, the contraction of retail)--working-class non-white people--did not vote for Trump. One of the very dumbest things liberals have done post-election is permit the framing that "people harmed by the economy voted for Trump." No. Clinton won the under-$50K income groups, though you'd be hard-pressed to realize it reading the poetic accounts of Ohioan suffering. White people voted for Trump, some of whom happen to have been harmed by the economy.
posted by praemunire at 7:46 AM on April 17 [131 favorites]


What clothes can't we buy without trying them on? Shoes for me since a size 12 varies from shoe to to shoe style to style. Same with pants, Extra long legs and short trunk. I can buy tshirts online if I order 2XL and even those are inconsistent.
posted by judson at 7:48 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


If you live near a visibly dying mall, visit it now and then. Not only might you extend some poor schlub's job slightly, but they can be fascinating demographic.studies as to what stores stick it out to the end, who's stuck working there and who's wandering the halls.

My last trip to a since-demolished mall (RIP Granite Run) showed stores I hadn't seen in a mall in decades popping up (custom t-shirt printers like what you'd see down the shore), "Oriental Gifts" hodgepodges with owners desperate to chat up anyone nearby, and a Bath & Body Works visited by a woman carrying on simultaneous conversations with the staff, other customers and Jesus. The look of dear God please buy some soap or something and save me from this lady on the cashier's face was unmistakable.
posted by delfin at 7:50 AM on April 17 [5 favorites]


Also, with a physical store, what are you paying for, exactly?

It isn't quality. Storefronts significantly drive up costs, which usually ends up reducing the quality of the product. Compare clothes from The Gap today as compared to 25 years ago; it's not even close.

It isn't knowledgeable staff. Retail staff usually doesn't know anything.

Physical touch and feel, like for clothes? Every web store worth its salt has a free try on and return policy. It slightly increases the time in exchange for home delivery and no trip to the mall.

Customer service? Phone banks and online chatbots are already handling most of that anyway.

So why do you need a storefront?

Outside of restaurants, I don't see much of a future for retail. Maybe groceries, but even there home delivery is pretty awesome.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:52 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


Of course, malls (together with churches) have also served as third spaces for many communities without other viable options available. That's a little scary. We're polarized enough without removing one of the few places left where people mingle freely.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:52 AM on April 17 [33 favorites]



I think there's a couple more factors that aren't mentioned that are also causes of changes in the retail industry:

- Clothes are less of status symbols than they used to be. Maybe this is just my extrapolation and becoming an young adult but my perception is that brands are less desired than they were 15-20 years ago when I was a teenager.
Some brands are still holding cachet: my 14 y.o. nephew is sort of a jock and big fan of nike for his shoes and shorts for games but doesn't give a shit about anything else. I'm not sure if there's any huge clothing brands for many teen segments that exist except perhaps crocs and uggs (or maybe I'm wrong, because I'm old). (Related, this piece last week in the atlantic relatedly supports this; that the upper and middle classes have been spending more money on experiences (dining out, travel) instead of material objects like clothes).

- There was an oversupply of retail space even during the retail/mall heyday of the 80 and 90s.
The suburbs have been competing with each other to get the newest and greatest stores (AND THEY still do, there's a new shopping development opening in Orange in the next year or so) and its accompanying tax base. Some stores move to the newer one when it opens.

The Cleveland area (not just the city, but the region) has had negative population growth over the past 30 years but several malls, retail 'lifestyle' centers, or strip malls (Tower City, the Galleria, Crocker Park, South Park, Legacy Village, Woodmere, that failed one in Garfield Heights and I'm sure there's more, those are ones that were only built from 1989-2005) were built. There were malls (euclid square, Randall) closing even in the 90s.
posted by fizzix at 7:53 AM on April 17 [8 favorites]


A couple of national chains I frequent seem to be pushing online shopping really hard now. However, I live within a 15 minute drive of several branches of these stores so paying shipping costs doesn't make sense to me even from a convenience standpoint. I might feel differently if gas prices double but right now I don't see the value.

(Plus, the one time I tried it the stuff was shipped from another state with a week delay. I could've gotten it quicker via Amazon Prime, or gee, just driven to one of the local stores.)

I live near what is considered an upscale mall that's been there for several decades. It's anchored by some high-end national stores that I rarely shop at and the stores in between are selling mostly much lower quality stuff probably aimed at teenagers and young adults. At this point, outside of tourist season, I think the mall must be making most of its money on the concessions and restaurants, and the top-of-the-line movie theater. I can't imagine many of those jobs are more than minimum wage.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:55 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Brick and mortar can't beat online for selection, nor on convenience.

Eh. At least on the convenience factor, I'd say it's a toss-up, at least for me. The whole rigamarole of ordering a range of sizes/waiting for delivery/test fitting/shipping back things that don't fit or look like the pictures or are made like crap/possibly re-ordering, is an enormous inconvenience that seems to consistently get dismissed by those who are either easy to fit or just plain want to do everything online regardless. I'm always between sizes and it's usually much easier for me to go to an actual store and try stuff on. Shopping online for clothing is always a huge guessing game that requires me to run-up a credit card without even knowing if anything will actually fit. It's certainly not an exceptionally efficient or convenient system.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:57 AM on April 17 [21 favorites]


Once you take brick and mortar retail out of the picture, one of the few ways that humans are still employed by an online storefront is in warehousing and distribution. Boston Dynamics' Atlas (seen in the video literally doing warehouse work) has progressed over the past 10 years from being incredibly bulky and needing tethered power, to being lighter than your typical warehouse working human and running on battery. That's also the top end of the spectrum. There are other videos out there of two fulfillment human workers and a few hundred smaller, droid-like bots zipping around the factory floor. Essentially robotic shelving. Kiva, Knapp, and Locus are just three options if you're one of those new retailers opening in Redhook that the NYT talks about. And that's not even talking about the robotization at the manufacturing level (already pretty firmly here), and at the point to point delivery level (quickly approaching as companies dump money into self-driving tech).

You're quickly going past the 10% of all people employed in retail, and tacking on the 3% of transportation workers, and the (what remains of) 9% of people employed in manufacturing (using 2014 numbers).
posted by codacorolla at 7:58 AM on April 17 [8 favorites]


There's a mall near me that was DOA (just built maybe a decade ago, or not even) and the interesting thing there is that the mall itself is deader than dead but the surrounding Big Box-opolis is thriving. Traditional covered malls near me are generally dying (there is one, the super upscale one with the high-end brands, that is doing well), but the new-urbanist typed places and the big box strip malls all seem to be doing fine. What I remember from my mall-spent youth (Monroeville Mall, home of zombies and me as a pre-teen holla!) is that 90% of mall stores are clothing stores. And I don't know about you guys, but 90% of my own purchases are definitely not clothing.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:59 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Yeah, convenience depends somewhat on the type of goods. Clothing has more factors involved than, say, a saucepan or a book.

Malls near me are about 90% clothes, shoes, cell phones/accessories. So many cell phone stores. Maybe a token Kitchen Kapers to cleanse the palate.
posted by delfin at 8:02 AM on April 17


I took my daughter shoe shopping yesterday, and we went to four stores before we finally found any shoe at all in her size. Luckily, she liked that one, so we got it. I could have beat the price by $8 online (we paid $58, I saw them for $50) but she was getting impatient (she's 5) and I thought we should give business to the store that actually had employees around to help measure her foot and find the right shoe.

But next time? I think we're ordering a pair from Zappos and sending it back if it doesn't work. My time is too valuable to me to spend hours going from store to store to get a shoe for a kindergartner. And this isn't some dying backwater, either, we were shopping in Sugar Land, Texas, a very well-off suburb of Houston.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:03 AM on April 17 [13 favorites]


It's not a mall, but for a while (I think maybe it moved?) an old department store (Apex) in Rhode Island (Pawtucket? I want to say it was Pawtucket) was an incredibly strange DMV branch. It was still filled with empty shelves and the bathroom had a poster of "The Loss Prevention Whale" who wore a deerstalker cap and smoked a pipe. The experience was deeply bizarre, but the whale was pretty cute.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:04 AM on April 17 [7 favorites]


The thing about clothes is that, while you might think buying them online would be a hassle because of fit, they're also quite light and easy to ship (and consequently super easy to send back if you don't like them). I don't have Prime and anything over a few ounces I prefer to buy locally because who wants to pay for shipping on a La Creuset dutch oven?
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:05 AM on April 17


I actually go to traditional covered malls all the time. I went to one yesterday. That one is definitely in trouble, but it's innovating by trying to attract new kinds of stores. They have a semi-upscale grocery store now, which is what I went there for. The Target that I go to is in a mall. And I go to the mall that has been partially taken over by the university all the time, sometimes for university functions but sometimes to buy stuff. There are actually a couple of cute stores in there where I look for gifts sometimes.

An interesting thing is that the two struggling malls have more independent stores, and most of them aren't clothes. The mall that is thriving has more traditional clothing stores, but they're also anchored by the Target.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:05 AM on April 17


On top of all else stated: My 13 year old daughter simply does not want things. I'm not sure how standard this is, but if it the norm things are going to change.

She doesn't want clothes or toys or fun objects or... anything that I can think of. She is totally content in the consumer space with the minimum in clothes, a phone and books from wherever (the library, kindle, second hand shops.) I cannot convince her to leave the house and go shopping. I'm envious, honestly.
posted by n9 at 8:08 AM on April 17 [18 favorites]


The Atlantic link has the tl;dr--"Between 2010 and last year, Amazon’s sales in North America quintupled from $16 billion to $80 billion. Sears’ revenue last year was about $22 billion, so you could say Amazon has grown by three Sears in six years."

I will never stop being upset with Sears, a company that made itself on the mail-order business, for completely failing to capitalize on internet shopping. In some other universe Sears is the go-to place to buy literally anything online and Amazon is a has-been that got muscled out of the book sales market by Barnes and Noble and Borders.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:09 AM on April 17 [22 favorites]


- Clothes are less of status symbols than they used to be. Maybe this is just my extrapolation and becoming an young adult but my perception is that brands are less desired than they were 15-20 years ago when I was a teenager.

Athleisure plays a part, I think. Black yoga pants look like black yoga pants.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:10 AM on April 17


If you want me to come back to the mall, BRING BACK ALADDIN'S CASTLE JUST LIKE IT WAS IN 1983.

A Space Port or Time-Out is fine too but the timeframe is non-negotiable
posted by delfin at 8:11 AM on April 17 [10 favorites]


The Cleveland area (not just the city, but the region) has had negative population growth over the past 30 years but several malls, retail 'lifestyle' centers, or strip malls (Tower City, the Galleria, Crocker Park, South Park, Legacy Village, Woodmere, that failed one in Garfield Heights and I'm sure there's more, those are ones that were only built from 1989-2005) were built. There were malls (euclid square, Randall) closing even in the 90s.

What's nice is the newer ones (Legacy Village, Crocker Park) look like little towns, so if and when they fail they can be repurposed into actual towns.

They're actually pretty nice spaces to just be in, unlike those old school monolithic indoor malls.

I mean, Crocker Park is huge and mixed use with green space like a mini park in the middle. Legacy's not bad either; they have outdoor music & events in their big central green space.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:13 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


Also: I've noticed my boys, aged 6-2, have a tiny fraction of the desire for toys I had at their age. I chalk it up to not being heavily bombarded by commercials as I was as a kid, but they still watch tons of YouTube videos with creators playing games and hawking toys. They're content to watch, though, they very rarely ever ask for the things they're seeing.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:13 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I was telling someone a couple of weeks ago that the mall closest to me seemed to have mainly foreign visitors in it (based on language and other cultural signifiers, and the kinds of questions strangers were asking me). We're near a couple of universities that attract people from overseas, especially Duke, but the dearth of locals at the mall gave me pause.

People are focusing on the quality of jobs, but product design decisions and decisions about what to host at malls seems pretty important. Have you ever decided "I will buy pants today" and then tried to accomplish that at a mall? If you are educated enough to know that it _should_ be possible to own comfortable, machine washable, professional-looking, pocketed, etc. clothing [all the things a smart person who isn't working 'at a fashion magazine' would want], you won't find it at a mall. The whole place seems to be filled with clothing created from the sketches of precocious teenagers selected by slightly meaner, slightly more venal versions of Nina Garcia. The clothes may "look expensive" and seem to be about "the girl" who "is a New York professional" or some other nonexistent archetype -- but a little more boring, because this is the mall in North Carolina -- but nobody I know _wants_ to dress like that.

That's clothing. There are other things at the mall, but none of it is that great. It would be OK to price things a little high if they were actually worth it. These retailers were really interesting to me when I first came to the big city, but the novelty is gone and there's not really anything else to recommend them. Godiva Chocolates? The tea retailer (where the tea doesn't seem very fresh, which is the main determiner of actual quality)? Various shoe stores that don't carry my size and _insist_ that I must want to wear boots with heels and/or horse tack?

We went all over the local mall looking for men's dark summer-weight wool pants (slim fit, no pleats) and finally were referred to a _second_ mall. The more local Brooks Brothers doesn't have much in the way of professional men's pants, just stuff that looks like "I'm a Kennedy on vacation", possibly because that makes the store look "unified".

The emphasis on brand/look/voice means that nobody's looking at the details of _what people actually need or want_. The education that Gen X, and possibly millennials, has been given emphasizes marketing over the less visible and aggregated work of just making and sharing useful things.
posted by amtho at 8:13 AM on April 17 [12 favorites]


GDP has been growing for eight straight years, gas prices are low, unemployment is under 5 percent, and the last 18 months have been quietly excellent years for wage growth, particularly for middle- and lower-income Americans.

Thanks, Obama.

Laugh if you want, but these sorts of questions—“what experience will reliably deliver the most popular Instagram post?”—really drive the behavior of people ages 13 and up. This is a big deal for malls, says Barbara Byrne Denham, a senior economist at Reis, a real-estate analytics firm. Department stores have failed as anchors, but better food, entertainment, and even fitness options might bring teens and families back to struggling malls...

Rings true enough. In general, the extant enclosed malls in my neighborhood have casual-sit-down, hang-out places like food courts and indoor playgrounds. The ones that closed didn't.

The 80s suburban teenagers I knew largely socialized and played grown-up by driving to the mall. Today, they say, fewer young people are interested in car ownership or doing so much driving, partly because keeping in touch with phones is so much more efficient. I'm surprised the author talks about self-driving cars as retail accessories but doesn't seem to touch on this aspect at all, because there are so many interesting speculations and questions.

For example: Self-driving cars could extend support for the sort of low-density, pedestrian-hostile development we already have way too much of. A mall that attracts affluent 14-year-olds in self-driving taxis might thrive, but it would do so partly by filtering out people who balk at the cab fare. Which is something suburban malls - usually pretty hostile to pedestrian, bicycle, or bus access - have always done. The well-off kids get meat-space congregating and socializing, the less-well-off kids have a disadvantage.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:14 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


Interesting points here about how children today just ... don't want stuff. I know that I feel overwhelmed when I go to the grocery store and have to choose between twenty-six different types of aspirin...maybe they're reacting to that (and having everything available on their phones doesn't help).
posted by Melismata at 8:18 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I mean, Crocker Park is huge and mixed use with green space like a mini park in the middle. Legacy's not bad either; they have outdoor music & events in their big central green space.

Yeah, but they're still owned by the same corporate pricks, with all that that implies. Mall cops, horrible parking policies. They might look like public spaces, but they aren't, and that's really kind of a problem.
posted by Naberius at 8:20 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


In terms of spaces for people to freely mingle, there are still libraries, although the powers that be are doing their best to turn them into Internet cafes, so enjoy them while you still can.

The only people I know who still go to malls even semi-regularly are my parents, who use a mostly-dead mall (mostly converted to office space) in my hometown for walking exercise space in the winter.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:20 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Also: I've noticed my boys, aged 6-2, have a tiny fraction of the desire for toys I had at their age. I chalk it up to not being heavily bombarded by commercials as I was as a kid, but they still watch tons of YouTube videos with creators playing games and hawking toys. They're content to watch, though, they very rarely ever ask for the things they're seeing.

Those same types of Youtube videos have inspired in my kindergardener a burning desire to MAKE stuff. I guess because making stuff is something you get a lot to Youtube videos. The toys she loves most in the world she's never seen an ad for; it's those Calico Critters at Barnes & Noble. Calls them her "widdle kwidders."

There's nothing she loves more than "cwafting." She'll find little pebbles or pieces of plastic and go, "I can cwaft with that!" and pick them up and put them in her little satchel for later.

Also baking; which I guess is crafting with food.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:21 AM on April 17 [21 favorites]


The clothes may "look expensive" and seem to be about "the girl" who "is a New York professional"

They're about trying to sell this idea to someone who isn't familiar with the reality. As one of same, I wouldn't be caught dead at work in about 90% of the clothing in malls (and the stores that do offer, or have offered, options I might consider I tend to shop at online).

And I'm not sure in what world stores even think polyester "looks expensive." It looks exactly like the poverty it reflected when I wore it as a kid.
posted by praemunire at 8:22 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


I mean, Crocker Park is huge and mixed use with green space like a mini park in the middle. Legacy's not bad either; they have outdoor music & events in their big central green space.

Yeah, but they're still owned by the same corporate pricks, with all that that implies. Mall cops, horrible parking policies. They might look like public spaces, but they aren't, and that's really kind of a problem.


Right, but my point is, when they go under, the spaces are much more salvageable.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:25 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I find that Teens and Pre-Teens barely go to the mall anymore. It certainly isn't the big attraction it was to previous generations. When you have a smartphone and/or online spaces (games, social media, etc) the need to cruise the mall goes way way down.

When Teens and Pre-Teens shop it's typically associated around the core shopping times of back to school, Christmas, etc and yes I think they are purchasing less items overall.

For every clothes horse willing to go through endless racks of clothing there are tons of consumers that purchase the bare minimum. With more and more office spaces going casual or psuedo casual I think people are able to use the same stuff in multiple settings. See also the rise of athleisure wear like yoga pants. Yes there are still plenty of people sporting North Face and Lululemon all of the time but seriously how many variations of that are truly required in someone's wardrobe.

So you have the premium retailers who are basically selling Veblen goods and more and more of the remainder are being driven into lowest common denominator goods. Not quite to the point where we are buying our paper-fabric workwear from a vending machine ala Cyberpunk but getting closer and closer to it.
posted by vuron at 8:25 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


"I can cwaft with that!" and pick them up and put them in her little satchel for later.

a) This is adorable as fuck

b) I wonder to what extent video games are playing into this alongside the aforementioned YouTube videos. Minecraft and its followers would be an obvious example, but it seems like every game I see now has some kind of complicated crafting system for making whatever you need in the game, even if those things are just a means to an end, like weapons and armor, instead of the whole point. Sure it's completely arbitrary but it does really push the idea that the best stuff is stuff you make.
posted by Naberius at 8:28 AM on April 17 [12 favorites]


The emphasis on brand/look/voice means that nobody's looking at the details of _what people actually need or want_.

Is this where I can rant about Gap discontinuing pants that fit me perfectly (discontinued them the month after I discovered the pants, of course, so I had to buy up everything I could find on eBay)? I swung by there again last weekend only to discover the replacement style has completely different sizing and runs about 3 inches longer on the same size inseam.

And I'm an average sized male who doesn't have to worry about missing pockets and all that nonsense.

I'd gladly pay more for pants that are consistent, have sizes that mean something, and would stick around, but at Gap pricing, I'm pretty sure they are the more expensive option.

Maybe I should take this to AskMe.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:29 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Clothes are less of status symbols than they used to be. Maybe this is just my extrapolation and becoming an young adult but my perception is that brands are less desired than they were 15-20 years ago when I was a teenager.

Clothes are still a status symbol (see any of the articles about Cochella style, for instance) but yeah, brands are basically anti-status now. The status comes from doing something "different" (even if it's actually still a kind of uniform -- again, see the articles about Cochella style).
posted by mpbx at 8:36 AM on April 17


I have to admit the last couple times I bought shoes I ordered 5 pairs from amazon and returned 4 of them.
posted by bq at 8:38 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


My n=1 almost-five-year-old also has no desire for stuff. He doesn't see commercials because when he wants to watch a cartoon he pulls up the PBS Kids app on his tablet and watches a cartoon. We walk right by the toy section at Target and he doesn't even notice it.

We'll see if that lasts once peer pressure starts to be a thing, but so far he seems pretty impervious to brands and characters. Like, he loves Daniel Tiger but it would never occur to him that owning Daniel Tiger-branded stuff is desirable. (Well, okay, when given the option to get Peppa Pig gardening gloves, he did pick those. But there was no option for un-branded kids' garden gloves so it was either those or a bunch of superhero properties he knows nothing about because he's four and those movies are not for young children, dammit!)
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:45 AM on April 17


I wonder how much of retail and mall's downfall is the death of physical media. Blockbuster, Tower Records, Sam Goody, Virgin Megastores, National Record Mart, Hollywood Video, Borders Books, J&R, B. Dalton, Movie Gallery, and Media Play have all closed, many in the last decade. I remember my mall having 4 music stores, 3 software/videogame stores, 2 bookstores, and a movie store. Now all that you see in a mall is maybe a GameStop and one Barnes and Noble if you're lucky.

One of the last media stores you see in a mall is F.Y.E. That company bought out many smaller music stores like Camelot and Wherehouse. Surprisingly, a "new" (maybe it was just remodeled) one opened in the most-successful mall near me. It is mostly t-shirts, stuffed animals, and other pop culture odds and ends. There's a tiny rack of about 20-30 CDs, maybe 50 DVDs, and 50 or so vinyl shoved in the back.

The big stores I like to go to (other than grocery and maybe a Target for everyday essentials) are what could be considered "hobby" or "DIY" stores. I really think these will stick around for a while, at least until very instant shipping become real. Craft stores like Michael's and Joann let you see the colors and feel the fabric, and offer classes. Loews and Home Depot also let you see the colors for paint and tile, in addition to selling product too big to ship normally, and some products you want right away. The electronics "hobby" store used to be Radioshack, but they stopped stocking that stuff decades ago. Now it is Micro Center, a place I love and dearly miss due to moving away. I had many weekends picking up Raspberry Pi and networking accessories, and they matched Amazon if needed. All of these places you can visit on a Saturday morning when you decide to finally work on that project, but Amazon will get it to you on Tuesday.
posted by ALongDecember at 8:45 AM on April 17 [14 favorites]


If the teenage boys in my Texas suburb are to be taken as average, brands are indeed still important; it's just that they are athletic clothing brands--Nike, Under Armour, etc.--that they can buy at the giant Dick's Sporting Goods or online.
posted by tippiedog at 8:46 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I have to admit the last couple times I bought shoes I ordered 5 pairs from amazon and returned 4 of them.

My wife often orders 10-20 pairs on Zappos and ends up with 1. But, that's how shoe shopping works now, and the alternative is searching through DSW for the 4 pairs in her size.
posted by ALongDecember at 8:47 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


By amount of time, video games have basically stomped on movies and TV as the primary thingy-to-do for young folks. And because you usually pay for them, gamers tend to be more hostile to advertising being latched on, which means less advertising (not no advertising, but much less: 1, 2 orders of magnitude less). Lots of hostility to other things too, but that's one upside of it, at least. You're never going to find a Coca-Cola ad in GTA, you know?
posted by hleehowon at 8:50 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


Have you guys seen the high end storefronts in the Oculus? Tons of foot traffic but nobody but the Apple Store seeing any of it. What happens when the luxe brands decide it's not worthwhile to fly the flag there anymore?

PS: I hate commuting through the Oculus.
posted by whuppy at 8:56 AM on April 17


Sometimes I feel out of touch because I still prefer to buy clothes and shoes online. When I shop for clothes, I might buy one out of ten items I try on - so buying online in order to try on at home is a huge hassle. And I have had horrible luck with shoes; either they don't fit, or they're much lower quality than their reviews or their price indicated.

I would much rather go to a physical store. But, still, they're not going to make much money off of me - I don't have much money, so shopping for clothes and shoes is maybe a twice a year event, and generally to replace / find something specific, not a leisure activity. It's a chore.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:00 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Yes, watch any number of youtube videos targeted at Teens and Young Adults and athletic wear is omnipresent.

Nike
Under Armour
Adidas (particularly if it uses the old school trefoil)

Women's athletic wear tends to be slightly more subtle with the placement of the branding symbols but yeah the core brands are nearly universal especially among teens of a upper middle class socio-economic status.
posted by vuron at 9:00 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Couple of other factors:

* Online ubiquity has broadened our palates beyond what the mall will offer. Today I might go online and add a Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra CD, a new Choetech Qi charger and some cords for my tablet, maybe an Anker power bank, some Bluetooth wireless headphones, peek at some Woot t-shirt designs for something clever. At my local mall, I'd be amazed if they have the CATEGORIES, let alone the brand names I would want or reasonable prices.

* Many formerly mall-centric chains are bailing out to the strip malls. GameStop comes to mind.

* Better marketing needed. If you're only paying one salesclerk to man ten registers scattered throughout your department store, advertise it as your Exciting New Scavenger Hunt promotion instead.
posted by delfin at 9:12 AM on April 17 [6 favorites]


My n=1 almost-five-year-old also has no desire for stuff. He doesn't see commercials because when he wants to watch a cartoon he pulls up the PBS Kids app on his tablet and watches a cartoon. We walk right by the toy section at Target and he doesn't even notice it.

Our house is the same way.
We have essentially two channels, PBS and (carefully curated) Netflix.
We don't have Nick or Disney or any of the other advertiser supported outlets so that manufactured desire just isn't there.
Walking down the toy aisle holds no fear for us because, quite frankly, my kid has no idea what half those things are.

Last Christmas, we even had trouble writing a letter to Santa, because she couldn't think of anything to put on it, whereas I vividly remember poring through the Sears catalog, marking down all the cool things I'd seen in the commercials between cartoons.
Cartoons which, in and of themselves, were just 30 minute advertisements for toys.

And while I'd like to take credit for being an exceptional parent, this isn't unusual in our peer group.
Around here at least, kids just aren't interested in acquiring "stuff" and if that trend holds true as they reach their prime teenage spending years, I'd expect this trend to accelerate.
posted by madajb at 9:12 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]



Washington Post: The entire coal industry employs fewer people than Arby’s
Another largely overlooked point about coal jobs is that there just aren’t that many of them relative to other industries. . . . according to the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns program:
2014 US Employment stats for selected Industries
Car washes            150,019
Theme parks        143,894
Used car dealers 138,058
Casinos                     99,952
Travel agencies     99,888
Radio                        94,584
Museums                 91,966
Breweries and wineries 82,342
Coal mining            76,572
Skiing                        75,036
Bowling                    69,088
Nail salons              68,428
Florists                     61,170

2014 US Employment stats for selected single employers
Whole Foods      72,650
Arby’s                  ~80,000
Dollar General 105,000
J.C. Penney       114,000
Walmart          2,200,000
Part of the fixation on coal is because . . . there's something mysterious and ennobling about the dangerous endeavor to extract valuable commodities from deep within the earth, something that's missing from, say, used-car sales or ski-lift operation. There's also coal's role in generating the nation's electricity. But while the industry's impact is large, its payrolls aren't. Coal is highly concentrated in certain regions. When coal mines shut down, towns go under. National media coverage can make coal's impact feel larger than it actually is.

Even a quarter-century ago, the coal industry employed only 131,000 people. If Trump were to somehow bring all those jobs back, there'd still be more people employed by the retail shoe sales industry (224,000).

The point isn’t that coal jobs don’t matter . . . But if you’re looking to make a meaningful increase in the number of jobs available to U.S. workers, bringing back coal jobs isn’t going to do it.
posted by Herodios at 9:12 AM on April 17 [25 favorites]


Personally, I don't care so much about the malls, other than as places that provide jobs to locals and keep some money in the local economy, but I am pretty concerned about the downtown retailers in the town I live in since they too are suffering and, from my perspective, add even more to the community than a mall by providing a vibrant city center.

I buy everything I can from local retailers, even if that means spending more or waiting for orders occasionally just to help keep them, and my town, as an actual living space rather than accepting we're all moving to an almost completely virtual society. It's a losing proposition no doubt, and so a waste of money in the long run, but seeing more wealth being funneled into ever fewer hands and watching the town I live in struggle to maintain anything but bars is just something I'm not eager to accept, even if it is the most likely outcome.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:16 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


> I was telling someone a couple of weeks ago that the mall closest to me seemed to have mainly foreign visitors in it (based on language and other cultural signifiers, and the kinds of questions strangers were asking me). We're near a couple of universities that attract people from overseas, especially Duke, but the dearth of locals at the mall gave me pause.

I know exactly which mall you're talking about by your description, because I live walking distance from it. About seven miles east are large Pakistani and Indian communities in Morrisville, and about seven miles north is a significant (and increasingly middle-class) Latino community east of Durham. The "foreign visitors" you're referencing are locals by any reasonable meaning of the term. They live here.

(And that Brooks Brothers store you mention is for casual wear. For business wear you have to go to the Brooks Bros. in the Crabtree Mall.)
posted by ardgedee at 9:16 AM on April 17 [7 favorites]


I feel like there's a bigger story here.

The decline of retail is just another thread in the whole fabric, along with the self-driving long haul trucks, the warehouse robots, the automation of agriculture, the computer vision systems that beat radiologists in both accuracy and completeness, the hollowing-out of the US midwest, the rise of "disability" as catch-all social welfare, the opioid epidemic, and yes, Brexit, Le Pen, and Trump.

I think I preferred my science fiction near-futures, though.
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:17 AM on April 17 [10 favorites]


Ha, amtho, I was just thinking that your description sounded exactly like Southpoint. And it was!

When my family visits from the UK, they normally spend a day or two there. I've been there about five times in the past six years. It seems like they are trying to make the place a bit more…local?…what with several food trucks taking up residence in the food court these days.
posted by carsondial at 9:22 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I think I preferred my science fiction near-futures, though.

Asimov beat you to it with the Robot series, especially in "The Naked Sun" where there are only something like 10,000 people on the entire planet, each of whom has a gazillion robots.
posted by Melismata at 9:22 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


The stupidity of greedy landlords continues to astound me.

The greed of stupid landlords never astounds me.
posted by Gelatin at 9:23 AM on April 17 [7 favorites]


Uh, ardgedee, they seemed to be from Russian-speaking countries, Korea, and maybe China. I figured they were probably academics.

The fact that the Brooks Brothers store is for casual wear is kind of my point - how much of a market for preppy casual wear is there really? We did go to the Crabtree store, but shouldn't we be able to find what we need in a giant mall that happens to be closer?

[edit] Yes, Southpoint.
posted by amtho at 9:25 AM on April 17


carsondial: We did have a truly amazing hot sandwich at, I think, American Meltdown in the food court. Melted gouda on sourdough, I think. Not much nutritional content, of course; purely recreational eating, just like the mall seems to be for purely recreational shopping.
posted by amtho at 9:31 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I still shop brick and mortar for plenty of things, but I'll no longer go to the mall that I grew up going to (Southridge, for Milwaukee-area Mefites) ever since they demanded the County move bus stops away from the entrances to the mall out to the outer traffic circle. It sent a message to me that they didn't want bus riders (of which I have been from time-to-time) shopping there.
posted by drezdn at 9:31 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


As a data point my boys want toys all the time - as long as they are Lego. I feel like Lego has triple-won the space under: Hits media-related buttons, hits crafter buttons, hits parent-friendly buttons esp. with the rise of Lego robotics. Oh and you can use it for your YouTube stop-motion videos too.

But what our family spends more on is experiential rather than stuff. We spend a literal factor of 10 more on afterschool activities than my parents did when I was growing up. In part because we're keeping them out of the mall.

Under Armour's MyFitnessPal etc. apps are pretty brilliant advertising and I think points the way towards how brands can move towards marketing more effectively - thus killing stores faster I guess. I keep waiting for a button to appear where it says "you didn't drink your 8 glasses of water, click here to have a branded bottle with a belt holder sent to you optimized for the hours you ran last month."
posted by warriorqueen at 9:34 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


One of the NEWEST malls in the USA
There is NO food court or theater which was intentional in the planning to deter "elements" heading to the mall.
There is also an absence of casual sitting area in the mall. "Keep moving " must be on the minds of the owners of this mall.
posted by robbyrobs at 9:37 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Sounds like a call for another Opie and Anthony Homeless Shopping Spree at some of these "discerning" malls.

(In which they would gather a busload of street folk at Xmas time, give each a reasonable wad of cash to buy whatever they wished, take them to a ritzy suburban mall, turn them loose and broadcast the ensuing chaos. Exploitation, of course, but also actually charitable. Also fun to chart which retailers treated them like actual people.)
posted by delfin at 9:38 AM on April 17


It's hard for me to reconcile my feelings of 'yet another nail in the coffin of the social order of the nation' with my much more immediate feelings of 'fuck retail it can't die fast enough'.

Retail in general and malls in particular have done an excellent job of alienating me over the years.
posted by Skorgu at 9:39 AM on April 17 [5 favorites]


I have to admit the last couple times I bought shoes I ordered 5 pairs from amazon and returned 4 of them.

I do the same thing with shoes and clothes. If I'm unsure of a size or style, I'll order two of the same shirt in two different sizes, and return the other one.

A friend of mine pointed out, quite rightly, that what I'm doing is totally due to class privilege. Thanks to my middle-class income and no major life catastrophe, my credit score is awesome. Credit cards constantly give me zero interest offers and high credit limits, so I can float thousands of dollar of online merchandise at my leisure. As long as I keep track that I get all of my associated refunds, companies are incentivizing me to not go to a B&M store.

I used to feel bad for doing this, but I've come to realize that I'm not just saving time and money, but there's a huge emotional labor cost I'm saving by not going to a mall. I don't have to piss away twenty minutes of driving, followed up by ten minutes of finding parking. I don't have to deal with crowds or salespeople. And I almost always get what I came for when it comes to online shopping. If I can't find it, it's usually because it doesn't exist, and not because it was hidden away in the back or because a salesperson couldn't be bothered to help me find something.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:41 AM on April 17 [22 favorites]


It's not just retail, it's also grocery delivery, which is going to hit just as hard, plus fast food.
posted by Beholder at 9:43 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


That 89,000 jobs stat is a good sound bite, but since October means during the holiday retail season and after. There is tons of seasonality in retail that's normal and even healthy: college students home for the holidays, adults with other full-time jobs who want to make some extra dough, etc.

I worked in retail for a long time and I have a lot of friends there and I can anecdotally confirm that lots of people are getting let go and not being able to find new places, but that number in and of itself isn't enough to build a case on.
posted by sleeping bear at 9:45 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


The last 3 times I walked into a Best Buy, I walked out empty handed

The last time I walked into a Best Buy, I walked out with a Chromebook I hadn't intended to buy. But you know what? I'd been meaning to get around to buying my son one, and I was like "Ok at some point I'm going to spend an evening sitting down and researching this and figuring out what's the right choice bla bla bla" and then there I was at the Best Buy, there were six Chromebooks right there, I talked to the guy about which one would be best, it seemed like several of them would suit our needs perfectly well, so I just bought one, done. Who knows how long it would have taken me to do this otherwise?

I get why physical retail faces a structural disadvantage. But I'll miss it when it's gone.
posted by escabeche at 9:46 AM on April 17 [5 favorites]


Also: I've noticed my boys, aged 6-2, have a tiny fraction of the desire for toys I had at their age.

I'm glad it's not just my kids. We've stopped buying toys almost completely because they just don't get used. Even if a kids thinks they want something, it's rare to get more than a week's use out of it before it's forgotten. There's no equivalent of the Star Wars action figures and play sets I used all the time for years at their ages. They want: 1) more Minecraft time, 2) other game apps the see their favorite YouTubers playing, 3) craft materials, 4) Lego. That's it. I still feel kind of weird about that because part of me says "they really should be playing with actual physical toys" but maybe that's just my own generational prejudice. I definitely see how "imagine a scenario for this plastic dude" pales in comparison to "build anything you can imagine in a virtual world."

And my almost-11 year old daughter has zero concept of clothing brands. Just doesn't care at all. She is keenly aware that her aging phone (an iPhone 4s) is looked down on by her peers with more recent models, but that's the only noticeable way she gets dinged for being a middle-middle-class kid with lots of upper-middle-class/lower-upper-class peers.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:53 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I tend to visit two different malls, and they are both pretty busy, and what they both have in common is that the large open air spaces between stores contain a variety of different gathering spaces and activities.

In one, they have chessboards, air hockey, reading nooks, places to sit and charge your mobile devices. Plants and fountains kept in good repair. Very comfy squashy leather chairs instead of hard benches. It must have taken some serious investment, but from the way that people use all the amenities, it seems to be working.

In the other, they have made the mall more of a community space— the last time I was there, they were hosting a huge gallery of art from all of the public schools in the county. You could go grade by grade, and it was sweet— kids could bring their families to see what they had been working on in school. Older students had made pieces with very bold political statements and topics, and their work was presented with respect and care. Families were walking through the “gallery” and talking together.

Also, count me in the camp of "shopping for clothes and shoes online is an enormous hassle" camp. Sending stuff back is rarely free, and even more rarely easy. Textures and materials that look one way online turn out to be something else entirely in person. Sizes are an eternal crapshoot. Just thinking about online shopping for things to wear makes me feel anxious.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:55 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


For me it's crystallized in the fact that I can have a 40-lb bag of cat litter delivered to my front door for $1 cheaper than if I went to the local pet store. I kinda hate it, but it's true.

On the other hand I apparently have to keep re-learning the lesson that it's folly to buy pants without trying them on first - say, online.

Shoes, well, with Zappos free shippng both ways, it's like trying them on at a store but it takes the salesperson 2 days to go find another pair in the back.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:01 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


(On a slightly related note, I'm surprised nobody has yet made a list of things-Amazon-will-let-you-keep-even-while-issuing-a-refund. That constantly surprises me.)
posted by gottabefunky at 10:03 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


In one, they have chessboards, air hockey, reading nooks, places to sit and charge your mobile devices. Plants and fountains kept in good repair. Very comfy squashy leather chairs instead of hard benches. It must have taken some serious investment, but from the way that people use all the amenities, it seems to be working.

In the other, they have made the mall more of a community space— the last time I was there, they were hosting a huge gallery of art from all of the public schools in the county. You could go grade by grade, and it was sweet— kids could bring their families to see what they had been working on in school. Older students had made pieces with very bold political statements and topics, and their work was presented with respect and care. Families were walking through the “gallery” and talking together.


The places that figure out how to have well maintained safe multi-use indoor and outdoor community spaces that are easily accessible by foot will see neighboring property values go through the roof.

What's baffling is that all this stuff is known. New Urbanism is 40+ years old already. The Death and Life of Great American Cities is 56 years old now.

Come on! It makes stuff more livable AND makes you more money! What's so hard?
posted by leotrotsky at 10:05 AM on April 17 [13 favorites]


As someone living in a country where we have online shopping but not nearly to the degree that you guys have it in the US, this conversation is fascinating. Amazon's Canada store doesn't have nearly the same breadth of goods - it's more electronics and media, not a digital mall/Walmart, and even when Zappos had a Canadian site it wasn't the Zappos experience. The upscale downtown malls seem to be doing great. But the ones out in the smaller towns are dying out. But we don't get to use Amazon to shop for dry goods and clothing too. For people like my parents in a town of less that 20,000 people 60 miles outside of Toronto, it's not dying mall vs online shopping. It's dying mall vs WalMart vs having to go into the city to go shopping.
posted by thecjm at 10:13 AM on April 17 [6 favorites]


No doubt I'm a demographic of one, but. Speaking as a super busy black person, online shopping (food, clothing, housewares, furniture, whatever) is the perfect solution to the dual problems of No Time and Shopping While Black. Unlike shopkeepers--even in the most swanky of stores and malls--the internet/UPS/FedEx appears to give relatively few fucks about what color I am or zip code I live in so long as my credit card* is valid. With the added bonus of being able to shop at 2am when i have spare time.

* and yes, i get that not everyone is fortunate enough to have access to credit cards and reliable internet
posted by skye.dancer at 10:14 AM on April 17 [35 favorites]


As a parent of two children under six, the idea of browsing shelves for a product is actually hilarious to me. Our grocery store has pickup ordering now and I swear it has preserved a year of my life.
posted by selfnoise at 10:21 AM on April 17 [8 favorites]


What's baffling is that all this stuff is known. New Urbanism is 40+ years old already. The Death and Life of Great American Cities is 56 years old now.

Come on! It makes stuff more livable AND makes you more money! What's so hard?


But the Jacobs model is really not applicable to the vast majority of malls, regardless of whether they have multi-use space or not.

Most stores within malls are cut off from exterior foot traffic. And most malls themselves are isolated from exterior foot traffic. Trips to the mall are purposeful trips, usually in cars. This means that their ability to contribute to neighborhood life in the specific way that New Urbanism conceives of stores contributing (as opposed to the simple provision of lower-wage jobs) is practically nil. Even the Oculus, which at least (?) is in a transit hub, so there's an independent reason to go there, has basically zero New Urban-style impact on its community. Most of the stores aren't even street-visible, much less street-interacting.

It also means that malls are totally vulnerable to any reason that car traffic might drop off or to any general sense that that particular mall isn't appealing anymore. If you aren't driving to the mall on purpose, you won't end up there.
posted by praemunire at 10:23 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


The fact that the Brooks Brothers store is for casual wear is kind of my point - how much of a market for preppy casual wear is there really? We did go to the Crabtree store, but shouldn't we be able to find what we need in a giant mall that happens to be closer?

For the best examples of where the market for preppy casual wear is massive and thriving, go deeper inside the Beltline in Raleigh. Cameron Village, or the open-air fake village that used to be North Hills. Brooks Brothers, Vineyard Vines, Lilly Pulitzer, Monkee's, Talbots, J. Crew, etc., are all thriving among the types of people for whom clothing is still a status symbol, and to whom brands still matter. And I think it's not incidental that these stores all thrive in the open-air fake-village malls. For a lot of the preppy-casual types I know in Raleigh, one of the best things to do in summertime is to attend the "Midtown" Beach Music Series that takes place on the astroturf town square. This particular mall is smart, because they use the outdoor space to host events that align with the lifestyles promoted in the brands.

Another mall that is smart is one of the sad old malls in Asheville, where the storefronts are now occupied by the NC DMV office and a dressmaker who specializes in quinceañeras, so while you're standing in line you can look through the glass at the mesmerizing sparkly dresses in their storefront. In general, I think it would be GREAT to have government offices take up space in indoor malls. It would beat downtown bureaucratic offices in a lot of ways: parking is better, you can do a one-stop thing, and they could leave a few options open in the food court and maybe a keymaking kiosk (for real estate transactions) or a Zales (for weddings).
posted by witchen at 10:27 AM on April 17 [8 favorites]


Profit margins for Amazon are tiny, worse even than Whole Foods and American Airlines (if less bumpy than the latter), two industries notorious for razor thinness. How long can they keep it up? (Granted, analysts have been watching and asking this in frustration or anxiety from the get-go, but it is an interesting question.

Trips to the mall are purposeful trips, usually in cars.

Exactly so. And as more people, young people in particular, do more socializing virtually, why bother going with Cheryl to the mall?
posted by IndigoJones at 10:29 AM on April 17




It's not just retail, it's also grocery delivery, which is going to hit just as hard, plus fast food.

I have my doubts about fast food. The whole point of it is that it is quick and convenient. When I go to get a Quarter Pounder, it is because I am extremely hungry and strapped for time. I am also, almost always, out and about. So delivery would not work for me. I want food and I want it now! That requires a retail location, unless a drone is going to find me somewhere and drop a bag into my lap. But even then, where do I eat it?

The regressive move away from retail back to a faster mail-order system perplexes me, because it is the exact opposite of instant gratification.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:33 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


(In my lighter moments I think how great it is Amazon and such are creating such huge infrastructures cause that will make it easier when we nationalize them )

That's kind of what goes through my head every time another story about people losing their jobs to automation comes up. It's terrible news, but it's not terrible because we're raising productivity and doing things more efficiently. Those things are good for humanity. Less work! More time to pursue your own desires! It's terrible because all the gains accumulate to a very small group of wealthy capitalists and everyone else is left to fend for themselves.
posted by indubitable at 10:36 AM on April 17 [9 favorites]


For a lot of the preppy-casual types I know in Raleigh, one of the best things to do in summertime is to attend the "Midtown" Beach Music Series that takes place on the astroturf town square.

Beach Music is popular with the preppy-casual crowd? Like the Embers or the Tams? How old are these people? Is it just that everything old is new again?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:39 AM on April 17


I can't think of the last time that I was inside a mall. A few years ago maybe?
posted by seawallrunner at 10:42 AM on April 17


Oh yeah, exactly that kind of beach music. Young people in college all the way through retirement. I think it's that everyone wants to suggest that they own or have access to a beach house, and when they're stuck inland in Raleigh they want, at least, a taste of those good beach times. Have you seen the movie Shag? It's a template for the lifestyle ideals of these folks.

I mean, Lilly Pulitzer isn't popular because people are a-ok with their pine trees and blacktops in the inland suburbs. Lilly Pulitzer is popular because it suggests that they are in the loop, somehow, on that easy-breezy West Palm Beach life. Or at least that easy-breezy Topsail Island, NC life.
posted by witchen at 10:46 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Of course profit margins at Amazon are razor thin. Bezos has basically demolished book retailing with that model and he's going to do it to other forms of retailing. I mean as long as Amazon's stock price increases and market share increases it's not like Bezos has to mine every transaction for the maximum possible return.

The sheer volume of transactions tends to eliminate the risk of putting loss leaders onto Amazon and in theory Amazon could probably run whole divisions of their website at a loss in order to push other retailers to the brink.
posted by vuron at 10:48 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


The regressive move away from retail back to a faster mail-order system perplexes me, because it is the exact opposite of instant gratification.

In the time it takes the average person to get in a car and drive halfway to a store that might have what they want, I can open the Amazon app on my phone, do a voice search for my desired product, scroll through options, pick what I want, and hit the one-click-to-buy button, knowing that I'll have it in two days without having to think about it any more. That feels a lot like instant gratification to me.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:50 AM on April 17 [8 favorites]




Los Angeles definitely hasn't gotten the memo on dying malls. When our malls get rundown and unpopular, the owners announce 1.5 billion dollar upgrade plans. Sometime we even build a giant mall right next door to an existing giant mall, as the case with the Glendale Galleria/Americana.

Even the Burbank IKEA got replaced with a "largest in the US, if not the world" IKEA earlier this year.
posted by sideshow at 10:53 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


knowing that I'll have it in two days without having to think about it any more. That feels a lot like instant gratification to me.

...and if you're really anxious to get it sooner and willing to pay for it, Amazon has next day and same day delivery.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:55 AM on April 17


Beach Music is popular with the preppy-casual crowd?

One of the most surprising things about moving to the Triangle is the demographically diverse appeal of a genre of music I had literally never heard of before I got here.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:20 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Oh, and the rumors appear to be true that the redevelopment plans for the failing Cary Towne Center mall include an IKEA [h/t to gogoraleigh for breaking that story months ahead of the MSM]
posted by Rock Steady at 11:23 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


skye.dancer - Amazon might not care about your race, but they definitely care about the racial makeup of your neighbourhood.
posted by thecjm at 11:23 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


There's a mall near me that was DOA (just built maybe a decade ago, or not even) and the interesting thing there is that the mall itself is deader than dead but the surrounding Big Box-opolis is thriving. Traditional covered malls near me are generally dying (there is one, the super upscale one with the high-end brands, that is doing well), but the new-urbanist typed places and the big box strip malls all seem to be doing fine.

I've seen an enclosed mall in my hometown revive itself by converting to an open-air type mall; they kept the anchors but got rid of all the interstitial stores, as far as I could tell--I didn't see a Spencer's Gifts or Lox, Stock and Bagel around, anyway. The last time I was in it when it was enclosed, it was starting to die, but it seems to be doing fine now. The other enclosed mall in town? Not so much.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:25 AM on April 17


re: athletic wear, this too goes along with lower purchasing power. I remember in the aughts it was more diversified and there was definite status attributed to signifiers of certain activities – watersports, skiing, cycling, climbing, backpacking. Hiking and running were kind of in the background.

Once the recession hit, within months it seemed like easily half the people I knew had gone from being gym rats discussing where they'd surf that summer and ski that winter, and started training for marathons. In the past few years, running has skyrocketed as THE activity you can talk about with anyone at the office.

As someone who's touched on pretty much all the sports, the explanation is easy: running is the cheapest sport. You need no kit for it other than a pair of shoes.
posted by fraula at 11:26 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


The regressive move away from retail back to a faster mail-order system perplexes me, because it is the exact opposite of instant gratification.

I think it's a shift in reality for more recent generations. Being able to do something without having to leave their touch-screen is instant gratification.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:52 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


People who constantly have to replace high dollar running shoes might disagree with you there.

High end New Balance or Brooks which seem to dominate the serious runner set are quite often north of 100 per pair and serious runners can burn through them like crazy.
posted by vuron at 11:52 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


There's a community college in my local mall (next to the food court in the old movie theater).

I'm no expert, but I've always assumed that coal jobs are "good" jobs in that they are higher paying in rural locations. There is also a car industry type effect for all the ancillary businesses supporting machinery, etc.

It is not written in stone that retail jobs pay peanuts, so the erosion of unions (see coal too) and the resultant expanding inequality is a big part of the picture in my opinion.
posted by idb at 12:01 PM on April 17


As someone who's touched on pretty much all the sports, the explanation is easy: running is the cheapest sport. You need no kit for it other than a pair of shoes.

Not so! You have to accessorize by adding in the very special clothes and electronic gear and water-carrying accessories and all the other things without which going somewhere on your own two feet is basically impossible.
posted by indubitable at 12:02 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


The regressive move away from retail back to a faster mail-order system perplexes me, because it is the exact opposite of instant gratification.

I think it's a shift in reality for more recent generations. Being able to do something without having to leave their touch-screen is instant gratification.


This, exactly. And without having to leave my house. Or talk to a person.

Some of that is chronic illness and not wanting to spend precious weekend spoons on hiking out somewhere and then trying on a zillion things in more than one store. That entirely wipes me out and takes forever. It's worth it to me to order a couple of sizes of things on Amazon, wait a couple days, try things on at my own pace, and send back (for free!) what I don't like. And I usually end up spending about the same amount and liking the clothes way more, because I don't have to settle for a small selection.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:03 PM on April 17 [8 favorites]


running is the cheapest sport. You need no kit for it other than a pair of shoes.

Greco-Roman Wrestling seems even more frugal, although I guess you do need some olive oil
posted by thelonius at 12:15 PM on April 17 [12 favorites]


Being able to do something without having to leave their touch-screen is instant gratification.

Not to make everything about emotional labor, but there is a significant emotional labor benefit to having something immediately get checked off your list versus having it scheduled for some future designated "shopping" time. Like, last night was pretty warm in NYC; we just moved into a new apartment and need to buy an A/C; so I woke up after a night of poor sleep and, at 5:30am, ordered an A/C that has good reviews, fits my space requirements, has the features I want, and is in my price range, and it will be here by Wednesday. I crossed things off my list without even getting out of bed. If it turns out its defective, I can print a label from Amazon, throw it back in its box and schedule a UPS pickup; versus schlepping it back to the store, waiting in line, trying to prove it doesn't work, etc. As for clothes, I'm a tall woman with big feet, so I haven't been able to shop in physical stores since I was like 14. Plus, I like to try on clothes with the proper undergarments and the coordinating pieces so I can be sure I'm actually adding something useful to my wardrobe (vs. buying a shirt, oh wait now I need a strapless bra, and this shirt only works with this one pair of pants and that pair of pants only works with heels, but if I wear heels now the shirt looks weird, etc etc).
posted by melissasaurus at 12:15 PM on April 17 [11 favorites]


America is dead; a photo project.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 12:18 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Not so! You have to accessorize by adding in the very special clothes and electronic gear and water-carrying accessories and all the other things without which going somewhere on your own two feet is basically impossible.

But it is? I mean, running is waaaaay more accessible to the average person than skiing (water or snow). Rich people gonna rich and all so of course they turn a cheap form of exercise into status signaling.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:21 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


Doug Henwood contra Boulle. And Krugman.
posted by doctornemo at 12:27 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Amazon might not care about your race, but they definitely care about the racial makeup of your neighbourhood.

Yes, thecjm, this is true; I am aware of this category of problem due to my activities in big data. It is also the case that I am fortunate that I live in a zip code where it's unlikely that packages will be stolen off my porch.

My point was less that there is some generalized magical escape from racism via internet commerce--because, yeah, there is not; I live in the US where racism permeates every single fucking interaction/transaction--and more that online, I can mediate my engagement with that crap in a way that works for me*. With a bonus of avoiding it at 2am when I have free time.

* again, everyone's mileage varies due to their own personal circumstances. [insert additional disclaimers of privilege here]
posted by skye.dancer at 12:35 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


I work about a mile from all the shops where I purchase most of my clothes, but it's in the center of Chicago, not at a mall. I still order from them online (although I will sometimes pick them up at the shops or return them to the shops) because it's a million times easier and I can afford the occasional interest charge on my credit card during the overlap between purchase and return when it happens. These shops ALWAYS have more inventory available on the website. I remember when Nau opened (before it closed and re-opened as a subsidiary of someone else and became less wonderful) and its shop had basically only a few of anything in stock. You could feel the fabrics and try on one or two things for size, but it was all shipped to your house from the store. I suppose the delayed gratification put lots of people off, but I loved it. It better mimicked the idea of something being for me, instead of the same t-shirt everyone had from every shop.

I've never enjoyed shopping as either entertainment or as chore unless it's flipping through catalogs or looking through a lovely photo shoot on a webpage. It more often means that the reality of putting said article of clothing on my body--or actually using said piece of kitchen equipment--is a very significant let down from the fantasy (more so than if I had put it on in a dressing room), but the act of imaging the purchase as part of my life is so much better not experienced in a brick and mortar store.

I don't know what that says about the death of malls, or the change in American consumerism, but I'm reminded of a Mefite describing Amazon as the place where they store everything they might ever want or need someday. I guess I basically treat Nordstrom the same way, but occasionally, I have them ship it to my house, so I can drop it back by the store on my lunchbreak when it did not actually fill a need in my life.
posted by crush at 12:35 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Tom Goes to the Mayor is basically about this very problem.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:36 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


One of the most surprising things about moving to the Triangle is the demographically diverse appeal of a genre of music I had literally never heard of before I got here.

Seriously. And I thought they meant like "Surf City", too.
posted by thelonius at 12:40 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


One of the most surprising things about moving to the Triangle is the demographically diverse appeal of a genre of music I had literally never heard of before I got here.

Oh yeah, I grew up on that stuff, a Best of the Tams tape lived in my parents' kind of falling apart old Mustang they bought out of a dream of driving around Topsail with the top down, and they eventually moved to Morehead I think at least 50% because my mom can see beach music more often. I just associate it with people their age, not younger people. The preppy crowd was all into DMB and Widespread Panic when I lived in the state.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:17 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


(I mean obviously the preppy girls who went to UNC all had their "Carolina Girls...Best in the World" t-shirts, but I never heard them talk about going to see The Chairmen of the Board in concert)
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:23 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


(I mean obviously the preppy girls who went to UNC all had their "Carolina Girls...Best in the World" t-shirts, but I never heard them talk about going to see The Chairmen of the Board in concert)

I'd say they wouldn't go on their own, necessarily, but they'd go with their parents. And dance to Chairmen of the Board-like bands playing the Raleigh Party and Debutante Ball. And they'd hire those bands to play their wedding receptions.

Meredith girls, however...those are the bread-and-butter customers of the Midtown Beach Music Series.
posted by witchen at 1:33 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


The preppy crowd was all into DMB and Widespread Panic when I lived in the state.

So much!! Also I'm LOLin remembering the sudden (to me) turn towards outfitting oneself like you're camping constantly and going to festivals just all the time (or, more realistically, are a counselor at Camp Seafarer/Seagull and/or an active Young Life participant). Being all into DMB and Widespread and wearing North Face jackets and carrying the Nalgene. Talk about brand loyalty, man.

And such genius marketing talent, whoever came up with hiking gear as a cool alternative to golfing and sailing gear. Still lifestyle-aspirational and clearly class-signifying, still brand-specific, still extremely expensive for middle-class families.
posted by witchen at 1:38 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I would be much more inclined to buy the argument that the obsession job declines in coal and (maybe more broadly) manufacturing over retail was due to the relatively high wages that come with those jobs . . . if any of the folks now seeking to make bank on the appearance of fighting for coal/manufacturing jobs had any track record whatsoever of fighting to keep the pay and benefits for those workers high.

they are literally advancing the line of argument here that we should bring back big coal while also removing any protections workers or the environment might have in those arrangements, so no, I wont put a lot of weight in their "but its the pay" arguments.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 2:07 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much of retail and mall's downfall is the death of physical media. Blockbuster, Tower Records, Sam Goody, Virgin Megastores, National Record Mart, Hollywood Video, Borders Books, J&R, B. Dalton, Movie Gallery, and Media Play have all closed, many in the last decade. I remember my mall having 4 music stores, 3 software/videogame stores, 2 bookstores, and a movie store. Now all that you see in a mall is maybe a GameStop and one Barnes and Noble if you're lucky.

This is it for me. Kindle, Chromecast, Google Play, Steam and Netflix have replaced most of the reasons why I'd ever go to a mall.
posted by octothorpe at 2:16 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Part of the fixation on coal is because . . . there's something mysterious and ennobling about the dangerous endeavor to extract valuable commodities from deep within the earth, something that's missing from, say, used-car sales or ski-lift operation.

I would wager that 99.9\% of it is that coal mining coded extremely masculine and it's done by white men. We talk about coal mining because the decline of coal mining is robbing white men of their right to white-men's work. If coal goes away, they might need to become a nurse, like a woman. Or sell clothes, like a woman or , even worse, a gay man. Or otherwise do something that doesn't count as really work, because not-white-men do it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:37 PM on April 17 [36 favorites]


> Coal mining coded extremely masculine and it's done by white men... the decline of coal mining is robbing white men of their right to white-men's work.

See also: Long-haul trucking.
See also: Family farming in the mid-west.

That makes me think, hmmm, maybe it's not paranoia if the universe is really out to get them after all.
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:03 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I've been thinking about the impact of this phenomenon, recently, haven't been able to find any good academic work on this angle, which makes me think there might be a PhD thesis in there somewhere. But if this really is a secular decline which is manifesting, I think the impact could be much bigger than just malls closing, or even the job losses in retail, 10% of the workforce though it be.

For example:
Los Angeles definitely hasn't gotten the memo on dying malls

Los Angeles is a car city. Cars and malls are symbiots. Malls don't exist without cars. I read a rather tedious NY Times op-ed about Trump voters the other day, which made one interesting point: the post-2008 economic recovery has not been evenly distributed, pace William Gibson. A much, much higher proportion of the new jobs which are being created are being created in cities, and this was not the case with other recoveries. In a weird and I think unexpected way, the rise of the internet has made urban living much more appealing, because of this basic equation: if the amount of times you need to leave your house to get the shit you need to live drops by say, 2/3rds, then the amount of stores within a given radius of you is also going to drop by some large amount. If the average number of shopping trips per person drops, than in order for a store to survive it's going to need to be at a convenient distance for a much, much larger group of people. Stores are thereby driven toward locating in dense, urban environments. Bookstores are an interesting example of this --- Amazon came for them first, right? But actually, in the past couple of years, not only are physical book sales up, the number of bookstores is also increasing. The chains are struggling, while independents thrive. Chain books stores arose and thrived on the mall-model; it's taking them down too, even as boutiques proliferate.

Big picture wise, I mean, why does North America look different from Europe? Because Europe was developed when farmers had to live about a half a day's walk from the nearest village, and a half a day's ride from the nearest market town, and maybe two or three days from the nearest port or regional capital. Between canals, railroads and eventually the car, Americans were able to spread out much more. Because it's probably a universal human truth that people want to live no more than a couple hours from basic necessities, but how far that actually is depends on the means of transport you have available.

If most people switch to getting most our goods online, we're still going to have stores, but much fewer of them, and potentially much more highly concentrated. It could profoundly reshape our landscape, just as much as interstate highways themselves did.
posted by Diablevert at 3:21 PM on April 17 [11 favorites]


it might be a good time to start questioning systemic assumptions like the 40 hour workweek

I have a fantasy where I run for president on this one issue. In my stump speech, I'd ask everyone who is able to take Monday or Friday off every week for 4 weeks. "Elect me and that will be the new normal, 3-day weekends for everyone."

Once I get that accomplished and a 32-hour work week is the new standard, I'd resign and my wonderfully qualified VP would take over.

I've come to the conclusion that automation and AI will make humans irrelevant in the workplace and that it may well happen in my lifetime. A shorter full-time work week is a necessary stepping step in that process (in the less dystopian scenarios anyway).
posted by VTX at 3:49 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


Universal Basic Income 2020.
posted by Beholder at 4:24 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


> I wonder how much of retail and mall's downfall is the death of physical media.

I remember as a nerdy teen and pre-teen guy this is all me and my friends would be interested in at the mall: CDs, occasional video games and books, and maybe novelty tees from Hot Topic.

All of those are things people now buy online. And I'm betting a lot of the demand for snarky/your-favorite-band t-shirts has been supplanted by social media posts and memes.
posted by smelendez at 5:37 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


If most people switch to getting most our goods online, we're still going to have stores, but much fewer of them, and potentially much more highly concentrated. It could profoundly reshape our landscape, just as much as interstate highways themselves did.

This, combined with a general gentrification trend in cities, means our suburbs are likely just tomorrow's banlieues, a ring of poverty around a gentrified urban core, but with shoddier construction and less transit infrastructure. That's a really big problem for the future.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:55 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


I worked as a "product specialist" at Best Buy in the early 2000s. It used to be that I could walk into any Best Buy in the state (MN) and run into someone I knew.

The only time I go into a Best Buy these days is to pick up my online order as they're the best price on some stuff surprisingly often.

It still shocks me when I walk in because the floor plan is so dramatically different than what I remember. Most of the middle of the store was devoted to physical media. CDs and DVDs with some space for cameras and phones. There were even about a double handful of isles devoted to software in front of the computer department.

I fondly remember working late on the annual inventory night when my now wife and I found a copy of Vamyros Lesbos someone had put in with a bunch of Disney movies. It was a dumb joke made funnier by the fact that we couldn't move it until the next day when the whole inventory process would be over. Then we took our break time to make out in her car.

I mean. I met my wife working at Best Buy so as much as I dislike retail for all the same reasons as everyone else, I'm not really comfortable with it's downfall.
posted by VTX at 6:03 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


This, combined with a general gentrification trend in cities, means our suburbs are likely just tomorrow's banlieues, a ring of poverty around a gentrified urban core, but with shoddier construction and less transit infrastructure. That's a really big problem for the future.

Poverty has shifted, and there are definitely poor suburbs in a way that there didn't use to be, but we are also a long way from a McMansion-based banlieue system.

I'm not surprised that enclosed malls are hurting -- if you are driving, it is just so much faster and easier to stop at one or two strip malls or main street stores than it is to go to a gargantuan mall where you have to park and hike for half a mile just to get inside.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:03 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


vuron: "People who constantly have to replace high dollar running shoes might disagree with you there.

High end New Balance or Brooks which seem to dominate the serious runner set are quite often north of 100 per pair and serious runners can burn through them like crazy.
"

$100 is a single day skiing without including the capital costs.
posted by Mitheral at 6:23 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Washington Post: The entire coal industry employs fewer people than Arby’s

Yes, but those mining jobs are heavily concentrated in specific areas. So, if you close a mine, you pretty much economically nuke an entire town or county.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:24 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Even physical media is easier gotten (or cheaper!) online. I remember the days of old when the bookstore would inevitably have books 2, 6, and 9 of a series you wanted to read. I do love going to bookstores, but mainly to browse and find interesting things and kill a few hours. Last time I made a specific book purchase, I thought about going to the bookstore, but had to be sure they would have it (they did) and then compared prices. I'm all for supporting local business, but when it's $60 full sticker at the book store and $30 shipped at Amazon, well, I can wait for free 2 day shipping to get it here.

Physical stores are great for browsing, but if I want something specific I'll usually get it off Amazon.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:22 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


For the best examples of where the market for preppy casual wear is massive and thriving, go deeper inside the Beltline in Raleigh. Cameron Village, or the open-air fake village that used to be North Hills. Brooks Brothers, Vineyard Vines, Lilly Pulitzer, Monkee's, Talbots, J. Crew, etc.

Favorited so that every time in the future someone tries to tell me "Oh, North Carolina's great, come to the research triangle, there's this great music scene and all that transphobic stuff totally doesn't represent us!" I can point to this list of store names and concepts and ask them to tell me again with a straight face that I, specifically, wouldn't fucking hate it.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:26 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Not to thread-sit for every NC-related topic, but: we contain multitudes, for real. And that materialistic, preppy core in Raleigh is shrinking. The demographics in the city are changing really fast, and the Brooks Brothers seem to be fairly outnumbered by their nonwhite counterparts and locally owned independent shops. Or, you know, Anthropologie. Which (shrug emoji) And then there's Durham and Chapel Hill and Carrboro and Saxapahaw and etc etc.!

In all seriousness, North Carolina is better in this regard than South Carolina or Alabama or Arkansas or a lot of other states in the region. Not just aesthetically, but in the number of leftward voters who've been gerrymandered out of representation. The majority of us do not want this transphobic nonsense. And about a quarter of us would probably go in for a good madras short. Probably a minor overlap there.
posted by witchen at 9:44 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


The regressive move away from retail back to a faster mail-order system perplexes me, because it is the exact opposite of instant gratification.

Why do you think Amazon has Prime Now? I can get lots of stuff delivered to my door in about an hour and a half. Granted, availability is still fairly limited, but so are a lot of popular retail brands. I had to drive an hour to get to the nearest Best Buy until 1999. Circuit City opened a store in that town of 70,000 (but a metro of nearly 200k by then) in 1998. I know of several other similarly sized places that had few national retailers other than typical mall stores until the mid to late 2000s.

I used to spend a lot of money at retail stores precisely because of the instant gratification or otherwise needing to not wait two days minimum to get something shipped. Now that isn't a problem for the vast majority of the things I buy.

That said, when I finally bought a TV last year after being without for a long while, I ended up getting it from Best Buy. The prices weren't actually any better online, as they had been last time I was buying a TV (to be used as a monitor for a virtual pinball machine's playfield, not an actual TV) 6 years prior, which I ordered from Amazon, of course.
posted by wierdo at 3:22 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


I can point to this list of store names and concepts and ask them to tell me again with a straight face that I, specifically, wouldn't fucking hate it.

You are of course, welcome to hate whatever you like, but that's one shopping center, and I don't think it's fair to characterize an entire region based on one shopping center. If there is a major city in the US that doesn't have most if not all of those stores, I'd be shocked.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:50 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


That short Doug Henwood article doctornemo linked above is worth a read; he says manufacturing jobs are not just white men's work and goes on to list a few reasons why mining and manufacturing jobs are particularly mourned:

There’s another reason for the attention paid to the loss of mining and manufacturing job: pay. In March 2017, average hourly earnings in the service sector were $25.86 (not including fringe benefits). They were $32.54 in mining and logging, 26% higher. Manufacturing paid on average $26.37 an hour, 2% above the service sector average—down from an almost 10% premium in 1980. Average earnings in retail were $18.01 an hour, 30% below the service sector average. And workweeks in retail are short—just over 30 hours, compared to almost 41 in manufacturing. So the average weekly wage in retail is $554; in manufacturing, $1,071, nearly twice as high. Almost 9% of manufacturing workers are unionized, compared with 4% in retail. And 92% of manufacturing workers have access to health insurance benefits, compared with 56% in retail.

Yes, mining and manufacturing jobs are often dirty, dull, and dangerous. But there are some good reasons other than bigotry why their loss is widely mourned.

posted by mediareport at 3:57 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


Also, I recall reading in the past month or so about a U.S. clothing chain doing well with no online presence at all, but can't find it now. Anyone know which it is? It's not the European chain Primark, which also does well; according to one article it has double-digit growth with zero online selling.

Interesting data points, anyway.
posted by mediareport at 3:59 AM on April 18


The regressive move away from retail back to a faster mail-order system perplexes me, because it is the exact opposite of instant gratification.

If you work all day and don't have time to get schlep out to the suburbs to shop until the weekend, shopping online is usually a lot faster and less painful. If it's Tuesday, I can order from Amazon and have something show up on my side porch by Thursday but if I were to have to go find it somewhere out in the wilds of suburbia, I'd have to spend my whole Saturday afternoon dealing with mall traffic, finding the store, maybe finding the right item in the store and finding someone to actually ring me out in that store and then fight my way back to the city with my purchase. Ugh, I'm annoyed now just thinking about having to deal with all that.
posted by octothorpe at 4:18 AM on April 18 [10 favorites]


The majority of us do not want this transphobic nonsense.

I don't even think a majority of the Republican voters want it
posted by thelonius at 4:25 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


Amazon might not care about your race, but they definitely care about the racial makeup of your neighbourhood.

I'm sure that's true in some places, but not where I live. I've literally been chastised by the police for walking around my neighborhood, which is easily 90% black (Haitian, mostly, for whatever that's worth), yet Amazon does same day delivery here, just like pretty much everywhere else within 30ish miles of their warehouse.
posted by wierdo at 5:43 AM on April 18


Washington Post: The entire coal industry employs fewer people than Arby’s
Yes, but those mining jobs are heavily concentrated in specific areas. So, if you close a mine, you pretty much economically nuke an entire town or county.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:24 PM on April 17 [1 favorite +] [!]


Mentioned in both TFA and MFQ from TFA.

Just sayin'.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:15 AM on April 18


mediareport: Also, I recall reading in the past month or so about a U.S. clothing chain doing well with no online presence at all, but can't find it now.

Forever 21? They have online now, I think, but didn't for a long while as they were expanding across the country. I'm lead to understand they have... interesting ideas about labor and intellectual property laws, so they might not be a shining example of the breed.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:24 AM on April 18


Hey, aspersioncast - I have lived here in NC for 20 years, and you can see in this thread how little exposure I had to whatever that preppie culture is. I had no clue it was really there except perhaps in some weird retro sorority theme events.
posted by amtho at 8:23 AM on April 18


I spent the 80s in and out of Kings Plaza on Flatbush ave in Brooklyn. I had my Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi Book Club card, bought vinyl & cassettes @ Sam Goody, and went to the movies there; they had 2 screens & the last nine rows were the smoking section.

I too now have Kindle, Netflix, Steam, and Amazon Prime and think of Malls as horrible places filled with shit I don't want placed strategically in the way of what I do want, wretched, conflicting smells of a disturbingly synthetic nature, and overpriced, semi-nutritional consumables.

The Sears in downtown Oakland closed down a few years ago. Then Uber bought it, with tales of them bringing 2,000 jobs Daily commuters from the suburbs into Oakland. They were even going to open a disused BART entrance so the suburbanites would have to have minimal contact with us horrible city-dwellers.

True story: a buddy of mine was in the Oakland planning office pulling permits for his bar, and he overhears two Suits looking over some plans. They're grumbling about retrofitting, costs, "It'll never work."

So after they leave, he scoots over to see what they were looking at, and Instagrams a pic of what they were looking over; it was plans for the Sears Buliding.

Fast forward to today, and the plan is for a couple of hundred suburban commuters to work there.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:48 AM on April 18 [4 favorites]


so, uh, RDU-area meetup at Southpoint, anybody?
posted by ardgedee at 11:09 AM on April 18 [5 favorites]


We could stand around consuming free samples at Teavana or getting hall massages.
posted by amtho at 1:00 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]


It's not just the shopping malls. The same thing is happening in cities.

In my own neighborhood there was an awesome consignment store that was doing bang-up business, and the landlord just recently kicked them out, to be replaced with a real estate broker's office. Meanwhile, that store was probably one of the main drivers of foot traffic in the neighborhood, so now all of the other businesses here are going to suffer, too.

The stupidity of greedy landlords continues to astound me.


It's more than just stupidity. It is often the exact same extraction ideology. The landlords in these cases are often not just people but instead are corporations, often located elsewhere, and are simply not interested in anything other than the bottom line. That is why you often see architecturally spectacular old buildings torn down to be replaced with bland siding boxes or strip malls in formerly walkable areas. Some corporate decision maker in Sacramento doesn't care if a building in Chicago is beautiful or if putting in a parking lot destroys a nice walkable retail neighborhood because it isn't a neighborhood he will ever see and the people whose lives he harms are not people he will ever meet. Does it hurt their own bottom line? Down the road maybe but not quick enough that they notice that they harm the neighborhoods they own in.

So really lots of landlords can't see the forest for the all their spreadsheets.
posted by srboisvert at 1:59 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]


The landlords in these cases are often not just people but instead are corporations, often located elsewhere, and are simply not interested in anything other than the bottom line.

A recent example here in Oakland: The Beat Won’t Go On: Chicago Landlord Evicts Coffee With A Beat, Longtime Adams Point Shops
Three businesses in the same building at the corner of Grand Avenue and Perkins streets — Coffee With a Beat, Fama’s African Braids, and Oakland Spa — are being evicted by their new landlord.…

The building’s current owner, according to county records, is Urban Neighborhood Bay Area, LLC. (UNBA), a Delaware company with a Denver mailing address. That company is a subsidiary of the Laramar Group, a multi-billion dollar firm that is headquartered in Chicago and owns and manages over 12,000 housing units nationwide.…

The company is advertising the building as being located “in the trendy Adams Point neighborhood of Oakland” and “within walking distance of some of the Bay Area's hottest bars and restaurants, popular shopping destinations and public transportation.”
posted by Lexica at 2:56 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


I couldn't tell if this was posted or not, but Business Insider has another pictorial of the dead and the dying.

A lot of these articles are positing this as a rapidly accelerating problem - is that the case, or is that sensationalist framing from the news media?
posted by codacorolla at 4:23 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


What's nice is the newer ones (Legacy Village, Crocker Park) look like little towns, so if and when they fail they can be repurposed into actual towns.

They're actually pretty nice spaces to just be in, unlike those old school monolithic indoor malls.

I mean, Crocker Park is huge and mixed use with green space like a mini park in the middle. Legacy's not bad either; they have outdoor music & events in their big central green space.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:13 AM on April 17


I find these "lifestyle centers" creepy as fuck, not least because they're corporatified Disney-fied faux-Euro simulacra of little towns, often in places that had actual small town "downtowns" that got gutted with the rise of the Big Boxes. Which actually, in the cases of Lyndhurst (Legacy Village) and Westlake (Crocker Park), shouldn't have mattered that much since they are both "mid-ring" suburbs, and if our county leaders had any brains at all they would have spent more effort revitalizing downtown Cleveland retail a lot earlier so that if the residents of these suburbs wanted something other than Big Boxes or the stores they already had (and should have supported) in their own little downtowns they could get in their cars and take a 15-minute drive into actual Cleveland.

It's a version of "white flight" all over again, where these 90+% white upper-middle-class suburbs couldn't even be bothered to contribute to their own downtowns, much less the central economic engine of their region, and created a fantasy "small town" shopping district that by location and price and store selection is specifically sending a "you don't belong here" message to thousands if not millions of their county co-residents.

And I get that you're talking about their green spaces positively in comparison to covered shopping malls, but . . . . . c'mon, we've got The Emerald Necklace, 21,000 acres of green space all intertwined with the City and the suburbs that has tons of events and lots of spaces available for rental by private organizers of events. A little green space and a few concerts is small potatoes.

On top of that, as Naberius points out, these fake little towns are 100% privately owned and run - they'll turn into smoking craters long before they turn into actual small towns.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:28 PM on April 18 [8 favorites]


Fake Working Class: The muted response to the retail apocalypse shows which workers count in Trump’s America by Jamelle Bouie [Slate]
For all of the impersonal economic reasons for the decline of retail, for all the understandable reasons motivating political attention to manufacturing, it’s also the case that this is a story of race and gender. A story of who matters in our society; who deserves our collective concern. And if one thing is true in American history, it’s that white men have always been among those called “deserving,” with other groups struggling to attain that label and the respect it implies, and some—like black women—long stigmatized as inherently unworthy.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:52 AM on April 19 [3 favorites]


So now we're having a meetup at a shopping mall.
posted by research monkey at 2:40 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


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