This place sunk a long time ago
November 25, 2016 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Black Friday has cast its sinister shadow across the US once again, releasing a plague of deep discounts and demanding waves of senseless sacrifices to the god of Commerce. Why not celebrate by touring the desiccated ruins of classic American shopping temples from the comforts of your own home with Dan Bell's Dead Mall Series? Featuring the smooth sounds of Dan Mason, Washed Out and more! posted by byanyothername (65 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Black Friday has cast its sinister shadow across the US once again, releasing a plague of deep discounts and demanding waves of senseless sacrifices to the god of Commerce.

We like to mock but for a lot of families these limited quantity door busters are what let them have some really nice presents for Christmas. People can bitch and complain that Christmas is too consumerist or is all about materialism but Black Friday shopping for a lot of people is the true meaning of Christmas. The thought, the effort, the sacrifice in order to bring a smile to someone else's face. They get up at some ungodly hour on a shitty cold morning to go and try and stretch their meager means to get some nice things for the special people in their lives. I don't feel right about these people being the target of mockery and punching down.
posted by Talez at 7:14 PM on November 25, 2016 [46 favorites]


Chose one at random, the sunrise mall. It's so ghostly! It's like a survival horror game, I'm just waiting for the monsters to appear NOW. No wait, NOW! Then you're suddenly in the upside down.

The chirpy upbeat mall music does not help.
posted by adept256 at 7:26 PM on November 25, 2016


VAPORSAVE
posted by infinitewindow at 7:41 PM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


I feel like black Friday has been kind of pointless for a few years now. Really impressive sales seem to be gone, replaced with average-at-best sales played up as good. It no longer feels like a meaningful improvement over smart shopping online.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:47 PM on November 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


We like to mock but for a lot of families these limited quantity door busters are what let them have some really nice presents for Christmas

I've tried to listen to this POV in the past but I find it thoroughly unconvincing. Consumerism = consumerism.
posted by Miko at 7:50 PM on November 25, 2016 [18 favorites]


Those fashion clips look straight out of True Stories.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:51 PM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think this post is not about how people are struggling to buy presents on a limited income but rather maybe suggests a situation in which Walmart and other race-to-the-bottom businesses and legislative surrogates have conspired to break unions, deny people affordable health care and pound wages into the ground...leading to this sort of decay.

Black Friday is them throwing a bone to the people they have economically ravaged by design to say "Oh hey! Cheap toaster oven!"

But more than that...there was a period in which the malls detailed in the post created the suburban or exurban illusion of shared public spaces. Which they were not, being private property. But despite that, they kind of functioned that way for a lot of communities. And in the case of certain municipalities, they stood in for that to the extent the local government thought "Well, why should we invest in shared public space that's actually public?"

The other problem is that these complexes aren't easily converted to other uses. And if the local economy has fallen on hard times? Well, it's just going to sit there as a blight that requires public money to police and maintain. From one of the videos in the FPP. Just look around.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:52 PM on November 25, 2016 [23 favorites]


I think this post is not about how people are struggling to buy presents on a limited income but rather maybe suggests a situation in which Walmart and other race-to-the-bottom businesses and legislative surrogates have conspired to break unions, deny people affordable health care and pound wages into the ground...leading to this sort of decay.

I know. But the author had the editorialize the swipe into it so I like to think I politely responded in kind.
posted by Talez at 7:55 PM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


And for a lot of limited means families, one or more of the "breadwinners" are stuck going to work at 3am the day after thanksgiving (or worse, on thanksgiving itself) so they can get yelled and groused at for a 10-12 hour shift of mass chaos and madness, always wondering if this year it will be their store someone gets trampled for a super cheap TV.
posted by HMSSM at 7:56 PM on November 25, 2016 [14 favorites]


And if you work retail, most place do not allow any requests for time off at all this weekend and it's a complete crapshoot which of the shitty, shitty Thanksgiving weekend shifts you have to work.
posted by HMSSM at 7:58 PM on November 25, 2016 [9 favorites]


I think it remains to be seen whether the economic profile of Black Friday shoppers really fits that narrative. From what I see personally, no, it does not. I appreciate the instinct to stand up for the workers - many of whom are in my own family; my husband reported to work for the weekend to sell stuff retail, as do my brother and SIL; and I have worked many Thanksgiving weekends in the cultural field as well as in retail and foodservice - but I think a full investigation would quickly reveal that Black Friday shoppers are not primarily driven by the need to save. People think of it as a happening that they want to be part of, something to break the routine. And if you don't have disposable income to speak of, like a lot of people I know, you are just not going to these events at all, and your Christmas is handmade, budget-limited, dollar-store, or otherwise done on the cheap. Let's not get carried away with a faux-sympathetic narrative that I don't think is based in any economic reality. The only people I ever see putting this idea forward are not directly involved as either shoppers or workers.
posted by Miko at 7:59 PM on November 25, 2016 [24 favorites]


Interestingly, it seems like Milennials and teens are among the big participant groups: "37% of shoppers between 18 and 25 years old will be in stores, and 38% will shop online. Young consumers likely want to experience Black Friday and the usual horde of shoppers that day."

“Last year, we walked out with about $2,000 worth of stuff — this year it’s only about $700,” Ms. Teixiera said.


Cry me a river.

Here's the other thing. Progressives should not celebrate and defend Black Friday - not because people are spending money they earned on consumer goods, but because retail stores have increasingly become loss leaders for unsecured credit. Macy's, Penney's, Sears - they're no longer just stores, they're the front window of banks, where if you don't have the cash for the "deals" that day, they're more than happy to give you 20% off for filing a credit application - which not only reduces your credit rating then and there, but puts you at risk for usorious credit arrangements later, when one late payment can ratchet you right up to 24.99% - or, in some states, 31% - interest. This is SOP in major retailers these days - something a lot of middle-class people are unaware of. Employees at major stores are increasingly rated and given raises and promotions not on their customer service or even on total sales, but how many credit applications they secure. These "sales" are credit traps every bit as bad as payday lenders, and we need to say loud and often "AVOID." These events are emphatically not the friend of anyone on a budget, nor is the promise that these consumer goods are going to fill in for the real absence of quality of life factors: income security, affordable healthcare, safe and decent housing, a good education, safe neighborhoods, a sense of community.
posted by Miko at 8:14 PM on November 25, 2016 [62 favorites]


This is exactly what vaporwave was meant for.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:29 PM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


It no longer feels like a meaningful improvement over smart shopping online.

Supporting the local economy enough to where there still are retail jobs at all, even if they aren't anyone's dream, is still worth something. Shopping online is yet another way to help kill smaller towns as the profits go to fewer localities and there often isn't even sales tax to make up for the local loss.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:48 PM on November 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


We like to mock but for a lot of families these limited quantity door busters are what let them have some really nice presents for Christmas.

And if you eat this bucket of live worms and happen to find a winning yellow ticket at the bottom, grandma can get her hip replaced!

HEALTHCARE = SOLVED
posted by indubitable at 9:17 PM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


I gotta say. These videos, while depressing, are very interesting.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:20 PM on November 25, 2016


Macy's, Penney's, Sears

People shop at those places still?

they're no longer just stores, they're the front window of banks, where if you don't have the cash for the "deals" that day, they're more than happy to give you 20% off for filing a credit application - which not only reduces your credit rating then and there, but puts you at risk for usurious credit arrangements later, when one late payment can ratchet you right up to 24.99% - or, in some states, 31% - interest.

This has been the case for as long as I've been alive. In the days before store credit cards, I would sit as a child in the Sear's finance department while Mom and Dad negotiated with the lender for a replacement oven or other major appliance, as if you were buying a car. You didn't even get a discount deal, and the terms were hardly competitive. They only look bad now, now that we know what a competitive rate for credit card interest looks like. And of course, the finance department was happy to decline you for being black, hispanic or a single woman. (Assuming security didn't escort you out). You'd have to pay in full or go without.

Do I take those offers? Rarely, I have access to loans elsewhere. Is the fact that retail margins are so thin retailers push credit on anyone with a pulse offensive to me? Fuck no. Hell, even the "free for 90 days" magazine tie in scam you see coming a mile away was more offensive.
posted by pwnguin at 9:48 PM on November 25, 2016


Don't like to shop? Don't shop.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:06 PM on November 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


pwnguin, that comment came off as classist.

Yes people still shop at those stores.

And not everybody has access to the same loans.
posted by chispie at 11:09 PM on November 25, 2016 [11 favorites]


Wow. These are fantastic. The camerawork and narration are exactly right for the subject matter.

There's a part of me that hesitates to celebrate this out a sense that loving dead malls is elitist. But, along any dimension except aesthetics, feeling schadenfreude at the bankruptcy of real estate developers and franchise owners counts as punching up. (If we held them accountable for the horrible zoning laws and soul-crushing city planning decisions that have helped rip the hearts out of American cities, they'd suffer a lot worse than snarky ruin-porn videos on youtube.)

The best thing one can say about malls is that they can become fascinating and eerie ghost malls.
posted by eotvos at 11:55 PM on November 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


This has been the case for as long as I've been alive.

Mm hmm. It's different now. For one thing, very few people are declined, they are just saddled with extreme interest rates. And of course, an army of collectors and for-profit "credit counseling agencies" await the opportunity to prey on them when something goes wrong. Also, though store credit has been a thing for a long time, it is much more recent that store-branded credit has merely been a "skin" for the same global multinational banks that produce most credit products, and it's also new that benefits and career progress are based more on pushing credit than service or product knowledge is. This is something you might be privy to if you had recently worked retail or anyone close to you has, but if not, you may be trying to map yesteryear onto a very different landscape. The appliance credit of 50 years ago is to the in-store credit industry today as the s&L mortgage of 50 years ago was to a 2005-era subprime lending operation. This isn't a trend to dismiss. It should concern us, especially when we consider the disparities of financial education.

And of course people still shop at those stores. As my links note, millions. And think about the class implications. Lower-income people
May be more likely to use brick and mortar stores. When you are living paycheck to paycheck, you can rarely buy things with several days' advance lead time to wait for shipping from an online order; not to mention, shipping itself is a high cost, sometimes as much as half the item price, and when you live on a low income you pretty much are not a member of Amazon Prime. So you can shop in a physical store for less cost and in a more timely fashion. Also, for hundreds of people in any given mall or big box area, it is a workplace, and they are already there. Then too, a home computer, smartphone, and bandwidth - let alone the skills and sense of trust to use them - are not within reach of every person. Finally, many people prefer, at a sensory level, to go where they can feel and try on a number of different products in a short period of time with no advance payment. This is particularly important for older people, disabled people, and hard to fit people of different shapes and sizes. So yes, let's try to treat people who are still choosing physical stores with some respect and understanding.
posted by Miko at 2:26 AM on November 26, 2016 [17 favorites]




These "sales" are credit traps every bit as bad as payday lenders, and we need to say loud and often "AVOID."
This is something I've noticed a lot lately. My printer broke down last week and I needed to buy a new one. I found one on the website of Argos, which is quite good because you can pay online and then go pick it up right away from a local shop, avoiding the inconvenience of delivery.

Anyway, this printer was all of £50, but before I could check out, I had to go through a page imploring me to "pay for your goods over 12 months with one easy monthly payment". Now, I'm not going to take them up on that, because I have a pathological fear of getting into debt - if I couldn't afford the cash for the printer now, I wouldn't buy the printer. But a lot of people would think "oh, it's only another few pounds a month."

We even have high street stores with names like "Bright House" and "Perfect Home" which are entirely credit-based. They target low-income people and low-income areas specifically - you'll never find one in a nice middle-class commuter town, and they advertise on things like daytime TV and commercial radio. They sell big TVs and sofas and household goods for just one simple weekly payment at a whacking great APR. A £300 TV from Bright House ends up costing over £600. But they advertise their goods as "just £15 per week" rather than the actual cost. Some of the smaller local ones even have a guy who comes round each week to collect the money - how convenient!

My cable package is the same. I have the cheapest package they do, basic 50Mbps broadband that is way more than enough for what I need. I only recently signed up for it to replace a failing DSL line. But I'm forever getting emails and letters telling me that for just another £7.75 per month I could be enjoying 100Mbps. These multiple small monthly payments soon add up and become unmanageable if you take them all in isolation.
posted by winterhill at 3:54 AM on November 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


The latest video from College would fit nicely in here.
posted by lmfsilva at 4:03 AM on November 26, 2016


What is sad today is that the black Friday death count used to be people trampled for a Blu-ray. Now it's people being shot.
posted by bendy at 4:20 AM on November 26, 2016


I avoid buying retail if possible. Retail is just such a blight. Amazon should be avoided if possible too for obvious reasons. If possible, I'd prefer buying either used, probably on Ebay, or buying directly from China, either on Ebay or some Chinese site. Visa, Paypal, etc. are all problematic, but they take a smaller percentage, so it's not as bad. It's best to just buy as little as possible, of course.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:01 AM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'll admit that we seldom shop at non-food retail stores. We live in the middle of the city so retail shopping options are pretty limited unless we drive out to the suburbs; there isn't much available near here other than dollar stores, drug stores and fast food. I just hate driving in the 'burbs, the traffic makes me homicidal, so we do 90% of our shopping online these days.

It's so much easier to order online and have whatever it is appear on the back porch two days later than to fight traffic and suburbanites to find something* in a store.

*Or half the time, not find what you need at the store because they're out of that thing and then drive home and order it online anyway.
posted by octothorpe at 5:23 AM on November 26, 2016


Thanks for posting these. I do try to move away from the schadenfreude intepretation of these, and take them more in the spirit of 'The World Has Moved On' evidence a la Stephen King's gunslinger.

I'm not incredibly old. I remember growing up in the suburbs. Malls were, for better or worse, a keystone of that: at first, a highlight of a weekend trip with the family for an Orange Julius and window shopping-- phasing eventually into the aimless meandering of mid-90's adolescence, where everyone you know seemed to either work, or be at, the nearest mall, as much as possible. It was a taste of real, adult independence as merchandise.

Looks like all that has been rendered irrelevant. I might as well be talking about Dutch florins and the hated Spanish occupation of the lowlands.
posted by mrdaneri at 6:07 AM on November 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


I know a lot of middle white class folks who took to their fainting couches when Black Lives Matter suggested a boycott of Black Friday last year. And they all used the "but it's great for poor people!" line of reasoning. Consider me skeptical.

Dead malls both fascinate and repel me. My own childhood mall is the one from Dawn of the Dead so I think that may have something to do with it.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:29 AM on November 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


As someone who works for a major retailer on the corporate side, I'd say the characterization of Black Friday, the goods being sold, and the demographics of the shoppers are woefully mischaracterized in here. To an embarrassing degree, even.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:48 AM on November 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


The dead mall phenomenon is amazing. In my zip code there is a huge mall. At one time it had four "anchors" (those are the huge department stores which were the main drawer of traffic at one time--Sears, Penney's, &c.) At one end of it there is a huge Sears store, filled with merchandise, including a few fresh Christmas decorations.

1 the Sears is closed for business.

2 so far google has failed to return to me the reason why the times I have searched; apparently the company closed it without even a notice to the press about some excuse for the hundred-plus locals who are now unemployed.
posted by bukvich at 7:09 AM on November 26, 2016


I've spent the last few Black Fridays trying to simultaneously celebrate Buy Nothing Day, Record Store Day, and now that REI get-outside thing. This year, I made one purchase--I rode my bike to the record store, and then I bought the Erykah Badu and Ornette Coleman RSD releases. One of them will be someone's Christmas present.

Life is a series of compromises.

The characterization of Black Friday, the goods being sold, and the demographics of the shoppers are woefully mischaracterized in here.

This is usually followed by the part where the expert drops a bunch of insider knowledge.
posted by box at 7:15 AM on November 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


Absolutely agree that Black Friday has all kinds of ugly consumerist dimensions. Also absolutely agree that the actual people who become the grist for that mill can't be blamed for not being privileged enough to see through the sham for what it is and mostly just want to be able to give their kids and other loved ones access to all these cool new media technologies the media and everybody in the business world hold up as the fruits of American innovation and our best promise for the future. You can't go around expecting people trapped in a perverse system and a culture that prioritizes consumerism as much as ours and look down on them for merely being conventional human animals, responding to their circumstances as best they can considering they've been traumatized by lack of access to what all our marketing and technology boostering has convinced many people is an ongoing revolutionary shift that can empower people. It doesn't really empower people, but now we're being told education won't do that either and that the jobs we might plan to educate ourselves to do might not even be there anymore by the time we finish.

FFS, some kid recently got killed over a pair of sneakers. These consumer goods obviously mean a hell of a lot to the people who struggle to afford them. Are they assholes for not being able to lift themselves up enough from the daily grind to think about their consumer choices as acts of political engagement? Not to me, but I can definitely understand the impulse.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:19 AM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Autumnheart As a total outsider to the industry, I'd be interested in hearing corrections.

I can only speak to my personal experience-- I'm a late 30's something wonky white guy living in an urban area of the West Coast. I have not thought about, or stepped foot in a mall, since about 1999. I don't think I'm particularly representative of any demographic, nor do I speak authoritatively about any topic outside of a really boring subset of databases.
posted by mrdaneri at 7:22 AM on November 26, 2016


the characterization of Black Friday, the goods being sold, and the demographics of the shoppers are woefully mischaracterized in here

Feel free to offer facts, observations, and reputable sources to substantiate your opinion.

Store cards are the easiest type of credit card to get.

Many retailers (J. Crew, Wayfair, Ann Taylor, Abercrombie & Fitch, etc) use Comenity Bank: "Odds are, even if you haven’t heard of them, you’re one of the 40 million customers carrying a credit card offered by one of their banks."

Target uses its own, Target Financial Services, but it is a creditor.

Why they're predatory: "banks approve much lower scores for store card than they would normally allow if you just walked into a local branch or applied directly for a bank credit card online. The reason being, banks promise retailers a certain approval rate (perhaps people with a score of 550 or higher), which then requires the banks to approve customers they’d normally consider risky."

More reasons to beware: "Credit cards offered by major banks typically offer much lower APRs on purchases. Contrast this with the majority of store cards, which rack up APR rates to the highest rate possible. You could be paying up to 29% APR—the highest general use rate—when using a store card, even if you have accumulated no late payment penalties. Many responsible credit card owners are disturbed to learn that they could easily be forced into paying sky high APR rates on a store card, even though they’ve never missed a payment in their life."

Other concerns: short grace periods, deceptively low minimum payments.

Macy's and Bloomingdale's share a co-owned bank: Department Stores National Bank. Here's a piece with an unattributed former employee comment, though it matches my partner's recent experience working at Macy's: "I work at Macy's and asking for credit applications is in our job descriptions (as in, we will get fired if we don't meet a specific number of quotas when it comes to the number of people who fill out an application)." Department Stores National Bank has been fined for using deceptive and heavy-handed collection practices.

This is an issue I've become very interested in, due to my own retail experiences and those of people I'm close to. Outside of the financial press and consumer credit watchdogs, there has, interestingly, been very little comprehensive reporting on the slow transmogrification of retail stores into lending institutions, but it is real and it is of concern. It has also utterly reshaped the experiences and opportunities available to floor sales staff.
posted by Miko at 7:29 AM on November 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


One of the malls in Dan Bell's series, Coventry Mall in Pottstown, PA, was actually one of my two primary malls when I was a gradeschool kid in the 80s (the other being Exeter Square, which is the filming location for Kevin Smith's MallBrats, the TV series that sprang from his attempt to make a theatrical sequel to Mallrats).

He spends most of the video talking about how ugly it is, and trying to blame that specifically for its emptiness, but I don't see it. Perhaps it's just because that was the prototype for me for what a mall was, but honestly, it looks just average to me. It's clear that it must have gotten a remodel sometime in the 90s since I've been there, and if it hadn't, I'd be more inclined to agree with a claim of ugliness, though at that point, Dan would probably be declaring the 70s -era wood paneling to be a vintage retail gem.

On the subject of vintage retail gems, Dan actually missed a big one in his Coventry Mall video. Starting at around the 8:13 mark until about 8:25, he pans across a store called Coventry Corners. Aside from having their sign changed out, their mall-facing facade looks exactly like it did since its opening in October 1982.

I'd invite Dan to come do a shoot at my currently local dead mall, Augusta, Georgia's Regency Mall, somewhat famous in the dead mall fandom for a quote by one of it's owners ("Malls are like bananas. You buy them at one price and sell them at another. Some of those go bad. Those you throw out."), but as far as dead malls go, this one isn't particularly visually interesting, having been fully gutted inside. It's also been fairly well documented by other urban explorers.
posted by radwolf76 at 7:50 AM on November 26, 2016


A brief overview of retail on the back end

So, first of all:

The "doorbuster" items that are advertised as especially low-priced are typically specially manufactured for these sales. They are not regular mass-marketed models, and there are very limited quantities. This arrangement is made with the manufacturers early in the calendar year (April/May), which is also when the work begins on that year's holiday campaign. The holiday season typically stretches from the beginning of November to the week of the New Year. These very well may be loss leaders.

For the rest of the goods, these prices are negotiated and set pretty much the same way as every other major sale period. These prices may be a little lower during Black Friday, but there are other times of the year where you could get nearly as good a sale price. It depends on what you're buying--different categories have different peak times. For instance, appliances peak in May and August because of Mother's Day, digital cameras in June because of Father's Day, home audio in March and August, computers and tablets in August and September for "back to school", televisions in January for the Super Bowl...and so on.

Now, even as all these deals are being negotiated and planned, a weather eye is kept on the competition to see how they're pricing things, and on the market to see if there are any new products to be launched, what customers are buying, the economy, everything. Samsung, for example, has some problems. *heh* Do retailers promote Samsung devices, and maybe see them go unsold because nobody wants an exploding phone or washing machine, or do retailers go low-key on Samsung and just offer attractive prices? Are people going to spend less money because of the election? These are the kinds of tertiary events that come up and could have an impact on spending.

So the range of products being offered for Black Friday will run the gamut. These sales are NOT directed at the tired, poor and yearning to breathe free, because duh....they don't have any fucking money and this is retail. However, you still want to target the greatest number of demographics because you're building customer loyalty and excitement, not just getting people in the door. So you have a $200 TV, but your mid-range and high-end TVs also have some good prices. You offer a shitload of accessories for phones and tablets because that's crazy profitable. You make deals where people get a cable with their electronic, or ink with their printer, or new fancy wireless headphones with their iPhone 7, or microSD cards with their digital camera, because people want to buy gifts that include everything in a package.

The demographic with the most disposable income is teenagers. They're buying most of the latest devices, games, consoles, and accessories. Adult men younger than middle age are typically the ones looking at the doorbuster TVs. Upper-income tiers are looking at the higher-end items, and women are probably the ones actually doing the shopping and curating the prices, because women do far more research and price-comparison prior to buying than men do. The people most likely to use credit are the middle class. Credit might be a profitable business, but it is also a very expensive business to maintain, and your credit customer base is obviously not going to be the demographic most likely to default, because DUH. (I found it amusing that Macy's, Penney's and Sears were held up as examples, considering that all 3 of those retailers have been struggling and/or poised on the verge of bankruptcy for the last several years. These are not companies that have their shit together where profitability is concerned.)

Black Friday isn't the only event day. There's also Thanksgiving, Cyber Monday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's. Each of these days will have their own events, plus any flash sales that might be planned ad-hoc to boost categories that might be lagging, or to compete against other retailers.

So, that's how the holiday season is planned and executed--months in advance, with deals specifically negotiated for individual products, for carefully determined prices, based on market trends and customer data about who's buying what for how much.

Interesting market trends:

1. Mobile use has increased significantly year over year, to the point where 1 in 3 customers uses a mobile device to either buy or to shop--often while IN the store.

2. Thanksgiving is gradually overtaking Black Friday as the preferred peak sale day.

3. The number of customers who planned to buy in-store this year went UP. People like shopping in a store.

4. After 20 years of trying, Cyber Monday finally made "fetch" happen and is actually a day people give a crap about.

The overall trend of combining mobile use with both online and in-store shopping is leading retailers to a holistic view of allowing customers to quickly search for an item, locate it in a store, and buy it either at a register or online, to pick up in the store or have it shipped to their house, whichever they find most convenient at the time. This involves an extraordinary amount of organization for tracking inventory both in any given store and at distribution centers, setting a competitive price, determining shipping, and getting an actual person to find the actual box and put it on the actual counter or in the mail. For most customers, this is entirely a transparent process--they see it online and go through the cart process, or they see it on the shelf and carry it to check-out. But the amount of work involved in ACCURATELY telling a customer that the Riverview Mall store has this item in stock, so they can buy it and get a text message saying they can pick it up now....that capability has been *years* in the making. Amazon takes the easy way out by not having stores and having a closed distribution system (in that people are not buying an item off the shelf before a store employee can go grab one and put it in the "store pickup" counter), but just the fact that you can shop a major retailer and do this...yeah. That's the work of several *thousand* people in play right there.

Most of whom are working this weekend.
posted by Autumnheart at 7:59 AM on November 26, 2016 [29 favorites]


The flip side of the problem of store credit is that, just like grocery store loyalty cards, you're effectively overpaying if you don't use them. If you pay it off immediately, you get a significant discount almost every time, without paying a penny of interest or fees. I don't love that situation, but I'm also not going to pay extra just for the moral superiority of not taking their credit which has zero downside to me (many years of store credit without ever paying any interest and a credit score over 800).
posted by primethyme at 8:39 AM on November 26, 2016


My god, the tiles and brickwork and all the finishing details in that Sunrise Mall one. Such aesthetic nostalgia porn for me as a kid dragged to the mall every year for Christmas, spring, back to school shopping. It's like a little slice of the mid 1980s in suburbia frozen in time.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:50 AM on November 26, 2016


Hey, not trying to steer my own thread too much, but just to add: I am quite possibly the poorest person in this thread, and the framing was not intended as a serious political-economic commentary, but no, I am not actually a big fan of Black Friday. Sometimes I totally do benefit from sales, sometimes I don't, but I don't find it to be an especially great time to be a poor person. My feelings are a complicated soup, but not one I want to cook today. I'm finding a lot of the discussion on this happening here to be sort of classist. It feels like some comments are telling poor people how we ought to feel, and that's not a can of worms I had any intention of opening here.

This is just a cool series in which a guy tours struggling or failed malls, giving some history for each of them with great music in the background. There is no real connection to Black Friday, I just thought it'd be a good time to post this.
posted by byanyothername at 9:28 AM on November 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


I think what we're seeing isn't just the decline of malls... it's the decline of "stuff." People started buying way too much stuff in the 1980s, and it really went crazy in the years leading up to 2008. But in the last few years, there's been less and less need for stuff. No one buys music or DVDs, thanks to Spotify and Netflix. Electronics sales are way down, since quality is way up -- remember when people bought a new computer or TV every 2-3 years? There's just no need now. Same with clothes, since you can get high-quality clothes that will last a long time online. People are moving into apartments and smaller spaces, which means they have less room for pointless junk. And of course people have less and less disposable income, since incomes are stagnant while prices for services are rising rapidly.

I think in the future we'll see more and more families living lifestyles that are positively Spartan compared to current standards. It will be totally normal for a middle-class family to own nothing more than a couple of laptops, the clothes they wear, a few kitchen implements, and maybe a car. Why would you need anything else? Of course this will be disastrous for retail.
posted by miyabo at 9:37 AM on November 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


I loathe that fake VHS overlay.
posted by 41swans at 9:49 AM on November 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think what we're seeing isn't just the decline of malls... it's the decline of "stuff."

I'm not sure I want to generalize into larger trends but I will add to this that a really large fraction of my friends have, in recent years, all come to similar mental places. Namely that just the act of owning something has costs, that even a free thing isn't accepted automatically, and that we're making a long term effort to declutter our lives. There was a step function where I inherited a large number of items, and I'm working my way through that as well, but something all my friends and I have in common is that we eBay and craigslist things with regularity and in considerable volume.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:55 AM on November 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


Let's not get carried away with a faux-sympathetic narrative that I don't think is based in any economic reality. The only people I ever see putting this idea forward are not directly involved as either shoppers or workers.

Thank you, Miko, yes.

I'm in retail. The Black Friday sales are no better than any other sales throughout the year. Our catalog division had a mish mash of 30% off sales - some with free shipping, some not. Big deal. Our DAILY sales all year run from 10% - 30%, often paired with free shipping, and our Outlet and Clearance sales run from 25% - 50%. Our TV and online division operates in much the same fashion, and offers daily specials at up to 75% off.

Marketing hypes the fuck out of Black Friday, though. It is An Event, and people feel like they are missing out on this Huge Cultural Thing if they don't participate. It's flat out bonkers. Last night, a customer broke down sobbing over dog beds. DOG BEDS! When people are sobbing about dog beds, something has gone horribly awry.
posted by MissySedai at 10:08 AM on November 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


Holy shit. My friends and I spent a LOT of time at the Forest Fair mall when we were in grad school in Ohio circa 1999 - 2001. It was such a fascinating place; at that time there was a tiny corner of the mall where commerce was still happening (including a very cheap second-run theater that you can see in the linked video and like 3 sad arcade machines) and the rest of the mall was totally dead. The lights weren't even on in the dead part of the mall! As he mentions, this is a GIGANTIC mall, so the feeling of vast emptiness encircling a small zone of life was quite extraordinary. Sometimes a retail store would inexplicably open somewhere off in the depths of the dead zone and then close a month later. Utterly surreal. I still have dreams about that mall.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 10:23 AM on November 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


2. Thanksgiving is gradually overtaking Black Friday as the preferred peak sale day.

Cite? (For any of that, really?) This assertion is counter to much of this year's reporting that many retailers were giving up on Thanksgiving opening, as it didn't prove worth their time.
posted by Miko at 10:40 AM on November 26, 2016


I don't have a cite for the above, so I can't tell you if it's actually true or not, but it does feel like online sales start earlier now, not just for Black Friday in the States but also for Boxing Day in Canada, which actually starts the evening of Christmas Eve online.
posted by chrominance at 11:05 AM on November 26, 2016


Also, more on topic: I also kind of don't like the VHS aesthetic, but mostly because it isn't that well done. Here are some jokers who have some tips on creating realistic VHS sludge.

That minor bit aside, I am all about this.
posted by chrominance at 11:11 AM on November 26, 2016


All I can think of when I see a dead mall is 300+ apartments on the second floor with a climate controlled shopping arcade below. The infrastructure and parking are all right there. Why isn't it happening?
posted by halfbuckaroo at 12:33 PM on November 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


My neighborhood mall - literally, I could walk to it - was Northtowne Square. It's completely gone now, demolished a couple years ago. I loved the place.

1981 Grand Opening Ad

1982 Food Fair

Northtowne Photos (scroll to about mid page)
posted by MissySedai at 12:45 PM on November 26, 2016


Has anyone mentioned that today is Small Business Saturday?
posted by gucci mane at 1:13 PM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Why isn't it happening?

Probably because it would be less expensive to build an entirely new building than to renovate the mall. Plus, malls tend to be located where land is cheap, so their locations are often not very desirable for residences.

Mixed-use buildings are being built in denser areas. They just don't start with a dead mall.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:54 PM on November 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Famously, Rackspace (a significant tech company with thousands of employees) bought a dead mall in Texas and converted it into offices.
posted by miyabo at 4:17 PM on November 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Paseo Colorado in Pasadena, CA ; mixed use residential and retail built over what used to be the Plaza Pasadena (a failing shopping mall).
posted by notyou at 4:55 PM on November 26, 2016


Complaining about Black Friday is textbook classism, because most of the people risking their health and dignity to get a door buster aren't greedy, they're desperate. For them, paying full retail simply isn't an option, because they can't afford full retail.
posted by Beholder at 5:51 PM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


most of the people risking their health and dignity to get a door buster aren't greedy, they're desperate.

I think that if you went back and read the thread, you'd find that this point of view at best needs complicating.
posted by Miko at 7:47 PM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Even if that were true, which I very much doubt, is it also "textbook classism" to complain about payday lenders, rent to own, and other scams that prey on the poor?
posted by ernielundquist at 7:59 PM on November 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Stopped into IKEA tonight for a couple things. AS usual, when I checked out, I was offered the chance to apply for the IKEA card. Didn't, thankfully; upon lookup, learned that "the APR for the IKEA credit card is a whopping 25.99%." That wasn't part of the pitch at the register.

You can laugh that Penney's, Sears, and Macy's are going under and rely on usorious credit as a profit center, but truthfully, so does everyone else. Best Buy (Citibank), Target, IKEA, Home Depot(17.99%-26.99%, provided by CitiBank ), Lowe's (24.99%), TJMaxx/Marshalls' TJX Rewards Card (Synchrony Bank, base rate 27.24%) ) and all the rest are also becoming the loss leader for banking operations. The whole sector is. It's just undeniable.
posted by Miko at 9:43 PM on November 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Having now watched more than half of the series, one thing I find striking is the number of canes, walkers, and wheelchairs that show up. I think I've seen more canes in the dead mall films than in the last five years of real life. It seems like one person out three occupying not-quite-dead-yet malls has limited or assisted mobility.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of that, and I worry that the model I'm tempted to construct to explain it is much too simple and uninformed. However, I am sure it's interesting.
posted by eotvos at 10:24 PM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Gallery Philadelphia: I hated that place from the very beginning. I like to go back to the days of our wonderful Philadelphia department stores: Wanamaker, Strawbridge & Clothier, Gimbels, Lit Brothers etal. I really miss them.
posted by james33 at 6:37 AM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think I've seen more canes in the dead mall films than in the last five years of real life.

Doctors often recommend mallwalking to patients that need to get ambulatory exercise but for various reasons - age, taste, bad weather, unsafe environments - can't easily walk outdoors. Often, the last people to give up on a mall are the older folks who still drive there every day for a walk up and down the flat, heated corridors.
posted by Miko at 8:18 AM on November 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


Doctors often recommend mallwalking to patients that need to get ambulatory exercise but for various reasons - age, taste, bad weather, unsafe environments - can't easily walk outdoors.

A mall near me, now torn down, literally had subtle distance markers measuring fractions of a mile along the published mall walking route as part of the decor.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:37 AM on November 27, 2016


I think I only went there once or twice during its heyday, but I lived near Cinderella City during its long, slow decline, and every now and again, I'd end up having to go to one of the few remaining businesses there. It was half dead already, and I'd sometimes just walk around in the fallow parts of the mall. And every time I went, there were more and more fallow parts.

Maybe because I never much got into that mall culture thing, there was almost a bit of schadenfreude to it. The whole idea of spending your free time in some tightly controlled corporate environment, intermittently shopping and getting hassled by security guards, just rubbed me the wrong way, so I kind of enjoyed dancing on mall culture's grave.

Apparently, I still do, because I love these videos.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:04 AM on November 27, 2016


I spent many many weeknds of my youth playing Dungeons and Dragons and other tabletop games in dead malls.

It was the DnD is satanic era, and my group (12 people on two tables most Fridays and Saturdays, up to 60 people on special Sundays) got kicked of all private spaces and harassed out of all public spaces we could find.

But then we found the dead malls, where the small family owned non-chain food places are the last to go, kept alive by nearby office workers on their lunch.

You get a huge, climate controlled and clean food court, with tons of seating. You get toilets and a a couple places selling food and drink.

You get dark empty corridors for the more LARPy ones, and it is not hard to find a private spot for more one-on-one role playing, iykwimaittyd.

At one small mall, according to the sandwich place, we represented over 20% of sales. One of the guys took advantage of the super low rents and opened a trading card store, and was in business until the mall got demolished.

I really miss those days, and these videos made me want to start a dead mall role playing league.
posted by Dr. Curare at 8:28 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


The videos are interesting, although most of the malls aren't really dead, just very very old and slow.

The main mall of my teen years -- in Vancouver -- was Lansdowne Mall, which was put up on the site of a racetrack, and consequently was decorated in a 'racehorse' theme for the first few years of its life. At the time Richmond was a low-end suburb, and going to the mall meant riding the bus past farmers' fields.

Both Richmond and the mall have undergone an interesting transformation: it's now oddly shabby and sparsely tenanted, and the anchor stores (which were Eatons, Woodwards and The Bay) are now Best Buy, Winners and Homesense. But it's also becoming a service centre: there's some really good restaurants in the larger spots, practical tenants like grocery stores and fruit stands have replaced Mappins Jewelers, and the food court is now full of mom-and-pop places. Half the vendors are dollar stores, there's a small appliance place that sells 24 different styles of rice cooker, and the benches are filled with chinese grannies. It's the kind of place where you can go to the podiatrist, pick up your medication and dry cleaning, and have a cheap Korean lunch. And buy Hello Kitty slippers for your grandchild.

There's a plan to build condos in the parking lot, and eventually displace the mall itself with development -- this makes sense, since Richmond is richer and denser that in was in 1977. But the mall seems to have taken on a stubborn life -- I guess the rents are cheap enough to make it viable.
posted by jrochest at 11:22 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


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