Where Are We Heading With Brick and Mortar Stores?
Updated: Jul 2, 2018
As a 'senior citizen', I find myself trying to wrap my head around what is happening in our country and quite possibly globally with the state of the anchor stores we not only grew up with but grew old with. Around 25 years or so ago we lost a very prominent store chain back in New England where we lived named Lechmere. They were the go to store to find anything you wanted, and countless choices and options for the things you were looking for. It was a difficult adjustment losing just that one store because it was, at least we thought, rock solid. Then with the appearance of Home Depot, all the mom and pop lumber yards and home supply stores began to disappear almost immediately. Although it was a bit disturbing, we found the prices and vast availability of items previously hard to find a bit comforting. Driving by all those empty buildings and lumber yards was bittersweet, but we knew the world was changing.
When Walmart really grabbed hold of the retail market by opening facilities in just about every town, things really started to go into a tailspin. Boasting of lower prices, and in most cases they were lower even if only by a few cents, the smaller markets found it very hard to compete. Parking lots were filled all day and the crowds never slowed down. All the local markets such as Albertson's, Safeway, Basha's and Frys were being challenged dramatically. After only a couple years Albertson's threw in the towel. Driving by all the other markets their parking lots are nowhere near as filled. We wonder how they are surviving.
In Casa Grande, the town we moved to originally, was beginning to grow in leaps and bounds it seemed. House Farms as we called them were popping up on every piece of land the developers could get their hands on. Thousands of new homes every year in this town alone was mind boggling. Huge subdivisions termed 'planned communities' of homes were so large, they required their own schools somewhere central accessible to thousands of children. At this rate of growth we knew it could not last forever. But while things were running wild, new stores, restaurants, strip malls and small shopping centers were either opening or in the planning stages. Casa Grande was on its way to becoming a mini Phoenix. One new outside mall called The Promenade opened up with Best Buy, Sports Authority, PetSmart, Michaels, Target, Kohl's and many smaller stores....not to mention a huge new movie theatre! We were excited that there would be so many places to go and things to do.
Then came the crash and subsequent recession starting around 2007. That changed this area in ways we could not have imagined. New planned communities or subdivisions consisting of hundreds more homes on paper sat with only the infrastructure such as roads and outer walls crumbling as a testament to all things must end. We are not talking one or two but quite possibly a dozen or more of these decaying ghost towns. Millions of dollars lost when countless families who purchased some of these new homes to be built lost everything when the developers went belly up. No money.....no home.....no help.....many without jobs or hope.
Whether it was the kick in the teeth this recession provided reminding us that decadent spending has its eventual downfall, or the far penetrating reach of internet shopping, so much of the celebrated growth is sinking away at an alarming rate. I am sure it is the same everywhere in the US, but in this area we have already lost several restaurants leaving empty buildings still displaying signage. Lifelong familiar Sears left us and Sam's Club closed just recently. The Promenade has already suffered immeasurable losses. Best Buy is gone......Sports Authority is gone.....Target is gone....Radio Shack is gone. Many smaller stores have come and gone. Michaels, Kohls and Petsmart are the only big name draws left......and we are fearful it won't be long before the for lease sign pops up in their windows as well. This mall may just end up abandoned like the other 3 we had such high hopes for.
Why walk around and talk to strangers when you can sit here alone.
Beyond all the strife and suffering this last recession has impaled us with, the greatest threat to our favorite stores is internet shopping. Amazon has removed the need to leave your plush armchair to attain any item you may ever need. To become an adversary Walmart has initiated shopping options where home delivery is guaranteed. As sick as it is, and trust me this subject angers me more than anyone will ever know, but you can even buy puppies over the internet. This is a subject for another heated lengthy blog! But what I fear the most is the nagging concept of what kind of society will we become when no one has to speak to another human other than co-workers. What kind of world will we live in when we avoid any and all contact with our neighbors and community? Is it really progress when we are growing much more inward than outward and upward? I will admit we do our share of internet shopping for things we know will be difficult to find locally, but in most cases we make the physical effort to at least check first. There is nothing like going to a large mall or shopping center around the holidays to see and enjoy the festive displays and enjoy the tunes we wait all year to hear. You can't smile at strangers and wish 'happy holidays' over the internet. I know you must be saying to yourself 'easy for you to say since you own an internet company'. Yes I do! But I encourage and enjoy constant phone communication with customers as much as possible so it remains 'personal'. I am not ready to remove myself from the real world just yet......