Back when I was a kid, the American landscape was covered with vast herds of majestic shopping malls. In the wild suburban spaces one could always count on finding a gigantic shopping center designed as if it didn’t have an outside. A popular weekend past time was trekking to the mall to engage in that most American of past times: consuming mass-produced products.
Most times we would patronize the specialty stores that populated the middle section of the mall. But two times a year our focus would turn to the “anchor stores”- those massive retail department stores located at the ends of the mall corridors. In the late summer to purchase school clothes and late fall to early winter to purchase holiday gifts.
It was in these annual rituals that not only afforded us a chance to engage in an orgy of pointless consumption, but allowed us to determine and to flaunt our social status. There were subtle gradations of price and quality among the department store giants that amply demonstrated your socio-economic strata. I distinctly recall how my father would disdainfully refer to K-Mart as “the Mexican Lord & Taylor”, sneering at it as we crossed the parking lot to enter the Sears store. When I went to the fist day of school that year, I knew I would never be as good as the kids who got their clothes from J.C. Penny’s, but at least I wasn’t like those losers dressed in K-Mart clothes.
It was a simpler time, before the amazons and ebays had laid waste to the retail giants of yore. The Zayres and Montgomery Wards have long since passed from this mortal coil, but some of these lumbering beasts still soldier on.
Herewith is a survey of the decaying hulks of the once mighty retail giants of the American landscape.
Upon entering Sears, one is greeted by headless mannequins wearing clothes that look like they’re from a magazine ad from the 1950’s.
From the ghostly husk of the portrait studio to shabby, stained rugs Sears gives the impression of a dying boom town from an old Western. Racks are either overstocked with merchandise that doesn’t move or sold out and not replenished.
J.C. Penny is like the well-to-do middle aged guy who lost his job and hasn’t been able to find new one. The unemployment ran out months ago, but he’s too proud to apply at a retail or service job to tide him over til the next thing comes along.
The desperation is getting harder to mask. He says he traded in the luxury car because he wanted something “sportier”. But it’s hard to ignore that new car is a used Impala. He’s starting to neglect yard work and personal hygiene.
K Mart, always the poor cousin of the department store giants, is the most depressing. Between racks of Die Hard batteries leaking toxic chemicals, and a display of curtains labelled with a sad bent paper sign reading “Room Darkening”, it’s as if they’re trying to bum us out.