I'm not much of a mall person. Not much of any kind of shopper, really, but malls are in a special category for me.
I'm right at home in just about any grocery store, a Target, a Menard's or a Costco, but that's about it. I'm probably the last person you'd want to build a consumer-driven economy around. Most of my purchases are either on sale, already heavily discounted or an absolute necessity. I'm not an impulse buyer and I tend to wear things out before replacing them. My fashion sense can best be described as "Council Bluffs casual." My friends know what that is.
My area doesn't have a Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor or Zara. This is of utterly no concern to me. A few years back, my wife was smitten by an upscale (to me) clothing store named Harold's. They had an outlet in a hoity-toity shopping area in Omaha so we occasionally dropped by. I liked Harold's because they always gave me one of those dinky, old-time bottles of Coke that I could sip while my wife checked out whatever women check out in stores like that.
While making a purchase on one of our visits, my wife told the clerk how much she liked the store and how she wished we had one in Des Moines. The clerk pursed her lips and sniffed back, "Des Moines just isn't big enough for a store like ours." Well, neither is Omaha, apparently. On our last visit to Harold's, they had stopped giving out the Cokes; the next time we dropped by, Harold's was gone.
Frankly, I don't know why more of these kind of stores aren't folding. Some of the trendy, hot retailers (like Anthropologie and Restoration Hardware) are more about marketing an image than selling a quality product at a reasonable price. Some others (like Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn) are content to turn out what I call "cute crap." A few places are simply overpriced (think Williams & Sonoma or Lush), apparently owing their success to snob appeal. Is anyone surprised that tea shops are emulating the explosive growth of coffee shops in the past two decades?
It's easy to see how the widening economic inequality in America is affecting shopping in general and malls in particular. Many of the malls of my youth have fallen on hard times; some are no longer malls at all. The successful older malls have transitioned to a sort of second-tier status as the once-solid anchor stores have departed. Shopping has changed greatly in recent years.
My wife and I went shopping for an appliance recently. An Internet search revealed that a certain brand was highly regarded and could be found at three local stores. But two of the three stores didn't actually carry that brand and we couldn't find the third store. Ten years ago, we would have checked some local appliance stores, but three of them that we'd done business with have gone out of business. We eventually found what we needed at Costco, but the search was frustrating for us since we like to buy local as much as possible.
The trend as I see it today is that this inequality in shopping will continue to get worse. New malls will continue to be bigger and fancier, a head-scratching scenario considering that fewer people will be able to afford to shop there. But mall economics is apparently a clone of professional sports economics in America; that is, it makes absolutely no sense to 99 percent of us.
Everything else will eventually fall into "the Wal-Mart spiral," where workers are underpaid, underserved and forced to shop by price alone. That makes no sense, either.