Sears, Kmart, malls: My new worry list
Tuesday, April 04, 2017 1:00 AM
My wife and I met on a blind date at a Bonanza restaurant in a nearby shopping mall nearly 32 years ago, so it was dismaying to drop in on the same mall on a recent Saturday afternoon. Store after store was unoccupied, customers were few and far between and a general “ghostly” ambience prevailed.
Alas, our experience is not unique. According to USA Today, many of the nation’s less affluent communities have seen their malls and shopping centers underutilized or closed, because of competition from discount outlets, standalone “big box” stores or online retailers. Analysts say 25 percent of remaining malls are in danger of losing traffic-driving anchor stores such as Macy’s, Sears or J.C. Penney.
“Selfies” have made the iconic mall photo booth obsolete. Apps that let you “swipe left” are much easier than hanging out at the mall to watch for potential dates. Those quarter-gobbling mechanical horses have been shipped to a slaughterhouse in Canada. The “food court” is now just a scruffy guy in a black robe using a corn dog for a gavel.
Sure, some intrepid souls keep going to the mall to walk, window shop or purchase obscure items. And, yes, other old habits die hard. (“Here, hold my purse while I search online for shoes.”) But malls have certainly seen better days.
The USA Today report on malls in general was paired with an article reciting the woes of Sears in particular. The 131-year-old institution recently warned investors of “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay afloat.
I have fond memories of going to the (long-closed) local Sears catalog store to see Santa Claus, and of perusing my mother’s 1969 reproduction of the Sears 1902 catalog, so I’m sorry to hear of the financial difficulties.
Some Sears executives remain optimistic. (“Ha! I wish I had a nickel for every time someone has predicted the death of Sears. No, seriously, dude. I need the nickels. And any dimes you find in the sofa cushions…”)
Another proud Sears leader waxed philosophical, advising, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Of course Amazon will probably find a way to sell the lemonade cheaper and deliver it by drone…”
(Sears sister-company Kmart is contemplating changing the “blue light special” to the “going toward the light” special.)
Sears has already reaped $900 million by selling its Craftsman tool line to Stanley Black & Decker. They may buy more time by spinning off other popular brands such as Kenmore appliances and DieHard automotive supplies. (“And we can spin off ‘The Jeffersons’ and ‘Joanie Loves Chachi’ and…no, wait…”)
Mall owners are gamely trying to reinvent themselves, renting space to media production companies, specialty grocers and military recruiters. (“The few…the proud…the indignant because their GPS malfunctioned and brought them to this heckhole…”)
Maybe someday preservationists will spring up to save malls — the way campaigns are currently waged to revitalize courthouse squares. But the decline of malls is just “circle of life” stuff. Automobiles made people less dependent on peddlers and country stores. Later, malls made downtown shopping districts dry up.
Maybe in another generation we’ll be on to the Next Big Shopping Trend. Perhaps we’ll all be plugged into the Matrix and IMAGINING that we’re sitting at our keyboards ordering online. (“Imaginary husband, hold my purse while I FLY to the refrigerator to get some snacks for Round Two of e-commerce!”)
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