Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Say goodbye to all that.

     My Air Pods Pro were acting up, the right one anyway. So I jumped into an Apple support chat, and was walked through a few tests by a friendly human—at least I think it was a human—somewhere in the world. The problem was not fixed, and he—she? it?—suggested I make an appointment at my local Apple Store. Which I did, on the spot.
     Ninety minutes later I was walking through Northbrook Court, or what's left of it. Formerly a lux shopping mall, now a ghost town. Empty storefronts displaying items from those few stores still in business, or crafts from charities. A few marginal businesses—custom t-shirt shops and such—that would have never made the cut in the mall before.  
The was some life: a few knots of teens wandered about, or sat in the massage chairs still set out. A quartet of old ladies playing cards. And a line of people outside the Apple Store. A helpful associate, Tom, took my Air Pods for further tests, and told me to come back in 20 minutes.
     Wandering the place, we came upon the shell that once held Lord & Taylor. Never a department store that re
sonated with me, neither the Cleveland institutions of my youth, Higbee's, Halle's, The May Company, nor the apex of Chicago shopping, Marshall Field's, nor its competitor, though I thought of it more as a handmaiden, a subordinate, Carson, Pirie, Scott.
     It was rather in the realm of stores from other cities—Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus—that had outposts here. There was something feminine about Lord & Taylor. A women's store that also sold men's clothing.
     So it wasn't with grief that I stepped into the void where Lord & Taylor used to be. Rather ... a disassociation. Something less than shock, more than indifference. A quiet hmm, oh yes, all these big department stores are going away. A whiff of exploration, of stepping foot on another planet, of realization, discovery. This was happening while those boxes were piling up on the front porch. Those were the death of this, hastened by the COVID virus. I went shopping at exactly one clothing store over the past 18 months, just recently, a Father's Day visit to L.L. Bean in Old Orchard. Honestly, it's hard to imagine being in a situation where a plaid shirt won't do. I still have my tux, but if I had to put it on to appear at the fancy Neil Steinberg Tribute and Award Dinner at the Drake ballroom, I'd think twice about going to the fuss. Why bother? Who'd care anymore? Who could possibly care? All that seems so long ago.


  1. Even the See's Candies shop moved out of Northbrook Court to Long Grove.

  2. I went to target in Logan the other day. underwear and tshirts . never bought clothes on line. Levis from Alcalas on chicago. socks at Resnicks up at 6 corners. shirts from the thrift. my wife shops on line. I think she should get out more. she wonders how I got old so fast.

  3. Quite a picture. Reminds me of the Waukegan lakefront 25 years ago, all the factories shutting down never to come back. Now the big box department stores, they won't be back. Although every end comes a new beginning. Last time I was there was probably 15 years ago, I wasn't thinking about Amazon back then.

  4. What a great piece, Mr. S--it sounds so vaguely British...like George Orwell or H.G. Wells describing the decline of life in England. Maybe even a bit Dickensian, although I never read much of his work.

    I've never liked indoor malls, and tried my best to avoid them as much as possible, with great success. I vastly preferred the few remaining outdoor ones, like Old Orchard. I mainly shopped in the traditional business districts, those old places like downtown Evanston.

    Hated big-box stores, too. Many indoor malls are no more...how ironic that they were demolished for blocks of big stores, with roadways and parking lots between them. I don't go to them, either.

    In fact, the older I get, the more I try to avoid non-Christmas shopping at all. Hate the crowds and the lines and the parking lots. Luckily for me, my wife doesn't seem to mind them. She even goes to China-Mart occasionally. I refuse to even enter their parking lot. Union-busting, slave-driving bastards. They've killed off most of the old-time business districts.

    Looks as if the Plague has sealed the fate of shopping malls, like it did to so many other things, both good and bad. The old "normal" American way of life we knew is gone, and it's never coming back. "Normalcy" (if such a word exists) just means the end of the pandemic. We'll never be the same again.

  5. How things change. Growing up on the North Shore, I used to enjoy wandering Northbrook Court for the sheer, shiny North-Shoriness of it all: Mercedes and BMWs all over the parking lot, crispy brown tans on leather-faced older CEO spouses browsing through Needless-Markup, gleaming glassware in Crate and Barrel that was never quite that sparkly at home...

    It was a nice place to wander, but now looks extra jarring in its emptiness, where the products are gone but the fixtures remain. It resembles some post-apocalyptic movie set, with just a hint of remaining shine.

  6. The way you often had to walk through the battlefield of fragrances, make-up, etc to get where you were headed in a nice department store always irked me. I would fantasize about some sort of neutron bomb that wouldn't hurt anybody, but would somehow make those huge arrays disappear in a flash.

    Well, it wasn't in a flash, but Jeff Bezos and his like have essentially turned that fantasy into reality. Yet, seeing that photo, I'm not elated but unexpectedly sad about it.

    I don't even remember the last time I shopped for a shirt in a store, so it's not like I haven't done my part to crater the old brick-and-mortar model. But, while there are many things to appreciate about the Brave New World, much has been lost.

    Your conclusion is particularly resonant, given the way you seemed to hold out for the suit-and-tie ethic well past the point when the culture-at-large had moved on. The Neil Steinberg Tribute and Award Dinner at Little Louie's, with folks wearing t-shirts and cargo shorts, just wouldn't be the same! ; )

  7. What happens to those malls?
    Doze them and make parks?
    Reconfigure them In to small communities?
    Let them rot and draw bad elements?

  8. Yep! All of the above.

    Auld Bob

  9. Even before the pandemic malls were dying. Just like news papers were dying before the internet. You can't stop technology. Walmart and the big box stores probably did as much damage as Amazon and on line shopping in general. New jobs seem to be created all the time. When we really get back to normal (what ever that is) there will be new jobs. Millions could be going back to work if it wasn't for Republicans who rather see everything fall apart.

    1. I wish I was as optimistic. Most of the jobs at Malls were low-paying. The only one’s making anything substantial were the successful store owners. I’m not sure what type of jobs will be developed.
      I remember “Automation” was going to be the big job killer when I was in school. It didn’t happen right away but I do believe we are at the beginning of that curve now.
      Fewer stores and now we’ll see fewer and less occupied office buildings. Telehealth?
      We will adjust for sure. People need socialization and that will determine the direction our society will go. I just don’t see more jobs, particularly in the retail sector.


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