I miss the mall. Having said that I wonder if I’ll be shunned in my small town. But let me finish. I haven’t been to the mall in years, and that was because they have an Apple store and I needed a new machine. I am a minimalist, not a materialist; and I am a fan and advocate for local shops, stores, and proprietors. I also enjoy the holidays and have my traditions. Well, I have fewer traditions, now. Some are too pricey for my fragile (though improving) financial circumstance. One tradition was braving the traffic and frenzy to immerse myself in a mega-mall for a day every shopping season. There’s more than one reason I miss that tradition.
The first reason is the most obvious. I miss being able to buy gifts for my friends and family. I may be a minimalist, but I enjoy giving the right gift to the right person. That photographer would appreciate that lens or filter. That cook dearly wants a marble pastry board. Joining the crowds maneuvering armloads of packages is like skipping a diet to enjoy a holiday feast. There are decorations, carols, and exuberant kids. And then there’s the guilty pleasure of walking out to my car, putting the packages in the trunk, and pretending to leave – then deciding to go back in. Want to really confuse folks? Get in the car and don’t go anywhere. How else to survive a day of shopping than to take a nap in the only quiet place for miles?
While I was shopping for everyone else (and getting a few things for me) I would also shop for stocks. Watch the people, the clerks, and the shops.
As I walked, I’d notice which shops were busy. Were the shoppers browsing, or lining up at the cash register? Were the clerks relaxed and empowered, or overwhelmed and required to be bureaucratic? Were the shops comfortable, or a mess? Sales don’t equal profits, but no sales means bad news. Happy employees are less likely to steal, more likely to encourage people to buy, and are less likely to quit so there’s less money wasted on training replacements. An empty, messy shop with disgruntled employees has more than one problem.
As I sat on a bench, I’d watch the bags. Little ones hide in big ones, but at least I could see which big ones were the most common. Were they bigger than last year? Do they have SALE emblazoned across them?
The best find was when I watched the traffic that wasn’t in the stores. Before those bags made it to their cars, many of them were carried into coffee shops and restaurants. That’s one reason I bought Starbucks (SBUX) and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (RRGB) – and which I sold, but those are two other stories.
Observe the human condition. If you lead a life far enough off the mainstream, it can be hard to imagine anyone living any other way.
I can imagine myself living in a smaller house than mine (864 square feet).
I wear clothes for comfort, utility, and practicality. Before a book talk on Thursday, a member of the audience and I compared styles. Hers included red. I described my style as comfortably bland. I bicycle when I can. If I am talking to someone I’ll only answer my cell phone if it is for someone in need of assistance (or because I forgot where and when I was supposed to meet someone.) I live in a fairly healthy environment amongst amazingly health conscious people.
But, that’s not for everyone, even though it seems like an obvious choice from the inside. (Really, who besides me wants to dress dull, sweat to get somewhere, and spend time away from amenities like stores that stay open past 7pm?)
The crowds at the mall are the norm. If they weren’t, the malls couldn’t afford to stay open. As much as I have no discretionary cash, and as much as the economy has some scary statistics behind it, there are millions of people collectively spending billions of dollars. Some are enjoying it. Some do it out of obligation. Most have a mix of joy and duty. The cost in time, money, and effort are the accepted norm. Faces will be buried in smart phones. Foods will be consumed for convenience and calories, not global impact or nutrition. The parking lot will be packed and a lot of the vehicles will be statements about personality instead of utility. This is the happy norm for the stereotypical average American. (And we all know stereotypical people really don’t exist. Right?) Assuming they will suddenly think my way is best is making a very self-centered and bad assumption, and something to keep in mind when I ponder where we, the world, and even this blog are going.
Until then, what little shopping I’ll do will happily be on the island from people I know for people I care about. A fair number of gifts will be things I’ve made or baked. I’ll undoubtedly lend a hand a few times. And, I’ll be glad that most of my friends will be doing the same. (The art that gets passed around is impressive, and the food around here is amazing.) I hope to put up a few lights tomorrow.
They’ll probably share space with prayer flags, totem symbols, and spirit guides. It makes for an interesting mix.
I miss the mall. When my finances improve sufficiently, I’ll be back – at least for one show a year.
PS Yes, I understand the irony of a minimalist selling books and photos, but I’m not opposed to others buying my art. If enough folks buy my art I can afford that trip back to the mall. Imagine that.
Happy happy holidays, Tom!