I haven’t spent much time at malls for years. Back in 1999 and 2000 it was an arduous experience to wade through the snow to get from the outer ends of the parking lot after spending fifteen minutes searching for a parking place, then wait 20 deep in lines for a cashier. And then in 2001, the questworker and offshoring bombs dropped on my career, and I spent a year and a half, then a year, and then two years when no one would return my calls or respond to my resumes, interspersed with contracts that only lasted a few months. So I wasn’t in much of a position to do Christmas shopping for a while.
But this year hasn’t been bad. I had a whole year employed this time, even if I had to take a sharp pay cut to get it. So I can do some shopping this year (even if nobody knows what they want–we are all used to having a “low-key” Christmas). So I started looking to see what the malls had to offer here in St. Louis.
Hmm… The Galleria, a middle class mall nearby me, where the doing-well-for-themselves folk go. It’s 2pm in the afternoon, two Saturdays before Christmas. I have no problem getting a space in the covered lot right by an entrance. There is a moderate stream of people walking around, although the stores are not crowded and there are no lines at the registers. So I do my looking around and wander off to get some groceries.
Around 5pm I hit Plaza Frontenac, where the upper class folks go. The covered lot says it is full, but I go in anyway and discover there are lots of spaces close to the elevator. A bit more traffic here, and folks are shopping a bit more earnestly, but it’s just not my kinda place, and I usually go here just to look at all the pretty people showing off all the fashionable finery they can wear…to a mall…sheesh…
Around 6:30pm I hit Crestwood Mall, one of the working class malls, which was one of the most crowded when I was last in here years ago. Gee, I get the closest space to the door. And when I walk in the place seems almost deserted–on a Saturday night close to Christmas. Just a few people walking around, the staff standing idle at the cash registers. Is Santa even there? Well, yes, there is one child finishing up and no one waiting in line, no one even walking by to get in line. On my way back to the entrance, it hits me that between a fifth and a quarter of the stores are closed, covered in black drapes. Two weekends before Christmas.
The upper class are having Christmas this year, but looks like mainstream America isn’t having much of a Christmas this year. What happened to the wonderful economy we keep hearing about on the news? What are the “Just Us Folks” going to do this year?
On my way back home, I drive by Everything’s-a-Dollar. It’s crowded, and I have to walk a long way through the parking lot to get to it, and there is a long line at the registers. So there will be a Christmas this year. It just won’t be anything like it used to be.
But for the guys on TV, making 25 million a year to tell us everything is wonderful…well everything is still wonderful…for them. As for the rest of us, we’re just waiting for the next financial bomb to drop on us. And if Middle America is reduced to buying their Christmas gifts at the dollar stores, it may not be long…