By David Glenn Cox
They came upon us suddenly, shopping centers enclosed from the weather. Like Las Vegas hotels each new one to be bigger and better with more glitz more glamour. Wider halls taller ceilings more floors with more attractions. Merry go rounds, ice rinks, car shows. But for the formula to work there had to be anchor stores.
Department stores like Sears, Macy’s JC Penny’s the glue holding it all together. Christmas made the trek to the local Mall all worthwhile, after you fought your way through the traffic into a parking space. It was a necessary evil; with over one hundred retailers, you could kill your shopping list in an afternoon. “All right kids, we’ll meet back in the food court in one hour.”
Sears had been on suicide watch for years. Sears at the end of the century had become like the mall itself glitzy and shiny with high prices and no help. But without anchor stores the Malls just dried up and blew away. Do you want to walk a quarter mile to the Sunglass Hut? “Say, let’s go look at luggage!” The anchor stores were struggling to support the Mall while discounters were taking the market. The Malls fell as Walmart rose, recessions and crime put them down like a sick horse. Let’s do the math, Let’s say you spend five years and seventy-five million dollars to develop a new mall. How many gang shootings does it take to destroy one?
The Mall was supposed to be safe, warm friendly and inviting. It is supposed to be an escape from the cares of the day to day world. Greenery and soft music, I think I’ll buy a candle. But how can you drop your kids at the movies when there was a shooting in the food court two weeks ago? The answer is you can’t. One by one like dinosaurs fell. Pathetic brick and steel monuments to Capitalist fantasies in an American landscape under rapid change.
It is hard to imagine now, that tens of millions of retail square footage are empty. Archeological remnants abandoned to time. Industries that once thrived are now gone replaced by internet vagaries. How American! Everything is disposable. The buildings, the store owners and their employees just tossed away and left to rot. Malls that were once the premier shopping locations of our communities are selling for pennies on the dollar.
It is a curious thing how these paragons of Capitalist ambition have come to reflect our countries values. Most crime comes from poverty; Jean Valjean wasn’t a criminal he was hungry. Likewise, the gang member raised in America’s monster factories are also hungry. Hungry for a slice of the American dream they’re locked out of. Instead they arm themselves with faux bravery and cold steel in a fight for pissing ground among the innocents. The irony of an artificial world believing it could lock out the truth with Muzak, ceramic tile and potted plants.
In its stead we have internet retailers like Amazon who work their workers as hard as any Alabama overseer ever did. Low wage burn out jobs. Providing profits to few and poverty to many. It makes me wonder if Jeff Bezos ever had a partner named Marley.
An unsustainable business model, you may have already noticed the shelves running a little thin at your local store. Brick and mortar are expensive and monopoly is lucrative. The money stays at the top while pool of customers with credit card purchasing power sinks. We’ve got to stop running and hiding from ourselves. We’ve got to stop hiding from the poverty our system afflicts upon us or the monster factories will work overtime. The government this month reports that consumer spending is up 4/10ths of a percent. Whacky and carefree Americans spent that increase on housing and healthcare. Even when they tell the truth, it is couched in a lie.
We don’t talk about poverty or low wages but not everyone can be an engineer or a scientist. The corporate media echo chamber will ignore or avoid the issues of poverty and homelessness. They asked for it! They should just study and get a better job! That’s right after their back breaking twelve-hour shift at Amazon they can eat, go to class, study and still have time for six hours of sleep!
The invisible gilded age, Billionaire tax sloths on private Islands leaving millions of hard-working Americans in seas of poverty. Without wage growth there is no actual growth. Rising stock prices are a big deal on Wall Street but are far removed from Main St. It only illustrates the detachment of economic statistics from economic reality. Mass shootings are probably a more accurate gauge of our societies progress. Racism always rises in times of economic distress. People in fear will follow any orange idiot who plays to those fears. People who feel locked out and powerless will respond irrationally.
The belief that our economy can continue squeezing the bottom to reward the top is foolish. The infinite cruelty and impotence of a purchased government so well illustrated by dead malls. Long empty hallways of promises bathed in prosperous bright lights which hide the empty truth. The buildings are empty and the Muzak is gone.