Before we start, I promised a very helpful young lady that I would let my readers know about Lord & Taylor's free shipping for online purchases of $99 and more (click HERE). Since free shipping is New Economy, I have now done so.
I took a trip to a Chicago-area shopping mall last night with with a friend and, as you can imagine, I was moved enough to write about it. What you cannot imagine, is why?
We headed over to the Old Orchard Mall in Skokie, Illinois, just about 7 miles northwest of the Chicago city limits. This outdoor mall is a notoriously busy shopping destination (especially on warmer days), as it houses the most complete collection of stores, entertainment and dining options that serve Chicago's monied North Shore suburban communities, such as Lake Forest, Winnetka, Wilmette, Kenilworth and Glencoe, as well as the MASSIVE population center of Evanston, IL.
The 10-15 minute drive from Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood and ample public transportation make Old Orchard's many luxury destinations (Tiffany, Nordstrom, Subway) a desirable option for many city residents as well.
So, taking what you now know (or knew, if you you are an area resident) about Old Orchard Shopping Center and it's surrounding communities into account, you can understand why the following observations were so stunning to me and my counterpart.
1. We arrived at 7:00 pm, on a cool Friday night and immediately found parking (less than 45 seconds after entering the parking lot). The spot, second from the door of THE FOOD COURT, had two additional spots right next to ours, with very few other cars driving around looks for openings.
2. The food court was virtually empty, with over 60% of those eating having ingested, or were in the process of ingesting, Subway. $5 foot long is sooooooo New Economy. As a matter of fact, from this point forward, $5 foot long is the official meal of the New Economy! If someone can top it, I am open to suggestions.
3. No lines at any of the theaters (with the highly anticipated "I Love You Man", a new Nicholas Cage film and the first starring role for Julia Robert's in 4 years all opening last night), a virtually empty Barnes & Noble (less than 15 people inside), not one restaurant had a wait time for tables and much fewer than 1oo people encountered in the entire mall during our 2-hour trip.
4. Macy's was having one of those head-scratching sales where you cannot believe they are "giving away" the stuff for such low prices. For example: Table(S) of Ike Behar, Ted Baker and Ralph Lauren neckties, which all retail in the neighborhood of $125, were all $8.99!, racks upon racks of clearance at 75-80% off everywhere and 11 racks of men's shoes at 65% off. Yet, not a soul was shopping.
Perhaps you think I am saying not many people were shopping the sale? I am not saying such a thing. I am saying exactly what I witnessed: NOT A SOUL WAS SHOPPING!
I talked to 3 sales people, who separately verified that "nobody is buying anything these days" and, based on the generally immaculate presentation of the sale tables and clearance fixtures, evidence suggests they were telling the truth.
Wandering past the women's areas of the store on our way out, we noticed no less than eight double-sided, 10-foot long clearance fixtures with $4.99 signs atop them. These fixtures were stuffed to the gills with merchandise. As I told my friend last night, perhaps that was the most telling sight of the evening: If QUALITY $4.99 dresses, blazers, jeans, sweaters, shirts and skirts do not get people into your store, what will?
I truly believe America's shopping habit (sic, pricing threshold) may have changed for the foreseeable future, by which I mean the next 5-10 years, or so.
If you price a suit at LESS THAN a $5 foot long and nobody budges, you are experiencing the New Economy from a front row seat.
To close out the Macy's story, they are in TROUBLE. Way over inventory, no customers and unable to find a pricing strategy that agrees with their customer's idea of fair value = retail molotov cocktail!
6. No Teens at the mall. I say this with great trepidation: If teens are opting out of spending time at the shopping mall (I counted 5 total last night) most, if not all, major shopping centers will be in bankruptcy by mid-June/early July. There will be no recovering from this development. It will take minimally 5-7 years to climb back from such a blow.
7. Every mall store had posted closing hours of 9pm, however, as we walked by stores at 8:15, we saw many a light out, with doors locked. By 8:35 most stores, save the large department stores, were locked and vacated.
I am not saying this was the wrong idea (in fact it was exactly the right idea). What I am saying is, for this to be the general practice of the entire mall, my notes regarding the lack of shoppers during this trip is not out of the norm, and has had to be the case for quite some time.
Lights out at 8:30 on the first day of spring at a major shopping center is not normal. As a matter of fact, it's unheard of!
So as we made our way through the mall, back to our car, I could not help identifying with Will Smith's character in the movie "I Am Legend", wondering if "anyone is out there?"
In the movie, after he has had the question answered in the affirmative, the larger question consumes him as the screen goes black and the titles begin to roll....."Can we (humankind) come back from this?"
In short, I don't know?
Now that's how you let the beat build.