“Inflation,” and “recession” are, for most of us, words we hear on a newscast or read in headlines. We understand only that things are not good, and “not good” means different things, depending on whether we earn over six figures or are struggling to survive on a small, fixed income.
So I went to the mall for a lesson in economics. America’s bad times were palpable there, and the national discomfort made itself known with every step.
I had a gift certificate for $250 from Christmas, and the semi-annual women’s sale was just beginning. A criminal lawyer might say I had means, motive, and opportunity to make a killing at the cash registers. Three hours later I had spent only about $10 having found little worth buying. Quality goods marked down were replaced with shabby “special purchases” manufactured in China or countries I can hardly pronounce. The price tags, however, were equal to those on designer goods tailor-made in Paris. The scam was obvious and I was not about to fall victim to blatant profiteering.
The store was also disarmingly empty with none of the usual “Big Sale” crowd buzzing with the excitement of a great item found at a bargain price. Several shoppers sorting through leather goods on a sale table seemed unenthusiastic (as well they should: the offerings were uninspiring.)
The store’s staff, did its best to “meet and greet,” as they were taught in Retail 101. There was something of desperation in their voices, however. My sense is they’ve been doing a lot more meeting and greeting lately, than closing the deal. Like me, shoppers often walked away empty-handed.
Disappointed but not deterred, I headed for the mall exit to spend my money in some other store. The depressing mood of the cavernous walkway-- almost empty except for a handful of shoppers-- chilled me. No pairs of shoppers squealing with delight, no buyer overloaded with shopping bags. The mall music was overwhelming with no consumer din to mask it.
Bored salespeople stared into space or chatted on cell phones. Some busied themselves with rearranging merchandise in the desperate hope of catching a buyer’s eye with a new display.
No shop I entered was busy. I did note that boutiques with big-ticket items seemed busier than department store chains that have been showering consumers with endless mail and newspaper coupons for double-digit discounts. Still, their aisles are sparsely populated.
No less determined, I went to the men’s department thinking I’d buy a new raincoat for my husband, but struck out there as well. No crisp, classic trench coats with zip-out linings, only overpriced “microfiber” numbers made in… you guessed it.
I headed for the garage and, on the way out, bought myself a new lipstick with one of those coupons I mentioned.
Hours after I had left for the mall an enthusiastic shopper, I was self-serving gas at $3.89 a gallon, grounded in brutal reality. I was headed home with only my lipstick and a more graphic understanding of America’s economic woes-- darker and heavier than I realized before my trip to the deserted, dying marketplace.
- ▼ 2008 (17)