I have to admit I enjoy shopping online. It is very easy and the prices seem to beat any prices found in the brick and mortar stores I’ve frequented for most of my life. I’m also not alone.
The concept of purchasing everything from computers to socks has pretty well taken over all other retail operations. This is not the first time this has happened and I am sure this will not be the last.
When I was a lot younger and actually had a head of hair, I remember the numerous corner stores that defined every town. I don’t remember their names but I do remember that most had old wooden floors and metal ceilings that displayed beautiful arrays of designs I thought would live forever.
They were small and had one primary counter whose glass fronts protected the candy from the itchy hands of children like me. A gray-haired, elderly person always was at the counter protecting the giant register that clanged every time he or she pushed down on the numbers that represented the cost of the item being purchased.
At the end of the sale a large bell would tell the world products were sold and money was exchanged. This was also a place where everyone met and found out if all was well. I never saw anyone just arrive, buy something, and then leave.
There was always someone there you knew who you could talk to. Actually everyone knew everyone back then. They were easy days back them but then again I was young and I had no plans to worry about anything.
The first large department store I ever visited was F. W. Woolworth’s five and dime. It was immense and had multiple registers in order to get people to buy as much as they could as fast as they could. There were products in that store I never dreamed existed. I even discovered new colors making even the dreariest of products seem exceptional.
Everyone went to Woolworths and left the small corner store to fend for itself. They didn’t do well and many closed. I remember my father telling me Woolworths is taking over the world. His prediction was obviously wrong.
Other stores appeared that were even larger than the mighty Woolworths. They sprang outside the town proper hoping to tempt people away from the security of the city streets. These were giant stores that were the size of warehouses. They sold everything from clothes to scissors.
The first time I visited a Mammoth Mart or Bradlees I stood by the door and was astounded as to how large it was. I thought it would take me days to walk through the aisles and was mesmerized by the toy department that had everything from kites to dolls. “ Wow, what could be better than this?’
These stores were then eaten up by even larger franchised department stores that sprang up across the country. Jordan Marsh, Abraham & Straus, Filenes, and Gilchrest’s were the department stores to shop at if you were anyone of
importance. In my early 20’s I thought this was the end of the road in the evolution of how one would shop in the future. For how could anything or anyone get more powerful than these mega-industries?
Then one day, Building 19 appeared. As far as I know this was the first of the warehouse stores. One could never buy one of anything at this newest of stores. You had to buy in bulk but the savings you acquired would eventually make you rich enough to buy anything you wanted.
The Megastores of Sears, Macy’s, and K-Mart that were eating up all of their competitors brushed this newest of competitors aside. For how could merchandize sold in their shipment containers replace the carefully merchandized wares of their goods.
What these giants of Allied Stores did not see was the evolution of the warehouse stores into becoming part of the American experience. Wal-Mart, BJ’s, and Costco sprang up where the once mighty Bradlees and K-Mart once existed. Even though it cost you money to join their clubs the cost savings would make it well worth it.
At least this is what they say. Walking into these giant warehouses being a bit in fear that the cases of merchandize piled high up to the ceiling may fall, I was astounded by the lack of variety replaced by the concept of bulk. Rarely did I see anyone I knew and if I dared to talk to anyone I was quickly dismissed because there was a case of toilet paper to be purchased.
I sincerely believed this was the end of the evolution of shopping. Then came on-line networks like Amazon that eliminated the concept of going anywhere and talking to anyone unless you had a problem, which at this point, you were transferred to talk to someone far away with an impossible accent to understand.
How could any other type of shopping compete with type of instant gratification? I told my grandchildren that the Amazons of the world are taking over the world. My God, I just became my father.
An evolution of department stores that still continues today by Jim Fabiano.
Jim Fabiano is a retired teacher and writer living in York, Maine
You can contact Jim at: firstname.lastname@example.org