December 19, 2004

empty boxes

Friday Dan got out of work early. My mom was (and is) here. We needed to go shopping for house-related goods. All of this came together and lo, we went to the mall. We warned Damian about holidays and shopping and insane crowds, braced ourselves for chaos, and drove over. This is a mall where, as soon as December hits, we have to avoid the parking lot and head about five blocks away to find a spot far enough away from the madding crowd, and then hold our collective breath and dive into the mass of humanity.

The place was empty. I mean, EMPTY. Far more parking available than on a regular Friday night. We got a table at the restaurant IMMEDIATELY. On a Friday night a week before Christmas. What gives?

Yesterday (Saturday) we went to Target so Dan could buy his Secret Santa gift. Again, bracing ourselves. Talking about calm thoughts, talking about Zen breathing and creeping around a parking lot at half a mile per hour, talking about hand-to-hand combat for the last available parking spot.

It was empty too.

Today we decided to be touristy and take my mom to Watts Towers. We hopped on the freeway heading through downtown to points south (ie: Watts). Midday Sunday, downtown will be a ghost town, the warm wind whistling through the empty skyscraper canyons.

The freeway was a parking lot. Bumper to bumper. Rush hour style. On a Sunday at two p.m. What gives?

I'm still trying to parse it out. Nobody at the malls a week before Christmas. Everyone on the road. Where are they going? What does it mean? Is this local to Southern California or is it nationwide (or international, even)? Are people going out of town instead of shopping? Has everyone placed their Amazon order already? Are they boycotting Christmas or just too strapped for cash? Is it the advent of online shopping or middle and lower class economic woes? It's so striking, it's not like the frenzy of holiday shopping has been dialed down, it's simply disappeared.

I suspect it's about poverty and that worries me. I heard somewhere that the rich are buying like mad, yachts and $15,000 massage chairs and who knows what else, but everyone else? Not so much. Trickle down my ass.

On the one hand, I think the crass commercialism of the season is bizarre, to say the least. Everyone flooding the malls in a mad dash to check off items on a list, too often out of a sense of obligation rather than love. So it's good that people are staying home, right? On the other hand, an awful lot of businesses need a green Christmas to stay afloat. And of course it's the little guys, the mom and pop shops, who are hurt the most. The huge corporate box stores will just float on by. So it hurries the demise of individuality in commerce. Incredibly sad if true.

But really, beyond all that, it's just plain spooky. Is this a local phenomenon that Iím reading too much into or are my suspicions right and this is happening in every city in the US?

Posted by Tamar at December 19, 2004 08:57 PM

So, I live in northern Wisconsin and I had to pipe in here. I work in retail and yesterday was insane with shoppers - hundreds and hundreds flocked in our little store in a matter of hours. Today? Not so much, it was much like an average Sunday with the Packers playing (aka: slow!) So perhaps people are shopping collectively in giant spurts?

Posted by: Wendie at December 19, 2004 10:19 PM

When we left our synagogue yesterday morning, traffic leading toward the nearby mall and shopping district was bumper to bumper and the parking lots were all packed. I've had to make a couple of household-item trips to the mass merchandisers and even at 3 a.m. they've been busy busy busy.

Maybe it's just L.A.? I was surprised at the traffic and the lack of people in the malls when I was out there a couple of weeks ago, maybe everyone out there got their priorities straight and are deciding not to load up on *stuff* this year?

Posted by: Dreama at December 19, 2004 10:56 PM

Actually, I've heard a few tales of shopping non-nightmares here in London, UK. One of my coworkers said the shopping centre that's normally packed on the weekends was practically empty on Saturday, and I actually got a bit freaked out on Saturday afternoon when the tube station that I expected to be wall to wall people was eerily devoid of almost anyone. In fact, I had to double check that the train line hadn't stopped running! I am worried that it is the economy and/or a throwback of low consumer confidence from the US election. I'm not sure. Personally, I'm doing my bit to spend (US) dollars - albeit with online shopping for my family back in the States!

Posted by: Tricia at December 20, 2004 12:04 PM

We were in North Jersey last weekend, and the malls were pretty darn full.

And Manhattan is busy, busy, especially with all of the Europeans flying over to shop.

Posted by: Allison at December 21, 2004 12:22 AM

I work *by* a mall, but not in one. For the last few years, traffic the two weeks before Christmas has been impossibly slow - a bumper to bumper, long wait to turn right out of the office parking lot and don't even think about turning left, twenty minutes to the highway which is less than a mile away nightmare. This has not happened yet this year. Not even yesterday, Monday. No one is around! I wonder what will happen tonight...

Posted by: Josie at December 21, 2004 07:15 AM

I did 98% of my shopping online this year. I did not set foot in a mall, even though I bought tons of stuff from mall stores (Kohls, mostly). Maybe that's what you're seeing?

Posted by: Ambre at December 24, 2004 01:14 PM