I had a friend refer to Walmart as the equivalent of the modern day department store. And, he’s probably right, and I just figured out why that’s so damn depressing.
I’m reading this incredibly awesome book-Meet me at the eagle, and it’s all about the really very interesting history of Wanamaker’s. And, in one chapter the author describes all the competition the store had on Market Street. Strawbridges (obviously) , Gimbels, Lit Brothers, etc. And…there were five stores within two blocks. Five profitable stores with different characters.
And now there’s JUST Walmart. And I don’t even hate Walmart. But, you certainly wouldn’t dress up to go there. And, yeah, there’s Target, and Kmart. But, they are all these big blocky stores that all sell the same Chinese made shit with the same understandably surly, underpaid, over-abused staff.
And in 1954 when Gimbels opened the Cheltenham store (which I have the vaguest memories of going to), it was the biggest department store in the Philly suburbs. It’s a ghetto ass Burlington Coat Factory now, with the worst Shoprite ever downstairs. It’s depressing, the nicest store in that mall now is a damn Target. No one would put a big store filled with mirrors there now.
You didn’t need a lot of money to shop at Strawbridge’s or Wanamaker’s (at least not the downstairs store). My family definitely had more Clover levels of money, but we still shopped there sometimes. And you’d walk out with that awesome bag. And it was…NICE, but without being standoffish. If I walk into a Bloomingdales it’s like an alarm goes off in my head- “back slowly away from the $200 sweater- you do not belong here”. Those stores…didn’t feel that way.
And the buildings were tall, and gorgeous (at least the non-mall ones). And, now, it’s just these giant boxes, with these giant parking lots, with women in ill-fitting clothes and always a crying baby. Seriously, why do low-class places always have crying babies? Do the wealthy hire sitters and nannys? Are they all drugging their children to keep them quiet?? Going to the Walmart on Adams Ave feels like going to the damn welfare office.
And, I feel like we’ve lost something here. We’ve replaced character with convenience. And, I love my computer, and my cell phone, and my civil rights. But, things are just…less nice.
This is hypocritical since I live in jeans, but there’s something nice about the fact people used to dress up in hats and dresses just to go shopping. That men got hats trimmed for free at Lit Brothers. That there was…class. And now, it can be hard to tell one mall from another. And every town has a Walmart.
And, I dunno. Maybe it’d be worth wearing a dress every once in awhile to still be able to go to Strawbridge’s. And Clover. Because clover was low-priced, but not CHEAP. Their clothes actually fit, and you didn’t feel POOR shopping there.
And I don’t want to give up my iPhone, or my right to vote. But, it’d be nice to get some of that back. It’d be nice if Wanamaker’s was still…Wanamaker’s. If Strawbridge’s, and Gimbals, and all these stores were still around. It’d be nice if shopping on the east side of market felt nice, instead of trashy. It’d be nice if it wasn’t either snooty and exclusive, or low-class. It’d be nice if there were still places where everyone shopped.
And, it’s a loss of something deeper than just a place to shop. It’s a whole way of living that’s just….gone. It’s like how we don’t engrave names on buildings anymore. Because now we know better than to think names and places will last forever. It’s like bankers giving out loans that’ll fail, because they know they will get out before it blows up, and no one stays in one place anymore. And, maybe that’s progress. But, it’d be nice if…things like that still mattered.
It’d be nice if we didn’t lose Strawbridge’s and replace it with Walmart. Because it’s a sign, that the world is just a little less pretty than it used to be.