Weekend Debate: Department Stores

Earlier this week, I was hanging out with my friends, and somehow or another we ended up discussing the question of what now occupied the Service Merchandise store of our youth. When I realized it’s now an Old Navy and announced it, the entire table was deeply chagrined. Which, of course, prompted this tweet and an equivalent Facebook post:

Said comment ignited a firestorm of department-store reminiscence from my Facebook friends and twitter followers alike, mentioning all the places of commerce (in Cincinnati, at least) fondly remembered though the lens of time. Such places included the aforementioned Service Merchandise, as well as Swallen’s, Rink’s, Gold Circle, Watson’s, and the much-loved Shillito’s.

Please note that all but one of those places has been made possessive, in keeping with Middle-American tradition. I have no idea if they should be or not (mostly because I’m too lazy to I can’t Google them because the Puddinpop has a basketball game in 15 minutes. At least that’s my story. My lack of enterprise notwithstanding, the point is that everyone should say, “I’m going to Kroger for a pound of braunschwager and a gallon of Moose Tracks so I can spend the evening trying to suffocate the voice of my shame.” But instead everyone says, “Kroger’s“, making me want to claw my own nostrils out through my eye sockets almost as much as hearing irregardless, which isn’t a word no matter how many people say it.

Ahem. But I digress.

At any rate, it was quite a list of stores that people seemed to recall happily from their respective youths, stores that aren’t around anymore. Which made me wonder: will anyone be nostalgic about the modern American corporate mega-store in two decades? Will anyone say, “Man, I remember going to Wal-Mart when I was kid. That as great.”

Somehow I doubt it.

Then again, it’s probably a moot question. Your Wal-Mart is likely to be exactly where it is now when I’m old enough to start shaking my cane at troublemakers on my lawn. For that matter, there’ll likely be 3 more Wally World stores near your house too. The future will be a desolate place, with Wal-Marts lined up as far as the eye can see. It’ll be both the only place to buy things – like, everything – the only place to work – but not full-time, because then they’d have to give you benefits – and probably the only place to eat out all. I’m expecting they’ll have chapels inside too, offering discount penance, where absolution can be yours, today, for just half the “Our Father’s” of your local priest.  Plus, they’ll sin match with competitors!

I can only assume, having given up whatever shred of dignity I might have once possessed, I’ll be condemned to be your greeter. Can I get you a cart?

What do you think? Am I wrong? Are most people just as content with the massive bargains of today’s corporate behemoth stores as I was when leafing through the Service Merchandise Christmas catalog every fall?

It seems unlikely to me, but then I’ve been wrong before.  So, then…

What store is better: the long-since-closed stores of our youth or the discount-heavy corporate stores of today?

Try not to disappoint me, internet.

Anybody going through poll withdrawal? Have I got something for you:


2 thoughts on “Weekend Debate: Department Stores

  1. You have my heartfelt respect and thanks for both mentioning braunschweiger (mmm…Wonder bread, Plochman’s mustard and braunschweiger) and a shared hatred of people/morons that use the non-word “irregardless” in the same paragraph. Tip o’ the cap, sir, tip o’ the cap.


  2. I prefer the REALLY “old stores” for not particularly nostalgic reasons. My sense is everyone bought less and enjoyed it more. Store owners and clerks (the kind of store doesn’t matter) spent more time trying to be pleasant. They had no internet sales to support lack of personnel contact. Because they had no public “stockholders”, they weren’t so nuts about downsizing to keep profits way up and stock prices as well. The owner might take a personal hit to save his people. They were much more like family. The employees were much better trained because they didn’t live in a revolving door. Owners gave bonuses when things went right and refused raises when they didn’t but they tried to avoid layoffs like the plague.

    As for products, with a smaller inventory and fewer impulse items, small stores didn’t strike your fancy with 1,440 rolls of toilet paper which could be more than a family needs in several months. Everyone was less inclined to spend so much preparing for the Apocalypse.. Want to know where the jobs went? Examine the self-serve check out…Yes owners still were occasionally very greedy but they did work in their own stores. Where are you Johnny’s (yes, it’s possessive…lol)? By the way, loved window dressings. They could be very good or creepy (reference Mannequin). In spite of all my ramblings, we buy so much for Christmas gifts that it would take all year to buy what we now get from the internet and the superstores in a month. “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks”…so on that “fade to black” while getting your credit card out.


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