Montgomery Ward, F.W. Woolworth, S.S. Kresge, Kauffman’s, G.C. Murphy and Co., Bintz Bros. Inc., Hill’s Department Store, Sears and Roebuck, Gimbels…
I could go on. The list is almost endless, and your reaction to it would betray your age. To the young, the names of these long closed-down shops of yesteryear are hollow, meaningless, barely remembered, if ever known at all. As remote and forgotten as the ancient wonders of the world: The Colossus of Rhodes, the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the great American department store.
But to those who knew them, they were so much more. They were the Christmas expeditions in the family station wagon, all bustle and fun, store to store. And the breathless ride home with the mysterious packages all tied up neatly with string.
They were the festive lights hung with care, and the special window displays with Christmas scenes. Toys in the aisles and cotton-ball snow, so inviting that your parents had to hold you back from jumping in.
They were Santa and his elves, and a grotto real enough to convince you that you had truly visited the North Pole.
These weren’t places where you were simply expected to spend your money and leave. They were an experience. The staff served you. The customer was always right, and these were your neighbors. It was a place where you might see a friend or visit the in-store café for treat or a meal.
These were our main street department stores. They are gone now, and if we knew what we had lost, we might miss them more.
Now, you probably might say that I view the past with a layer of nostalgia thicker than the icing on a Pop Tart, and you’d probably be right, but as we view our world today, we must know that something has been lost.
The owners of these stores were not saints, and Montgomery Ward’s front door was not the gate to heaven, but there was something.
Oh, they made money. Indeed, that was the point. But they loved much more than that. They loved the civility of service, the uniqueness of their stores, and the satisfaction of their customers.
The downtown department stores died in the face of the sterile convenience of the shopping mall. But now it seems that, ironically, it is the malls’ turn to die. There is always something more convenient. The circle of life.
Now our towns are left with the starkly functional mega chains. Stores that look the same wherever you go. Branded cookie cutter templates, created for your shopping convenience. But where is the uniqueness? Where is the flavor? And with bigger and bigger companies facing less and less competition, where is the choice?
And then there’s internet shopping. The internet has crept into every aspect of our lives, and the real world around us has suffered. The binary language of computer coding is expressed all in ones and zeroes, but in the final equation the internet sometimes seems to bring more zeroes than ones.
Are Montgomery Ward and all of those other closed down department stores trying to warn us of something deeper, something more fundamental that has gone wrong, a danger that won’t merely close our stores, but will impoverish us all in far deeper ways?
We shop only online, while our local stores close. We text, and text, and text, but do we ever talk. Fantasy Facebook lives dance before our eyes like sugar plum fairies, while our own reality around us goes neglected.
Our civility, our sense of community, and our mutual respect got lost somewhere on the comments section of our favorite news website.
The internet has helped us in so many ways, but it’s all about balance. If you want Polish blood sausage, Indian curry, or British bubble and squeak, you can get it.
At almost any time we can talk with those we love, however distant they may be. There are so many ways to communicate. We have never been more connected, nor have we ever been less connected as we cast fleeting glances at one another over the tops of our phones, and our laptops, and our tablets.
Maybe it’s time to put the devices down and take a look at the people and the world around us. The internet is a great thing, but perhaps more often we should spend our time and our money in the world around us.
William Shakespeare once said…
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
And if it is Christmas, do we not shop?
…or something like that
This is a human instinct, the kind instinct of giving demonstrated by the wise men on that first Christmas so many years ago. The desire to give gifts to those we love. This is the reflection of the divine that we celebrate at this time of year. The love to give His only begotten Son.
As you check your Christmas list this year remember, your best gift is the most valued of all – your time, and your love.
Article courtesy of Lee Hoover. Mr. Hoover is an educator from Zanesville, Ohio.