24 October 2007

Mall-ification in the United States of America.

I don't remember the name of the movie - but Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan star in it. Tom Hanks is responsible for building a chain book store right in front of mom-n-pop book store run by Meg Ryan who was an expert at children's literature. The emergence of this huge store slowly forced the meg ryan store which had its run for 40 odd years to die. Of course, the corporate store had huge discounts that the meg-ryan store could not offer and hence had to shut its doors. And that is exactly what has happened in America. The country has been mallified. That is where teenagers spend their evenings. Bored? The adults are at the mall too with the kids. Consumption being the center around life.

Going back to the movie -The huge store represented " quantity " of books and " quantity" of customer service but was never able to do a job which a small store can handle in terms of quality of customer service, opinions, subject matter expertise, which a small bookstore and an owner who is a voracious book reader can offer. This kind of jumbo development has been happening over two decades now and the country is one huge mall. - Huge grocery stores like Pathmark, Shoprite and Walmart has conquered the grocery and pharmaceuticals market. Now old Navy, Banana Republic , Gap, Macys, Kohls and lord and taylor decide what we wear. Every one has the same red sweater, the good old black trouser and a blue turtle neck. In a way, somebody sitting in a board room has implicitly come to dictate what we wear and what we can own. Just like how communist russia decided what russians should wear and eat.

Every town in America has all these - a big mall with the chain stores, a post office, an insurance office, town hospital, bank, grocery store, a movie theatre and and that's it - the town is defined. And to ensure that tourism bring in revenue - a zoo, a japanese garden, a park, a tavern, an acquarium and a few museums are thrown in. Few and far in between some shops here and there too. From the east to the west, from the north to the south - America is homogenous. At least the diversity is not evident (exceptions being Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York city). if variety is the spice of life, homogenity breeds a constipated mind.

The uppereast side of manhattan which reigned in mom-n-pop kind of shops has been at the crucifixation since the 2nd avenue subway development plans were announced. Crate and Barrel, Starbucks; other similar such giants are lapping it all up and repurposing the space for big chains. The very essence of a neighbourhood, the charm, the culture, the people and the ambience that was provided by these small shops are being robbed by the giants . The local eclectic vibe, which was unique to the area is plucked and tarnished, leaving not even a trace. Well, this has happened all over the country in the 80s and now it has come to the last of the small neighbourhood which had retained some synergy of charm , but that is not spared either.

Of course, I am not saying that the corporates are no good at all, but when it comes down to thumping of small stores and stealing the charm of a neighbourhood - I have no good adjectives to offer. But people know to survive and survive well. The farmers market which is held almost everyday and sometimes in multiple locations is an answer from the people's movement bringing in farm fresh produce from the local farmers at a good price. If I were to compare the quality and the price of farm fresh produce to neighbouring new jersey supermarkets, the farmers market has the best produce. With the coming of community supported Agriculture, life has been good for those willing to go out in the farms and bring their share. If the people have found an answer to tackle about fresh produce, certainly they will find a way out of mallification - Will we? or Won't we?


Serendipity said...

you got mail!!! is the name of the movie :)

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when mediocrity becomes the norm and anybody who steps out of line is immediately shot down by "the herd". The dogs bark and the sheep walk in line.

Everybody wants Mom and Pop stores but nobody wants to pay Mom and Pop prices. Nobody wants to pay the two extra dollars at the Mom and Pop sub shop. So mediocrity continues to rule supreme. Surprise. The herd see everything in black and white.

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