There are few things in capitalism as depressing as a dying mall. No doubt many of you’ve found yourself inside one of these husks – the movie theater is still going, the bulk candy place still gats forth sour gummi coke bottles, and the Mervyn’s has a couple of old farts rummaging through the shoehorns, but entire wings of the mall have died – frostbitten, gangrenous appendages with the ghosts of Spencer’s Gifts and Auntie Annie’s Pretzels barely stirring the dust.
One such place about to be a giant ghost parking lot is CompUSA, due for extinction by January. You say the name “CompUSA” and then you crinkle your nose, try to remember, and then say “oh yeah, THAT place” and in a millisecond it makes sense. While there were no doubt exceptions, CompUSAs seemed dirty, poorly-put-together, oddly expensive and depressing.
Of course, in the mid-90s, you didn’t have a ton of choices – it was either that or Computer City, which was about as awesome as cough syrup. Sean and I drove from Chapel Hill to Greensboro in 1994 to buy our new Macs at the CompUSA there, and kept having to drive back because they sold us the wrong stuff.
Which, of course, raises the question of how the competition succeeded. Best Buy does itself favors by using dark colors (mostly blue) set off against yellow, which hides dirt and gives the place a vibe. They also have a shitload of stuff, and while the prices are high compared to online, you simply can’t walk out of there without buying something. Circuit City is learning the same lesson through massive re-branding and reversing its earlier problem: being a place that was as black and oppressive as a dungeon. Don’t get me wrong – both places are shitholes where customer service occasionally goes to die, but I confess buying shite at both.
Another place that manages to keep saving itself is Radio Shack, which by all theories of social anthropology should have died out with Mr. Mister, but here’s the thing: people keep needing extension cords and mini-jacks that convert to RCA adapters. I wouldn’t be surprised if Warren Buffet had stock in Radio Shack for the same reason he owned Gillette – people gotta shave, and people gotta have $3 speaker wire.
This is despite (as The Onion famously observed) Radio Shack’s disturbingly awkward yet annoyingly glommy sales clerks, and the fact that you can’t walk into a store without setting off a light-beam buzzer and feeling as though you’ve just stumbled into the chess team’s basement during a whipit bender.
But the place I’m most frazzled by, of course, is the worst shopping experience in America. Beset by a sales staff that would rather skin themselves alive with the talons of a dead rat than help you, it’s the one store where you could have a stroke in aisle 45 and not be found for weeks. Yes, you guessed right, it’s Home Despot.
And yet, for all of its massive, incalculable shortcomings, capitalism still rewards you for being the best, even if you’re awful. Yes, you could go to the mom-n-pop hardware store (if you can find one) and get 65% of what you need. You can even go to Lowe’s and have a slightly less-inspiring selection. But if you have massive project aspirations and are desperate for only one trip in the car, you’ve only got one choice, and it’s massive and orange.
So I open it up to you: what stores (besides Blockbuster) seem like they’re dying? Which stores should die, but keep limping along? And which make you the most angry?