As soon as I left Macy’s I felt like an odd bird. This season’s cold, snowy build-up to the holidays had not been conducive to going out in the asphalt tundra, but there I was. In the dark. The wind stinging my face. My purchases and handbag weighing me down.
The sun had already been all stealthy behind cloud cover when I walked into the store. But it had completely checked out while I was inside mulling over yet another sweater for a relative.
It’s so sneaky, that sun, in the almost-winter. By the time I returned outside, it appeared the darkness chased away most of the cars I thought had been parked there earlier. Or maybe I hadn’t been paying attention. Were they ever there to begin with? Maybe that other thing took the cars.
I figured the only scattered rides left in sight belonged to me and the retail employees who seemed eager to close their registers. Even the Salvation Army bell ringers were long gone, their absence chiming in on the emptiness.
Bitter weather and that other thing likely contributed to the frosty tumbleweeds my imagination saw dancing across the lonely pavement.
Ten years ago, 20 years ago, I would have been weaving through crowds on the sidewalk. And I would not have had a clear shot of my car from so far away.
But at some point that other thing creeped in: The internet. And Amazon. And just about every brick and mortar store reacting to Amazon. For years now, even Macy’s and similar holiday stalwarts have been splitting up their sales between the 3-D experience and pixelated shopping carts.
It was just so striking on that strange December evening. Just me, and some piped-out Burl Ives bouncing off the cold concrete. I felt a bit like a stumbling Jimmy Stewart suddenly plunked down in Pottersville. Where’s Bedford Falls? What have the years done? What happened to everybody?
Clarence, where are you? Looking for dry sleepwear on EddieBauer.Com.?
It’s so easy to shop all the popular websites, to take advantage of “free shipping.” I put that in quotes because, come on, we all know complimentary delivery must be built into the price. That or you have to spend $50 for a free UPS ride when most items are $49.95. This is why our homes are filled with unwanted novelty socks, to tip the scales for the free package drop.
You know what else is built into the price? Risk. The thing you see in pictures on your screen could be a disappointment at your doorstep. Itchy fabric. Bad fit. Wrong shade of loden. Also, there’s the anxiety of porch thievery.
Only brick and mortar shopping can guarantee the instant at-purchase satisfaction of knowing exactly what you’re getting. Not to mention the full tactile experience of touching cashmere, interacting with other humans, or stumbling upon little unexpected treasures.
But I, too, have fallen into the flat screen shopping dimension. I admit I like sitting around in my coffee-stained hoodie, putting stuff in my virtual cart, hitting purchase, all while not having to listen to a particular Mariah Carey song.
Then, a day or three later, I like feeling that dopamine rush when I hear the chugga chugga chugga of the delivery truck. It’s such a distinct sound, and a welcome sight.
Vroom. Vroom. Chugga chugga. A person dashing up the driveway, grasping a padded envelope with a “Prime” logo. Yesss.
So, yeah, I’m officially a hybrid shopper. Part old school, part track-your-package. I don’t know where it’s all going, but I do like the idea of shopping centers, neighborhood stores and downtown hubs. I don’t want them to go away.
I caught a glimpse of Pottersville, and I don’t like it.
Reach Denise Snodell at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DeniseSnodell