Retail Signs of Sickness
With Black Friday already history thanks to an early Thanksgiving, I guess we can be thankful that online shopping has reduced retail traffic. After all, it was bad enough out there in the stores.
Back in September, accounting firm Deloitte was predicting an increase of at least 5 percent in this year’s Christmas season sales, topping $1.1 trillion.
At the same time such rosy predictions are appearing, bad news is on the horizon, however. The nation’s largest wedding retail chain, David’s Bridal, is in serious trouble.
Then, of course, there is the ever-shrinking Sears, today a shadow of its former self.
Ironically, one publication listed J.C. Penny’s as one retailer that could benefit from Sears’ demise, while another identified it as one of the five that could also file Chapter 11.
While the latest retail apocalypse tends to gather more public attention, a recent, perceptive story in The Atlantic drew a fuller picture of the ominous rumblings on the retail landscape.
Staff writer Derek Thompson chronicled how walking through parts of Manhattan feels like occupying two very different worlds at the same time:
“In a theoretical universe, you are standing in the nation’s capital of business, commerce, and culture,” he wrote. “In the physical universe, the stores are closed, the lights are off, and the windows are plastered with for-lease signs.”
Thompson went on to paint a stark picture of stretches of famed thoroughfares filled with vacant storefronts, with one survey showing 20 percent of Manhattan’s retail spaces vacant or about to become so.
In addition, he said the number of retail workers there has fallen for three consecutive years, by more than 10,000. That’s worse than during the Great Recession of 2007, an event that saw my income go into decline for four consecutive years.
Thompson attributes this trend to three factors:
- sky-high rents,
- the Amazon effect, which means while store spaces sit empty, warehouse vacancies nationwide are at an all-time low,
- landlords longing for long-term leases signed by national chains being unwilling to offer short-term leases to upstart entrepreneurs.
Yet, I think something more serious is going on. Even looking toward indicators like robust retail sales or low vacancy rates as indicators that everything is fine, reflects a sickness in our soul.
While state after state chases the almighty dollar—whether that comes from more casinos, legalizing marijuana across the board (thanks to the Trojan horse of medicinal marijuana), or simply seeking more largesse from Uncle Sam—as a society we are ignoring more important things.
Things like marriage and family, eroding amid spiraling divorce rates that inflict the worst damage on the most helpless among us: our children.
We are also losing community to a self-seeking, self-actualizing world where increasing numbers of electronic gadgets, downloadable movies, and other devices physically isolate us from our neighbors. Neighbors who may take up guns to express their grievances.
Moral values are also eroding. We continually (as an old friend says) define deviancy down. Then we wonder why we can’t seem to stop the ever-increasing numbers of overdose deaths that now claim more lives in one year than two decades of the Vietnam War.
As we try to stem the tide of retail bankruptcies, we should be paying attention to more important things than cash registers.