The year is 2035, and in-person clothing shopping as we know it… has become extinct. Gone are the days of turning a boring Saturday afternoon into a shopping trip to the mall with your besties. Forgotten is the time when you had to brainstorm the perfect shopping outfit, one that would allow maximum foot comfort as you walked back and forth across the mall but would also ensure the most efficiency as you changed in and out of your clothes in the solitude of a dressing room. Lost is the joy you once felt as you ran your hands across every texture of the store, from the chenille sweaters to the sequin dresses to the suede booties. It was all gone.
Instead, all shopping has become online. Whether it be via the Like-to-Know-It App or the clothing store’s website, any clothes you buy involves a virtual transaction… devoid of a shared smile between you and the cashier, lacking the small talk about what a great deal you got on your dress today. The concept and allure of shopping is only a memory that has been replaced by the unceremonious click of a button.
It’s almost noon. You step outside your 30-story office building downtown and begin walking the block to a garage where your car is parked. You pass a Panera Bread on your right, with a line out the door of corporate people on their lunch breaks, foaming at the mouth with hanger (angry hunger). Without the cute boutiques that were once sprinkled among the casual downtown dining options, the busy corporate people no longer enjoy their lunch breaks. They spend their hour getting in and out of the restaurant as quickly as possible, only to return to their dark, old-smelling cubicle. They treat themselves with a little midday “shopping” online to pass the time. What is a lunch break without window shopping? What is downtown without the energetic buzz of small business storefronts? Quiet… bleak… disappointing.
You continue past the Panera and see a little girl with her mother sharing some ice cream on the corner of Main and 9th Street—it looks like Cherry Garcia, your favorite flavor. As you get closer, you can overhear their conversation, something having to do with the “old days.”
“You know when I was young sweetie, my friends and I used to go to the mall after school and have fashion shows in the changing rooms, trying on all the fanciest dresses and the things we could never afford.” The mother smiles in reminiscence.
“But Mommy, what’s a changing room?”
You make it to your car and start driving on the freeway, passing a billboard on your right. It reads, “Online shop too much? Credit card debt? Give us a call!”
Since the extinction of in-store shopping, credit card debt has skyrocketed. Going to the mall used to be an event, one where you planned on spending money and could only pick up as many items as you could carry in your arms. But because it’s all online now, you no longer go out of your way to “shop,” making it easy to spend frivolously whenever you please. You see an ad for a cute pair of shoes and buy them while you’re waiting in the dentist’s office. You see a blogger in an adorable dress that you just have to have, so you buy it as you’re sipping your morning coffee in your PJs. Your virtual shopping bag for Asos might only have one item, but what about the one for SheIn? Or the order you placed for Vici Dolls a week ago? Shopping is spread out across the web and the act is so effortless that most people lose track of their spending altogether, aimlessly entering their credit card info without thinking of the repercussions. It’s an online shopping epidemic.
Finally, you arrive at your destination—the big looming building ahead of you, once buzzing with life, is now quiet and desolate. As you walk towards the entrance, you pass a group of well-dressed women sitting in lawn chairs in a circle, located in the center of the abandoned parking lot. You can hear quiet sobbing as one woman wipes the running mascara from beneath her eyes. The other ones comfort her and nod in agreement.
“It’s-it-it-it’s just that I miss it so much…” She continues to sob. “My favorite store to come to was Francesca’s. The stores themselves were always so pretty—you know?—I used to imagine that store as my closet at home. And the sales, ugh I long for the sales! I miss the thrill of the hunt, trying to find those sale items buried in stores. Online shopping just doesn’t have that, you can’t sift through the piles to find that one gem of a piece! Stuff is always more expensive online. Nobody understands the kind of deals you could find in store! And oh, the gratification you’d get when you’d go to check out, thinking an item was $50 only to have them ring it up for you and it turned out to be on clearance for only $13.”
She sobs more violently now, and the other women wipe quiet empathetic tears from their eyes. It’s a support group for those who long for the good old days of shopping in stores. These support groups have been popping up more and more lately. A lot of the women are the OG fashion bloggers, ones who started long before the LTK app and the prominence of online shopping. But some are just regular women too. All are welcome to share in their suffering.
You continue walking towards the door of the building. An old plastic Macy’s bag blows slowly in the breeze across your path, like a tumble weed in a Wild West movie. When you finally reach the glass doors, you notice they’re tagged with graffiti and the corner of the glass is shattered, probably from a pellet gun. That’s new since the last time you were here. You crawl through the webs of “No Trespassing” tape to enter the building, and before you looms a spacious hallway. It used to be filled with chatter, the quiet beat of the latest pop music, the smells of a food court wafting throughout… Now it is lit only by the occasional flickering of broken neon signs and a skylight, one that hasn’t been cleaned in years. Trash litters the floor, and all the walls are boarded up with plywood and tape. You can feel the ghosts of fashionistas past.
You start walking towards the junction straight ahead of you. Everywhere you look are signs that say, “Closing,” “Bankrupt,” “Get It Before It’s Gone.” It’s a sad sight, eerie even, and you feel unsettled as you continue moving deeper into the building, farther from the doors that mark your escape.
It’s the old abandoned mall. You’re walking gingerly through what’s left of it, worn from years of neglect and the abuse of rowdy tweens, who no longer have the stores of the mall in which to waste time and avoid their parents. Though the space feels vaguely familiar, you know it can no longer be associated with the happy memories you once made there. Those are gone.
You arrive at the junction, the center of the mall, and stand beneath the grimy skylight.
“So what do you think?”
Startled, you turn around to see a man emerge from the shadows.
“I’m thinking the old Wetzel’s Pretzels space would make the perfect place for the secretary and all the records keeping, you know, to keep track of what comes in and out? Then we’ll remove a wall here, a wall over there, and we’ll be on our way.”
The man is wearing a crisp white collared shirt and his enthusiasm irritates you. What was his name again, Robert? Richard? No matter, you don’t like him. You’re only here because your boss sent you to finalize the floor plan with this irksome man.
“This building is going to become such a hub. Lots of online orders will be shipped from here, all across the U.S. and even the world! You know, once we finish restoring the building and all the product is organized, this will be the biggest Amazon warehouse in the country.”
You chortle dryly. After all, how could you not laugh at the bitter irony? Amazon, one of the main culprits of the online shopping epidemic and a prime catalyst for the downfall of in-person shopping, will be owning and operating a warehouse out of the old mall.
“Yep,” you say dully. “Some warehouse.”
Miles of (post-apocalyptic) smiles,