Malls were created to make it easier to shop by putting everything in one place. They also turned shopping in to a social event not just for the true shopper, but for teens in suburbia everywhere. I remember hanging out at Christiana Mall with my friends soon after it was built. We loved the freedom from our parent’s control, opportunity to display our latest fashion statement (leg warmers and purple eye shadow), and the possibility of encountering boys. When I torture my children with “I remember when…” stories the absence of malls is right up there with computers, microwaves, and remote controls.
And malls have changed. Once the free range of every delinquent or wanna-be delinquent teen in the tri-state area, most malls now require all minors to be accompanied by an adult. The open space in the aisles of the malls have been filled with kiosks manned by overbearing and aggressive sales people obviously working on commission. And food options have expanded to include Auntie Anne’s and Cinnabons unleashed from the food court and scattered freely to wage war on our senses and self-control.
I hate malls. My daughter loves them. Last summer she and a good friend created a “shopping camp” for the two of them. It involved me driving them to several malls. As I wandered a huge mall about thirty minutes from our home in an affluent suburb of Baltimore, I was amazed at all the things I could buy. I was also amazed that there was absolutely nothing in that mall that I needed. It was good people watching and character collecting, but I was ready to go in about thirty minutes. Not so the girls. My daughter has told so many jealous friends about “shopping camp” that I’m considering charging for my counselor duties this summer.
Week three of Going Local required that I go to the mall. There is nothing locally owned about a mall. Well, not much anyway. The rents at most malls are much too prohibitive for the average small business owner. Most locals can only afford a kiosk. This past week I found myself at the local mall. I was meeting my mom to exchange a Christmas gift. Technically speaking, I was within my legal rights of Going Local since I, personally, wasn’t purchasing anything from the chain store franchise where we went.
After securing the exchange we left the mall and went to a nearby locally owned restaurant (Bel Paese -fabulous Italian) for lunch. Over lunch I told my mother of my ill-fated attempt at buying the Nerf toy my youngest child had his heart set on giving a friend for the upcoming birthday party. The only locally owned toy store listed in the yellow pages didn’t answer the phone when I called and seemingly didn’t exist as I circled the supposed address for ten minutes that morning to no avail. She suggested the Bon Ton, a department store at the mall we had just left. When I reminded her it wasn’t locally owned, she told me it was York based. This was news to me. My knee-jerk reaction has been to dismiss all large department stores as non-locally owned, but a quick search of their web site told me she was right.
After lunch we headed to The Bon Ton back at the mall only to discover their meager toy department caters to the under six crowd. My mom has a soft spot for her youngest grandchild and asked if my Gone Local laws allowed other people to go in to stores and purchase things for me. Tempting, but it seemed to undercut the whole idea. Before giving up completely I searched the ownership of the other stores at the mall and learned that Boscovs is based in Reading. Not so close, but still Pennsylvania. And they sold Nerf. I confess it’s a bit of a stretch for locally owned, but it was a small sacrifice I was willing to make to keep my ten-year-old from condemning the Gone Local plan only three weeks in.
While packing for a two week trip to Taiwan, where he assured me everything he purchased would be local, my husband asked about downloading books from Amazon to his kindle for his 14 hour flight. I told him that wouldn't be shopping local and reminded him that the library loaned e-books. He made a face and said he didn’t have time to figure that out. But my husband is nothing if not supportive and resourceful, so he gave it a shot and discovered that it’s very simple to download an e-book from the library. In fact, he downloaded three. I breathed a sigh of relief because the last time I tried to download a book it was not only difficult, but disheartening since there was such a meager selection to choose from. Happy to say that is no longer the case.
Going local is requiring all of us to think before we shop. I’m still sorting through a few challenges like .9 pencil lead and nylons in a size that will fit my long-legged size 0 daughter. Craigs List is a veritable gold mine. This week we found a long-promised archery bow for my son – even left-sighted like he needed. But I’ve scoured the Goodwill and farm markets in search of a coffee mug (extra tall and narrow) like the one I broke recently. My tea is just not the same in any other mug. And my daughter is begging for her favorite hair product that until recently I always secured on Drugstore.com. It would be so simple to find all these things online. But where’s the challenge in that? And more importantly that would not be supporting my community in any way. Alas, every week is a new quest in living locally.