My hubby and I recently went to Home Depot to buy wood trim for our house. After walking for what seemed like miles, we finally found an employee to help us. We said, “We’re interested in buying some wood trim.” The employee said, “You can just take the number to the service desk. They’ll help you.” I took a photo of the UPC codes and the three of us headed to the service desk. On the way, the employee said, “Do you two use the internet at all?”
Silly, OLD us, we wanted to see the wood in person before we paid hundreds of dollars for it.
Shopping has changed forever, and I have mixed feelings about it.
During the early days of the pandemic, I began thinking about shopping and how it’s been evolving through the years. The Prime and UPS trucks are fixtures on our streets now. Not since childhood, have I seen such regular home deliveries. The Prime trucks are here even more often than the milk delivery man who brought fresh milk to our neighborhood. We had a metal, insulated box on our porch for dairy delivered once or twice a week. Walter, the dry cleaner, was at our house on a regular basis. Makes me cringe to think of Walter because, even though I was about five years old, I distinctly remember telling him I wanted to be Miss America when I grew up. Yikes! I always looked forward to the day the bread man arrived. He had the coolest metal rack that went from flat to tiers of wrapped cupcakes and pastries in seconds.
In those days, you could buy plenty of items at home, like cleaning products from the Fuller Brush man, vacuums, encyclopedias, and much more. Door-to-door salesmen were welcomed into our homes to tell us all about their wares.
My early memories of leaving the house to shop include trips with my mom to Pomeroy’s Department Store, Reading, PA, for school uniforms. Not many fond memories there, but as I got older, like in the fifth or sixth grade, a new world of shopping opened up for me. Weather permitting, I was allowed to walk downtown with my friends. Each Saturday, after my chores were finished, I would spiff myself up, fill my little purse, and walk several blocks to meet up with friends. We then walked the 1.5 miles to the center of town–THE shopping district. I saw Pomeroy’s in a new light. It was so much more than school uniforms, and so much fun to explore a department store on my own. Without adult supervision, we could spend as much time as we wanted dawdling in whatever department we wanted to dawdle in.
Pomeroy’s was good, but this was the era of the five and dime store! These stores fascinated me more than the department store. Woolworth’s had plenty to appeal to kids my age, and they had live animals in the pet section. But Kresge put in a cafeteria-style snack bar that was soooo cool. And Grant’s had its own fun. Frankly, looking back, I can’t believe our parents let us walk all the way downtown, and stay until practically dinner time. I don’t ever remember abusing the freedom of our Saturdays. Our Saturday independence was a gift, and we took full advantage of it. We shopped, but we also regularly explored the public library, a nearby bakery, the dry goods store and the mysterious items in the oriental gift shop.
For many, Hess’s of Allentown was known as a Pennsylvania shopping experience to remember. Mostly I remember Christmas decorations and the Strawberry Pie. The desserts there were amazing.
Weather could hamper or even cancel our weekly jaunt downtown. But the shopping trend of the 1970s would allow browsing without worrying about the elements. Gone were the days of downtown exploration, as we moved into climate-controlled malls. It was a novel idea–all of the stores under one roof. The new place to hang out and spend money was The Berkshire Mall. My mom always called it, “the mull.” We all tried to correct her, but it never worked. It is just one of the many momisms that we lovingly remember. The mall had three department stores as anchors; John Wanamaker’s, Lit Brothers and Sears. What I enjoyed most about the mall was the little specialty stores like Piercing Pagoda, and Wrangler Wroost, a jeans store with an old Coca-Cola vending machine. The sodas were five or ten cents–much cheaper than anywhere else. For years, the Berkshire Mall was the center of shopping in Reading. It’s still there apparently, but suffering the same fate of our malls here in Columbus.
As a youngster, my mom and I flew to Columbus to visit relatives. While Reading had the Berkshire Mall, Columbus had FOUR malls, one for each quadrant of the city. I think I saw Northland first and was taken by the “fountain” that had blue liquid sliding down ropes. I must have really liked the fountain, because I took too many bad photos of it. Of course Lazarus was in the mall, but we also visited the large Lazarus store downtown. It was a real treat.
In-person shopping was a big part of my life. It was a necessity and a hobby. Places like The French Market at the Continent and The City Center in Columbus were destinations to enjoy and take guests from out of town. Craft and antique shops became some of my favorites.
After my daughter was born, shopping for fun became less frequent. My time was spent with the family, and eventually, her activities became our activities. I admit I didn’t miss fighting lines and crowds, especially at the holidays when people seemed more rude than ever!
As I said before, my feelings about the state of shopping are mixed. Yes, I do use the internet, just not to buy wood trim. I take advantage of the ease and convenience of online shopping. But, I’m not ready to give up in-person shopping. I like picking out my own groceries, feeling the fabric of a shirt, seeing vintage and artisan pieces up close. I think there is an implicit sense of community when shopping in person. In an antique store or boutique, I have something in common with all of the other patrons there.
For many, however, shopping online is vital. People who cannot get out to shop now have a great resource. But, I worry that shopping from home adds new problems for buyers. I’m concerned about increased isolation for some people. Not to mention, the amount of packaging and trash created when having goods delivered can become a burden, especially for older folks.
In the end, it’s a good thing to have so many shopping choices. We can personalize our experience however we like if we just stop once in a while and consider the pros and cons of our options.