Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Culture: 180 Stores (and Nothing to Buy)

BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON - In 1992, Bruce Springsteen popularized the concept of cable and satellite television as a wasteland with his song "57 Channels (and Nothing On)." Today, in the era of digital television, many people have hundreds of channels and I've certainly found situations in which there was nothing I wanted to watch--not even on PBS, the History Channel, and the Discovery Channel.

Yet, it was actually a new feeling for me to walk into Bellevue Square--certainly a far cry from the shopping center of my youth, now with 180 stores--and discover that there really wasn't anywhere I wanted to shop. The same concept of many niche choices as has occurred in television, when applied to retailing, seems to have the same impact on me--I'm not interested in any of it. It seemed to me as I walked the mall that I was looking at the same clothing retailers and the same phone stores over and over again.

Bellevue Square really doesn't deserve to be singled out for criticism, as it is no worse in this regard than any other major mall. In Toronto, an astonishing percentage of my holiday gift shopping has occurred at only two chains--Roots and Laura Secord--with the rest of the local malls being ignored. Throw in a Sears Canada and I probably could have avoided the rest of the malls.

Furthermore, it's not like I didn't do any browsing at Bellevue Square. I enjoyed looking at some establishments including the Lego store, Eddie Bauer, and even the big department stores I don't normally get to visit like J.C. Penny and Macy's. Yet, it was striking to me that there was no general book store, a role once fulfilled at B. Dalton in this mall, and no generic toy store, a role once fulfilled by Kay-Bee Toys.

In the end, while I did purchase some gifts this day in downtown Bellevue, I didn't make a single purchase at Bellevue Square. 180 stores and I found nothing to buy--no wonder people turn to the Internet for their shopping, and increasingly their television viewing.

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