My children are millennials and grew up with Amazon. Now that they’re grown and have money of their own, packages hit my doorstep two or three times a week. (My daughter lives with me.) When my son used my home as his shipping address it was much more often. Individual packages, separate days.
During the pandemic shutdown, this way of living became more than habit. Some things couldn’t even be found in the real world, only by clicking on a screen. So everyone became even more used to finding everything online.
I understand the appeal, believe me. Hear about a book, or a movie, or a new gadget, go online, there it is. The next day it’s on your porch.
Now that we can venture back out, though, I have a simple, radical suggestion. Let’s go back to stores. The model we’re living in now, where there seems to be an Amazon or UPS truck on every block, means a great many deliveries are using up a lot of the world’s resources. This is great for Amazon (Jeff Bezos is burning up our money going to the edge of space) and gives employment to local drivers — and to a great many underpaid, overworked warehouse workers with little to no benefits, most of them in other states.
The business model of stores, though, is that many fewer big trucks deliver a great many more items to one location, and we go and buy them. This provides employment to local clerks, cashiers, assistants, managers, and drivers who live here, work here, and spend their money here.
Plus there’s the other communal aspect of shopping. For several years my father and brother and I, often with a teenager who had good taste along, would spend a day in late November or early December shopping, either at the outlet malls south of San Marcos or later, after Dad got less mobile, at the giant Barnes & Noble at La Cantera. This was totally contrary to my nature. I am not a browser or shopper. I’m like the Jack Nicholson character in “As Good as It Gets,” standing in the doorway of a men’s clothing shop pointing and saying, “I’ll take that blazer. And that tie.”
But when I finally devoted a day to it, I understood. I got shopping. Going from store to store, running through family and friends in my head wondering who would like what. Even being with another family member, seeing him or her picking up something and smiling at it and making a mental note myself to come back and get it. Looking at something, feeling it in my hands, picturing it in someone else’s hands, thinking nah, then coming back for it two hours later.
Taking a break for lunch and comparing our days so far. (Lunch is great during a shopping day. It’s a reward you give yourself halfway through the quest.) And I thought, I finally get shopping. It’s a mini-vacation. It’s spending the day in Shopping World, which is tangential to everyday world but completely removed. In Shopping World everything is possible, everyone’s happiness is right in front of you. And the bills don’t come due until next month.
In Shopping World you also get the experience of seeing other people happy, other people picturing happy people in their lives. Maybe even having someone look at something, notice you paying attention, holding up an item they’re considering, and you nod and smile. A great moment between strangers.
There are other benefits and comforts of in-person shopping. A store like Tuesday Morning may not be as well-stocked as some larger department stores, but it’s stocked differently. Because they get their merchandise from multiple sources, it’s a slightly different store every week. Then there’s service. In a local bookstore like The Twig or Nowhere Bookstore not only are the employees eager to find the right books for you, it’s very likely you’ll have an ongoing personal relationship with some of them.
When I walk into my neighborhood hardware store, Schnabel’s (which sells toys this time of year), someone immediately asks me what I’m looking for, then takes me to it. Or lets me browse if that’s what I prefer. The first time I went into the store after buying my house in this neighborhood, someone turned around in front of the cash register and greeted me by name. She turned out to be the mother of a high school classmate of mine. So almost as soon as I became a neighbor here, I learned I knew other neighbors. By going out shopping.
We all know little shops (and cafes and restaurants for that mid-spree reward) we love not just because of what they have for sale but because of our memories of them, that stock them with people, some long-gone. But alive in familiar places.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get back to that world and that life? It’s not far away. Just leave the house.