Monthly Archives: May 2020

Ghost Town.

“This town becoming like a ghost town. All the shops have been closed down”. Never a truer word spoken. Admittedly The Specials were singing about the urban decay of late 1970’s Coventry, but they could well have been singing about just about every town in the world right now.

My town is no different from most, and the effects of the shutdown are very apparent. Being the second largest town in the county, as well as the most accessible, we have more than our share of retail outlets, including a mall. Usually, it’s a fairly busy place, not least because of the presence of a branch of a well known big box store. The Mall in particular has taken a very heavy hit, one which may well be fatal.

Over the past few years, the mall has been in a slow, steady decline. About five years ago, all the units were occupied, the anchor stores were doing well and parking, particularly around the holidays, could be a challenge. I know that some of this decline is the result of online shopping, but even so, since that time, the mall has declined substantially. I was in J.C. Penney a couple of winters ago to buy some gloves and it was a truly depressing experience: there were more staff than customers present, and there were precious few staff. It comes as no surprise to me that they’ve just filed for bankruptcy. Likewise the death of Kohl’s and Pier One will have shocked no one. I’m also concerned that a lot of Mom and Pop businesses will simply never reopen, with the loss of character and diversity that makes many small towns enjoyable places to live and shop.

I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few fine dining establishments remain shuttered, as their fare is less suited to delivery than say, pizza, which is also a darn sight cheaper.

The malls’ death by inches has affected other stores as well. The road that runs around the edge of the mall used to have several well patronised stores, but the only ones left are the discount furniture store and the liquor store. No big surprise there.

Having said all this, the lockdown may well be a fatal blow to many businesses that were just about surviving. No one is buying anything other than food and essential household products, so even on a Saturday there is very little traffic through town. It makes me wonder just how many (how few?) stores will return once things return to what will count as normal. Are we, in fact, seeing the death spasms of bricks and mortar retail? Maybe. I will admit that apart from food, I do most of my shopping online. Books, video games, etc. are much more easily found via a screen than roaming a store. I do appreciate the convenience that online shopping provides and have to square the circle of knowing just how shittily warehouse pickers are treated. Not to mention any names, of course, lest I be sued by a certain third rate Bond villain lookalike.

I wonder, also, just what will happen to the civic life of towns after the pandemic is over. I remember reading Jane Jacobs’  “Death and Life of Great American Cities” and her belief that for a city to be vibrant it needed retail, entertainment, etc. to be spread out in order to encourage travel to different areas and maintain a level of social interaction. I realise that we drive to most places nowadays, but what of the coffee shops, etc. that depend on passing trade, the shoppers who stop off for a latte on their way to or from the store, the pizza parlours likewise? I realise malls act as hubs, rather than rims, but even so, the mall may be just one stop during the day, even though it allegedly offers all things to all people.

It really is creepy to drive past, or through empty parking lots on a Saturday. It’s almost like a scene from the first or second episode of a post apocalyptic mini series, but at least they have a limited run, while our current situation seems to be well on the way to a second season. I will admit that I’m thoroughly sick of the whole situation and just want to go back to normal. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that even now,  I see lots of people not wearing gloves or masks, WHICH ISN’T HELPING, PEOPLE! On occasion I have to go to my local Target as it’s convenient, more than anything else. I’ve seen whole families, no one taking precautions, wandering around the store, giving people in masks funny looks as if taking steps to avoid a deadly disease is weird.

I despair of people sometimes. Well, more than sometimes, if I’m being honest, and I don’t want to go off on a rant about political affiliation and belief in science, so I’ll leave it there. I just don’t see how the retail industry bounces back from this one, I really don’t. I don’t have any solutions, or snappy sign off, but I think that we are going to have to rethink how retail operates and I’m not confident that those stores that survive will necessarily be the ones that add colour and vibrancy to our lives.

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Filed under retail, shopping, Urbanism

The Green, Green Grass Of Home

I dislike gardening with a passion, I really, really do. When I was a kid, if I showed even a hint of boredom, my Dad would say “If you’ve got nothing better to do, you can come and help me in the garden”.  This would inevitably lead to several hours of torment and frustration, so naturally I would find something else to do at every opportunity, regardless of my interest, just to avoid spending my afternoon edging, pulling weeds or mowing.

This wasn’t so bad once I became a homeowner, but I never learned to truly love gardening. Thankfully, once I became a renter again, my only obligation was a daily watering of the lawn at one particular house.

New readers start here. My sweetheart’s home has no front garden and just a postage stamp of a back yard, most of which is taken up by a concrete patio. The edges were fringed with grass by the builder, so there was very little to manage, and all I needed was a string edger / trimmer to cut down the more unruly patches. You see, the garden is overlooked by several trees on the property behind us, leading to a very patchy distribution of sunlight. We didn’t really do much to help the situation by purchasing an offset umbrella, but it made the evenings much more pleasant. Add to this the typical winter of the PNW, and by the start of 2020 the lawn was in effect nothing more than an area of muddy dirt containing occasional patches of moss.

Obviously, we couldn’t leave the garden in such a condition, so after rejecting pea gravel and bark as options due to the fact that the dog does her business in the garden, we settled on artificial turf. This wasn’t ideal as far as I was concerned, but it made sense, offered the advantage of being maintenance free and at least would bring some green into the garden.

Our neighbour has artificial turf, and seeing as two of her three dogs are Dobermans, we agreed that it could handle our 20 pound mutt and her “output”. We asked her for the details of the company that installed her lawn and a few days later, two guys came out, took a look and gave us what was, actually, a pretty decent price estimate. We signed the deal and a few days later the owner and his employee arrived and laid the layer of gravel that would act as a base for the turf.

You know where this is going, don’t you? Yes, the lockdown put a kybosh on them finishing the job, so we endured, if that is the right word, a few weeks of staring at packed gravel while our dog did her best under the circumstances, pretty much confining her activities to the strip of dirt close to the rear fence containing our shrubs.

Recent changes meant that construction work was allowed to resume, so our contractor contacted us and asked if we’d like him to finish the job. Of course, we agreed eagerly, and about a week ago he undertook what I can only describe as an exercise in outdoor carpet fitting. I have admit that it looks pretty darn good. While not ideal, it at least does the job it’s supposed to do, and will last for many years. The recent rains mean that I still have to put the furniture and umbrella back in the garden, but I hope that this weekend will provide me with an opportunity.

It’s nice to know that there will be no maintenance issues for many years to come, and it will make it easier for my sweetheart when she undertakes what we euphemistically refer to as “minesweeping” duties.

I do have one question, though: does anyone want to buy a gently used string edger?

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Filed under Home maintenance, lifestyle, Pandemic, Pets