Thursday, June 11, 2009

My world has Big Boxes in it

I went down to Riverdale Crossing at the junction of Route 23 and I-287 the other day to do a little shopping. It's been open for a little over three years, a cheaply constructed two story monument to Bubble Capitalism with an access road that must've been designed by a civil engineering student on acid. God help you if you get stuck behind a truck trying to exit onto 23. The tenants are Borders, Sports Authority, Pier One, and Chili's. Oh Lord we like our boxes big. There used to be a Linen-n-Things here too -- in fact the sign is still up -- but, of course, they went out of business late last year. Easy come, easy go.

First I went into the Sports Authority to look for a pair of cycling shorts. There was one other customer in the 40,000 square foot space and she was buying socks. Two employees visible, both friendly, both multitasking. It's not easy to clip hangers of lycra running tops onto the proper racks while answering the phone and ringing up a sale. I'll bet the suits back in the home office weren't working as hard. I found the shorts, paid for them, and left. I didn't have the heart to make a full circuit of the selling floor. Didn't want to disturb the dust.

The Borders next door is 22,000 square feet broken into four zones of pure retail boredom -- books, music, video, and stationery. There were four or five customers browsing in the book zone, and another half dozen lounging around the Seattle's Best coffee bar. And I do mean
lounging. The coffee is clearly an attempt to alleviate the boredom. The shelves were a mess, but it's been that way at most Borders stores for years, even before the staff reductions. Nice to see them maintain their consistency in that regard. I was too bored to be saddened by it all, except for one thing. The people working in these chain stores are real people -- they have passion, and a strong work ethic, and they're smart. Typically, they know a helluva lot more about the business than their bosses. You see them try so hard to run a good operation and it breaks your heart. How can a company -- any company, but especially a retailer whose business it is to serve the public -- treat their employees as children and stay in business?

Quist used to say, "It's the employees on the line that take pride in the business. The guys at the top? They think people are a nuisance because they eat into profits. Gives 'em less cash to play with."

I felt so bad for the staff, I wanted to buy something, but I got tangled up in The Paradox of Choice instead. The more titles I looked at, the less I wanted to buy any of them. All of them appeared equally interesting, or equally boring. And I couldn't tell which was which. It happens a lot these days. By the time I'm done browsing, I'm in a cold sweat because I can't choose any one title over another. Fatigue sets in, followed by boredom. And then I get panicky. I've got to leave the four zones of boredom behind and make a run for it. Before I too find myself lounging in the corner, glassy-eyed, sipping a container of Seattle's Best, lost to the world.

So I ran for it and made it back to the car okay. Waited in line for fifteen minutes to exit the parking lot. Stared at the traffic crawling up the hill. Vowed never to come back again even though I knew I would.
This is the world I live in.

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