Once upon a time, in an economy much better than the one we have today, going out of business sales were a gleeful event for me. I would cheerfully scavenge through the picked over aisles looking for hidden treasures and incredible “steals”. I do my Christmas shopping all year long, so many of my finds were put carefully away to be lovingly wrapped in December. Oh, how thrilled I was to be able to provide gorgeous gifts at a discounted price. Of course this was back in the days when it seemed that most going out of business sales meant either the shop had been mismanaged or the owners were retiring. Most of the ones I shopped were due to the latter reason and so there was joy all around. They were happy to unload the unwanted merchandise, I was happy to snap it up at bargain price.
Then Amazon happened. I want to state at the outset that I am one of the reasons Amazon happened. I own multiple Kindles, and I purchase hardback and paperback books from them on a regular basis. But I was still mostly shopping at my brick and mortar stores. I guess I noticed the dwindling business, but I never really followed the dots and saw it as a sign of the end.
It was though. It began with the pretentious little shops like Canterbury Tales. Manned by snooty staff and filled with only classics and “literary” works, I did not mourn its demise. Others like it also quietly closed their doors. I still wasn’t worried. I had wondered who shopped there anyway when there were no rewards cards, the clerks looked down on you, and you could buy the books less expensively elsewhere.
I felt the pain when my local Waldenbooks closed. It was my favorite place to shop for books. I knew the staff by name, they knew my children and I by name. They recognized my voice when I called. It was there that I celebrated the midnight release of the seventh Harry Potter. There that I reserved my copies of books like Breaking Dawn and A Clash of Kings. This was a deeply personal loss and I had to watch as friends struggled to find new jobs in an economy that was turning bleaker by the day. I reluctantly shifted my business to the big Borders store in town.
My relationship with them barely lasted two years. It was at this point that the true financial troubles of the company became known. Half of the stores would be closing. There was no glee as I shopped their shelves for deals, just a sort of grim sorrow that seemed to pervade all the customers in there with me. We couldn’t believe this was happening. And it wasn’t just the Borders; up and down the street all sorts of stores and restaurants were locking their doors for the final time.
At this point I still had one place left to use my preferred customer discount card. On the far side of town there was one Borders left. It was a bit run down, perpetually understaffed and a long drive. I would go out there every once in a while but I just couldn’t make that long trip very often. Then of course came the final blow. There are no more Borders, no more places to take my discount card.
It hits me hard right now because so many of the places where I picked up stocking stuffers and little giftables no longer exist. It is hard to be sneaky about Christmas shopping when the UPS guy arrives after my children are already home. They get giant grins on their faces when I take the package to my room unopened. They know that if that had been a book for me or something for dad it would have been opened right then and there.
And I miss my friends and hope they are well. No, we didn’t call each other and get together, but a book buying (or knick knack buying) trip always took longer because the person behind the counter and I knew each other. I always spent a good twenty minutes chattering away with whoever was in the store, talking books or generalities about our lives. You can’t do that at Target, no matter how friendly the cashier is. There’s always a line, the staff is always changing.
This hasn’t destroyed the holiday. I am still baking and decorating and listening to carols and celebrating the true meaning behind this most magical of seasons. I have begun my sugar cookie feasting (the entire month of December is one big sugar high) and of course have been chugging the hot cocoa. I am happy to have family and friends around me to remind me that the real glitter isn’t in the tinsel or lights but in the fellowship of the ones I love.
But shopping this Christmas marks the start of a very different type of gift buying season. How about for you? Are your old haunts still there? Has anything about the economy changed the way you do Christmas? And do you buy books or gift cards at all during the season? [If gift cards, feel free to send some my way! ]
– Maggie Boyd