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Holidays are a mall world after all

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The shopping isn't so bad, but it was more fun in downtown Shelbyville.

By Steve Doyle

The man was telling me about his recent afternoon of Christmas shopping. He bemoaned the parking lot at a mall, saying he had to drive around 20 minutes just to find a place and hike a long way in the frozen wind to get inside the mall. There he found the muddled masses, which brings this question: Is the very word “mall” an adaptation of “masses all?”

He was frustrated and indignant. “I hate dealing with all of that,” he said. Or perhaps words more colorful and to the point.

Welcome to Christmas season, when the rush is part of the rush.

Call me the Anti-Grinch, but I love every expletive-inducing second of it. Give me a list, a few dollars and some time, and I can Christmas shop ‘til I drop.

Search for a gift, perfect color or size? No worries. Stand in line behind a dozen grumpy grouches, bring it on. Deal with the ditziness or the serendipity. Let’s go. In fact, I believe that the spirit of the season escorts me to a level of patience seldom seen in the other 49 or 50 weeks of the year.

I get what most people despise about the retail rumble. I understand why Cyber Monday is more colorful than Black Friday. I know time and distance don’t always equal effort – or the perfect gift or extension of appropriate spirit.

But I do very little holiday shopping these days (thanks, Hon!), and I feel I’ve lost a step in all of this. Perhaps everyone is losing a bit of the spirit in his or her haste.

First, a bit of history: My holiday shopping experiences go back to when “Shop Local” was a plan and not a plea. Main Street in Shelbyville offered just about anything you could want to buy – clothes for all genders and sizes at a variety of spots. There were toys, sports equipment, cosmetics and even fine jewelry from multiple options.

In the days before people gave gift cards as their easy out, browsing crowded aisles at Newberry’s or Lermans & Lincolns or Briggs Hower or Maidies were part of the ritual for the perfect Christmas. You shopped downtown, bought your groceries downtown and even paid to park downtown. There were no retail associations or marketing groups or – most notably – the need to go elsewhere. We were served well and largely by someone we knew.

If you wanted to do something more exotic for your holiday pursuits, you took the trip to downtown Louisville and walked the length of 4th Street, with a stop at Kaufmann’s Department Store or maybe pick up a box of Muth’s candy.

And then one day all of that changed, although that wasn’t so simple and elemental as flipping a light switch. The darkness didn’t consume the light for a while.

I was in elementary school when a developer whose name I never knew threw up this massive building on the southwest corner of U.S. 60 and Watterson Expressway and introduced all of us to the phenomenon of covered shopping in multiple stores with handy parking and no meters.

The world changed as surely as when bread became sliced, pictures moved and television took on color.

Please understand that the hangout you know as Mall St. Matthews was about half the size it is today, extending from roughly the Cheesecake Factory to the movie theater. One rectangle and one floor, not nearly so wide. Progeny of that concept came a few years later, when Oxmoor Center was built a half-mile away, with those malls cast as the Adam and the Eve of shopping’s Eden. There followed Greentree Mall and Bashford Manor and all manner of options.

Now, I’ve visited my share of malls, from vertical Valhallas in New York and Chicago to oblong oddfellows in California to the theme park of them all, Mall of America in Minneapolis.

Sometimes those visits came at the height of the holiday season, when rudeness tends to pop out like acne on a teenager and greed and gripe become the hallmarks of the season – and we don’t mean greeting cards.

Those environments didn’t bother me, but I much preferred the days of downtown Shelbyville.

That’s where, with the assistance of my aunt Elizabeth, I would choose just the right earrings for my mother from the display case at Lawsons. And with the counsel of Mom, I would get the right aftershave for Dad at Begleys or Smith-McKenney. I found many diamonds, and each of them was in the rough of small-market obscurity.

I must admit that when I reached driving age, the lure of the malls became too much for me, too. I could find LPs and more exotic clothing to give as gifts. Items could be made beautiful by professional wrapping. Labels that emerged as trendy were easier to find.

Andriot’s Men’s Wear continued to be where I shopped for me, but there was an entirely new and heralded horizon for everyone else.

Yes, it was the mall that brought all that madness my friend was decrying. The mall made us feel small. The mall was a magnet that wouldn’t let go.

But I’m not letting go either. Any shopping I have left to do this season, I’ll not be taking that to the mall. Not because I don’t like it, but because I can accomplish anything I want and feel the full spirit of the season without having to play mall ball.