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Observations from the Retail Wars: Uppers are Shopping; the Middle is Screwed

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SouthPasadenaDem Donating Member (171 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 01:26 AM
Original message
Observations from the Retail Wars: Uppers are Shopping; the Middle is Screwed
So, this afternoon, I'm covering the phones for the last half hour at our receptionist's desk since she leaves at 5:00 on Thursday to attend class.

My boss calls in, having left in the middle of the afternoon to shop for his kids' presents. He's just been at "The Grove," the newest and trendiest Mall in Los Angeles. For those of you who are not familiar with Los Angeles, The Grove is on Fairfax, just north of the old Farmer's Market, situated within the City of Los Angeles, but within walking distance of the Beverly Hills and West Hollywood city limits borders. In other words, its a very upscale mall, in a very upscale Westside neighborhood, within spitting distance of two municipalities where only people with the big money can possibly afford to live. It's what the real estate ads refer to as "Beverly Hills-Adjacent", if you get my drift.

Jeff has been at The Grove because The Grove contains the only American Girl store in Los Angeles County. His six-year-old has requested an American Girl doll for Chanukah, and Chanukah begins tomorrow. Now, for those of you not in the know (as was I until Jeff clued me in), American Girl dolls are quite expensive. An American Girl doll retails for anywhere from $140 to in excess of $200 apiece. That's not counting the couture, the accessories, et cetera, et al. There's even an in-store hair salon where you can have your American Girl's hair styled. (The doll hair, that is, not your child's).

Jeff has just escaped the American Girl store, just barely with his life, as American Girl is MOBBED like nothing he's ever seen before in his life. And mind you, this is in Los Angeles, the world capitol of shopping-as-a-lifestyle, consumerism-as-an-avocation.

But hey, it's a week and counting til Christmas, right? The height of the holiday shopping season.

Fast forward two hours and twenty miles East to Mervyn's Department Store in Alhambra, California. Alhambra is solidly middle class, largely Latino and Asian, full of small 1930's and 1940's single-family stuccco homes and a decent little Main Street. (it's even called "Main Street"). I am in Mervyn's Department Store because I have an event to go to tommorow night and I really need a new pair of black dress pants for the event. I have avoided shopping since before Thanksgiving, the event is tomorrow, and I cannot put this off any longer.

Mervyn's is the only department store in Alhambra. Sure, Alhambra has a Target and a Kohl's, but Mervyn's is more of a real department store, not a discount store like Target, or Kohl's, or K-Mart, or Wal-Mart. More of a Macy's-type atmosphere. You can find name-brand, middle-class clothing items there, like Dockers pants and Van Heusen shirts in the mens' deparment. No "fine china" department, but an extensive linens and housewares department. There's a cashier's station in each department, not a row of cashiers at the door. Mervyn's is a divsion of the Dayton-Hudson Corporation, owners of Target and Hudson's Department Stores, but higher-quality goods than a Target. In other words, solidly middle-class merchandise, in a solidly middle-class neighborhood. You get the picture.

Now, here I am, dreading going shopping on a Thursday evening, in the middle of the Christmas shopping rush, even more so upon arriving at Mervyn's upon discovering the banners in the front windows proclaiming Biggest Sale of the Year!. Now I know it's going to be miserable, because when Mervyn's has a sale, it's a really good sale. I've been in this particular Mervyn's when they're having a "Super Sale" and it's a mob scene. Their sales are usually half-off regular prices on most items. This sale, I observe, is 40% off some items, 50% off most items, and even 60% off on others. The kind of sale you never see until afterChristmas. The're always short on sales clerks and, during such a sale, the wait in line to pay is often a good half-hour. And I'm braced for the worst.

But not tonight.

The store is not mobbed.

At 7:00 til 8:30 p.m., right after work, a week-and-a-half before Christmas, with a FABULOUS sale going on, at solidly middle-class Mervyn's in solidly middle class Alhambra, the store is poplated by the sales clerks, a handful of other shoppers, and me.

In short, Mervyn's is EMPTY.

Folks, if what I just saw at Mervyn's is happening all over the country, the middle class in this country is in real trouble.


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Newsjock Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 01:32 AM
Response to Original message
1. So sad
But one small correction to your narrative: Mervyns is independently owned now, and is no longer part of Target:

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/a...
In the two years after a group of private investors took over Mervyns, dozens of its stores fell off the map and thousands of its workers lost their jobs.
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Mythsaje Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 01:37 AM
Response to Original message
2. Take my word for it...they're at Target...
It's more convenient to shop there...you can pick up everything you need in one place. Toys, clothes, housewares, etc.

I picked up a holiday job at our local Target, and it is SWAMPED.
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nadinbrzezinski Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 01:50 AM
Response to Original message
3. That was my experience
at both a Wally Mart and a target but a week ago

I had no choice for teh wally mart... I needed to pick up some yarn for my mom and I cannot find that color anywhere else. (I guess that is the second time in 36 months I have even gone into a wally mart)
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Sherman A1 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 04:10 AM
Response to Original message
4. Yes, they are at Target and similar stores
Shopping trends are away from malls in general. Yes, the upscale ones are doing okay, but even they have some gapping holes in their store front mixes. The prettied up strip center is THE thing now. The good part for those that still shop at the department stores (also not the consolidation in that industry over the last few years) is that you really can get some good deals on some pretty good products. I shopped at a Dillards nearby before it closed and picked up some great work jackets on clearance for $20.00 on more than one occasion. Could also find shirts and some slacks for very reasonable prices. Better stuff than I could find at Target, Kmart, etc and cheaper. You just have to go and look.
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SouthPasadenaDem Donating Member (171 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 09:39 AM
Response to Reply #4
8. Just to clarify:
This Mervyn's is not in a mall. Its a stand-alone store in the middle of what I call a "revitalized Main Street" - an older, first-ring suburb that's decided to clean up and refurbish its downtown commercial drag and attract new businesses. They're all the rage in Southern California. With the exception of The Grove in the Los Angeles Fairfax district, I can't think of any new malls that have been developed in the Los Angeles area since the mid-1980's. Everyone seems to have rediscovered the nice older buildings and the vibrant streetlife that results from refurbishing a downtown.

Revitalized main streets have been popping up all over here in SoCal in the last 10 years. The're based on the success of Old Town Pasadena and Santa Monica's Third Street shopping center. In fact, in Pasadena, they even tore the roof off the old, enclosed mall, and redeveloped it by adding a cineplex and luxury apartments/condos overlooking it in order to recreate the "open-air" shopping experience in order to compete with Old Town, only a block or two away.

Alhambra's Main Street, while not as upscale as Pasadena's Old Town or Santa Monica's Third Street (both of which have been almost entirely taken over by Crate-and-Barrel-Pottery-Barn-The-Gap-Victoria's-Secret-Starbucks as the rents have risen with foot traffic) does have a new cineplex-Applebees-Johnny-Rocket's right across the street, and did not seem to be suffering or lacking for foot traffic last night. I passed several restaurants and bar/nightclub-type operations on my way to the bus stop, and they seemed to have customers at 8:30 or 9:00 and, moreover, it seemed to be the expected numbers of people for a Thursday evening late-dinner-crowd, usually a popular night for dining out.

Anyway, those are just my observations. Take it for what you will.

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bleedingheart Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 10:03 AM
Response to Reply #4
12. outdoor walking malls are very popular now...I remember
being in California about 14 years ago and finding them quite interesting and some 10 years later...Pittsburgh has started to see more of these "outdoor malls"...

Just like the merchandise...when the storefront or the shopping experience becomes "old"...people move on to the next bright and shiny thing..
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mitchleary Donating Member (271 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 07:04 AM
Response to Original message
5. And isn't that
American Girl stuff made in China? Nice profit margin i reckon.
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bleedingheart Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 10:06 AM
Response to Reply #5
15. what toy isn't made in China?
hell even most of the classics are made overseas now...

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BlackVelvet04 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 07:11 AM
Response to Original message
6. My mom and I went shopping
yesterday as I need a new outfit to wear to my niece's wedding (Dec. 23) and I have nothing but a closet full of jeans, blouses and jackets.

Anyway....we went to Burlington and I was surprised at how NOT busy it was.

PS I miss Mervyn's. I shopped there a lot when I lived in Tucson. No Mervyn's on the east coast.

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bleedingheart Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 10:02 AM
Response to Reply #6
11. I also think some stores fall out of fashion...
I remember when Burlington was all the rage. I never went there and all my friends told me..."oh you gotta go"...so I go, I buy my husband a jacket and it doesn't fit, so I try to return it and find that they won't allow returns...you get a voucher and if you don't use the voucher/credit within one year..you lose it. I was so pissed about that I never shop there any more.
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BlackVelvet04 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 10:57 PM
Response to Reply #11
27. Just FYI....
they now do returns with credit card credit or cash refund.
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NC_Nurse Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 07:21 AM
Response to Original message
7. I find it sad too.
The old style department stores are really hurting now. Even though I have found some GREAT deals there
since the big box stores started taking over, I know it's because they are losing business.
People seem to not care about quality anymore. It's such a throw away culture. I guess they don't want to pay
more for things that will last. What a shame. :(
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bleedingheart Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 09:53 AM
Response to Original message
9. Scarcity is the issue here as well...
American Girl Stores are rare there are three in the entire country that I am aware of...

Chicago
Los Angeles
New York

and the only other way to buy them is on line and to be honest even if I lived near one...I don't know that I would venture there often...they are always mad houses ...they are not only stores but they are tourist spots. I was in the one in Chicago in August (visiting my family)...and it was pandemonium on a non-holiday...I can't imagine how whacky christmas season is..

The doll itself is $87 but if you buy some accessories of course it gets more expensive but if they are more money in LA that is really awful and a sign of how regionally prices are jacked up...

Hell my nephew wanted a lego that on the lego site sells for 9.99...but they are out. So I looked at some other toy sites...and those sites are selling the $9 lego for $39.99....talk about mark up..

As for toys...a lot of middle class people buy American Girl, Nintendo, and all the other stuff...however like all trends...if what you want is the hot item...it makes for utter madness....It makes me nauseous that Nintendo games are like $40 a piece...for one game..maybe I am getting too old or something...

I was at Best Buy and it was a madhouse last week and I have to say that they have the WORST customer service in the world.

I also have to say I shop a lot less than I used to. I don't go gonzo on holidays anymore and I pared down my list...I just got sick of the mania associated with it.

Now my little gal has an American Girl doll...but the Grandma's, and Aunts/Uncles are the ones outfitting it...and I even did something I thought I would never do...I made out a registry for my kid at the web site and to make it easier on the relatives I mailed them the registry so they could pick what they wanted to get her for christmas...and there are books on that registry as well as doo dahs...my relatives have thanked me for making it a lot easier for them to "click" and buy..
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kiahzero Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 10:10 AM
Response to Reply #9
17. Video game consoles have come down in price over the years
The original NES, in 1985, cost $200. The Wii, on the other hand, costs $250. But because of inflation, $200 in 1985 would be equivalent to $350 today. I can't find historical price data on the games, but I suspect the same is true.
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MissB Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 09:54 AM
Response to Original message
10. Mervyn's is going out of business in some places.
Our Mervyn's have been empty for years. Their heyday seems to have come and gone at least 5 years ago.

Still, your basic premise is quite true.
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RebelOne Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 10:29 AM
Response to Reply #10
22. The Mervyn's in my area in Kennesaw, GA
has been shut down for many years now.
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OPERATIONMINDCRIME Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 10:03 AM
Response to Original message
13. In Jersey, Every Middle Class Mall Or Big Store I've Been To Is Doing Perfectly Fine.
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bleedingheart Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 10:05 AM
Response to Reply #13
14. Here in Pittsburgh every parking lot is full and god help you
if you have to do your shopping on the weekends...then you are truly screwed....

My husband and I were at the mall about 3 weeks ago and it was getting nutsy then...
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OPERATIONMINDCRIME Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 10:11 AM
Response to Reply #14
19. Yup. That's Why I Think The OP's Mall Is Probably Not A Popular One To Begin With.
Kinda like if I used a mall not far away from me called 'Ledgewood Mall', that is regularly like a ghost town.

Overall, I'm sure the majority of middle class malls are as packed as would be expected.
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bleedingheart Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 10:20 AM
Response to Reply #19
21. I do a lot more online shopping as a result of the goofiness
last night I was looking for gifts for the nephews and nieces and found everything and didn't have to even take off my fuzzy slippers.

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Rosemary2205 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 10:08 AM
Response to Original message
16. The Macy's in my blue collar town is always packed.
And Kohls is discount? Wow. You can't prove that by me. I think they are WAY overpriced.
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brentspeak Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 10:11 AM
Response to Original message
18. It should also be pointed out that Cerebus Capital Management bought Mervyns from Target
The same Cerebus Capital Management that employs brainiac Dan Quayle and has John Snow(job) as its chairman. Once Cerebus took over from Target, they shuttered a ton of Mervyns retail outlets in Michigan and elsewhere.
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lectrobyte Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 10:14 AM
Response to Original message
20. From what I can see here in Raleigh NC, it seems busier than last
year.
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Mike Daniels Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 11:17 AM
Response to Original message
23. The two primary malls in Northern Virginia (Tysons and Pentagon City)
Have been pretty busy this past month. I'm not seeing any significant shopping slow down in the DC area.
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Virginia Dare Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 01:43 PM
Response to Reply #23
26. D.C. still one of the few prosperous areas in the country...n/t
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HuffleClaw Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 12:47 PM
Response to Original message
24. i've been out to our local 'big mall' a few times lately
with my brother and we both commmented that it didn't seem nearly as crowded as in previous years.
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noonwitch Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Dec-15-06 01:28 PM
Response to Original message
25. Big Lots and Meijer were pretty busy with the middle class last night
I bought a bunch of cheap Barbie stuff for my neices at Big Lots last night.
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