Hungry for Change

There’s a mall in ###### that is currently anchored by J.C. Penney’s, Best Buy, Sears, Macy’s, and as of 2013, Bon-Ton. What the hell is a Bon-Ton, anyway? Sounds like something you order off a Thai food menu. Well, it’s not important. The Macy’s on the mall’s northwest wing is.

Macy’s popularity, much like there stock, has been falling in recent years. This doesn’t much separate them from any other major department store retailer, virtually all of who are hemorrhaging profit thanks to online businesses like Amazon. But Macy’s has a plan: bring back department store restaurants.

“Restaurants inside of large retailers – especially their flagships – is nothing new. It’s a practice that was prominent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” says retail expert Warren Shoulberg in The Robin Report.

It’s actually not a tactic so far dated. Before 1996, the Macy’s at The ##### Mall was a Jordan Marsh. Founded in Boston in 1861 by Eben Dyer Jordan and Benjamin L. Marsh, Jordan Marsh was arguably the first department store in the United States – there’s some gray area here. The concept of the department store then, however, differed from its current antiquated notion. After the Industrial Revolution, consumers sought out shopping districts, often located in central urban environments, to acquire both daily and seasonal purchases. As forerunners for what would later become the shopping mall, department stores like Jordan Marsh would expand to take over whole city blocks accommodating all the needs of shoppers in one store; this was particularly beneficial in colder climates where outdoor traversing could be a shopping hindrance.

Shopping districts and lifestyle centers remained fairly commonplace until the 60s/70s when the shopping mall overtook them as the de rigeur consumer destination. Department stores like Jordan Marsh, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Nordstrom’s found continued success by “anchoring” regional shopping malls. In other words, they acted as the feature destination for shopping needs in suburban epicenters and attracted customers to the smaller specialty shops that comprised the majority of the mall.

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Note the distinct awnings that were omnipresent at all northeast Jordan Marsh’s in the 80s. (Credit: Michael Lisicky).

What does this have to do with anything? Retrobacktive exists for posterity. It’s not supposed to be one curmudgeon’s mournful report of an allegedly superior decade. Rather it’s a fond reexamination of personal history. This cathartic nostalgia is in old movies and yearbooks and recipes and letters and all the other tidbits we hang on to through the years. And sometimes you hear a story on the radio about Macy’s attempt to revitalize its market share by bringing back restaurants and you remember the hidden bakery cloistered on the second floor of Jordan Marsh, just behind the cookware. And then you remember adjacent to the bakery an entire restaurant brimming with tacky pastel walls and tasteless teal upholstery. It’s one of those places in memory that probably wouldn’t top anyone’s “must-try” list, but for some reason at one time it held great allure. Why? There’s the mystery component: who ate there? Did anyone I know ever eat there? What kind of food would they serve at Jordan Marsh? Then there’s the closed window: no matter how much curiosity drives you, you’ll never be able to go back and experience it in the present moment.

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The famous Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin. C’mon, who wouldn’t want to shop with pastry?

It’s the latter in particular that drives Retrobacktive. Once something is gone, it’s gone for good. For many, this is a non-issue; there is only the future, and the past is best left in the past. That’s fine. There’s a lot to be said for moving forward. But a lot of horrible things have happened throughout history thanks to unchecked progression. Corruption comes from every direction. So it may not hurt to keep a few cultural watchdogs around to blog about ninja movies, and GI Joe, and restaurants in defunct department stores.

Okay, so Retrobacktive is probably more toy-dog then watchdog. Well, what do you want? No one is getting paid around here to do this!

 

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