What’s the most deserted mall in South Carolina?


The other day I mentioned walking at Dutch Square mall, a place that would hardly be standing any more if not for the movie theater and Burlington Coat Factory.

I can remember when it was new, that one semester I was a student at USC, in the fall of 1971. I never actually visited it then — neither I nor any of my friends had a car (now try to imagine that, boys and girls), so what little shopping I did was limited to Five Points and the Main Street area — but I heard reports that it was really something. And when we moved home to South Carolina in 1987, it was still going strong.

Today, not so much. There’s the two businesses mentioned above, some athletic shoe stores, a fitness emporium, some clothing stores with such names as “Urban Fashion,” a nail salon and some places that deal in gold. And a lot of dead space between some of them.

But it’s hardly alone in that regard. A couple of nights later, we decided to take a walk around Richland Mall, after my wife exchanged something at Belk. Wow. First, some of the mall seems to be inaccessible, at least from the end where we were walking — the occupied part that includes Belk, Barnes & Noble, a LensCrafters and a barber shop. There didn’t seem to be a way to get to the part on the other side of Belk, at least from inside. After a couple of circuits around the part we could get to, we quit walking. It was depressing.

My wife raised a question that hadn’t occurred to me: How do they afford to keep the lights on, and climate control operating? I don’t know. That bill has to be huge, even with parts of the mall closed off.

But for sheer emptiness, I’m not sure even Richland can compete with Inlet Square Mall in Murrells Inlet. That was a fairly hopping place just a few years ago, and now it’s like something that’s begging to be used as a movie set. You ever see Logan’s Run, about an entirely underground society? They could have shot that in Inlet Square, probably with room to spare.

The tipping point for that mall was, near as I can tell, the closing of the K-Mart that anchored one end, followed by the disappearance of Steinmart. The amazing thing is that this mall still has a Belk, and yet seems much more deserted than Dutch Square.

This is our brave new world, with Amazon taking the place of all these public spaces. (I wonder — if I asked Alexa the way to a mall, would she know? Would she tell me?) Over the course of December I made a couple of trips to Columbiana. It’s still thriving — that is to say, it’s still active and busy. But I sense a certain fraying around the edges. Filling the former Sears with the men’s department of Belk was a master stroke of hiding the damage, but how long will it be before this place is largely deserted, too?

Yeah, I know one form of economic activity is being replaced by another that’s just brimming with vitality, but there is something about these deserted spaces that were once so filled with life that gives the impression of a dead or dying civilization. It’s like the Roman Forum after the Visigoths were done with it, or the Acropolis, or some Mayan city overtaken by the jungle. All that infrastructure, so recently vibrant and glittering, left to crumble.

Can anyone think of any other mall in South Carolina that is more deserted than the above, yet still standing and open to the public? If so, I might like to try walking there of a cold evening…

74 thoughts on “What’s the most deserted mall in South Carolina?

  1. bud

    I have never bought anything through Amazon. Nor will I. Amazon is the tip of the spear when it comes to transferring wealth to the corporate plutocrats. We should all support small, local businesses who actually give a damn about the community. Amazon is a blemish on this great nation and should not be supported.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Don’t say that out loud near my new Echo Dot. Alexa might report you.

      Speaking of which, if you want to hear a digital assistant get excited, ask Alexa about any Amazon product. She’ll spout a sudden geyser of information, followed by something like, “Would you like to buy that now?” My wife and I react like Randolph and Mortimer Duke when Billy Ray Valentine asks whether they’d like him to break something else:

      After our urgent “No!,” she asks if I’d like her to send some info about the product to my phone, to which I also say, “No!”

      She just doesn’t want to let go of the possibility that I might want her to make a purchase — if not now, then soon…

    2. Doug Ross

      Amazon is simply a distribution system for millions of vendors. They don’t make any product except the Kindle/Alexa/etc. They have opened up retail opportunities to everyone worldwide. How exactly is it different for me to buy a pair of Levis off Amazon versus walking into Kohls (which rarely has my size)? Or do you go down to a local seamstress to have her sew you a pair of pants? If not, then you’re still supporting the dreaded plutocrats. I assume you run your car off used vegetable oil, don’t eat at any restaurant chain, don’t buy cars. use two cans and a string or smoke signals for communication, don’t use prescription medicine, watch television or do anything that funnels your money into large corporations.

      I’m sure Jeff Bezos will be fine without your money. And, just think, if he wasn’t a billionaire, you wouldn’t have the Washington Post to act as a Trump hating newspaper.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Thanks for reminding me. I meant to point out to Bud that Bezos has revitalized the Post.

        Oh, and by the way, it’s not “a Trump-hating newspaper.” It’s a newspaper, doing its job. And Bezos’ money is helping it do that job at as high a level as it ever has…

    3. Norm Ivey

      Amazon isn’t only big box dealers. I have a friend who runs a shop in Pontiac and sells items through Amazon. He delivers inventory to Amazon, who then fulfills orders purchased from his inventory. That’s what it means you purchase an item that says “Sold by Acme. Fulfilled by Amazon.” Amazon gives him a way to sell to people he might not be able to reach otherwise. There are tens of thousands of small vendors on Amazon. Amazon is simply a clearinghouse for their inventory. If supporting small business is important to you, all you need to do is look for the link on the Amazon item description page that says something like”…also available from these sellers….” If you use Amazon Prime, you may not get the free shipping every time.

    4. Richard

      Do you realize how many small businesses have Amazon stores? Most of what I buy on Amazon doesn’t really come from Amazon, it comes from a business using Amazon as an online store front.

  2. bud

    If you want the entire economy and the government controlled by corporate plutocrats then shun local vendors and by buy from this monstrosity. But I’ll try to hold the line for the little guys and gals who are the true driving force for innovation and progress. Amazon is just another corporate monstrosity thats destroying small entrepreneurship. And the diabolical libertarian movement is doing its part to destroy the best of America. Sad.

    1. Doug Ross

      Please list the local vendors you patronize.

      You must be happy that Trump is telling the USPS to raise its rates to deliver Amazon packages. He’s on your side!

      1. bud

        Please list the local vendors you patronize.

        I just left neighborhood mom and pop local liquor store. I’ll need to make more frequent visits once the libertarian monster gains control. 🙂

      2. Bill

        While U.S.-based e-commerce merchants contend with rising postage rates, Chinese sellers receive an incredibly cheap, subsidized shipping option from the U.S. Postal Service. Why is the USPS losing millions of dollars each year to help foreign merchants outcompete domestic businesses?

    2. Doug Ross

      ” the little guys and gals who are the true driving force for innovation and progress. ”

      Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerburg, Sergie Brin, Michael Dell, et al were all the little guys once. Then they got lucky – no innovation or progress from them, apparently.

    3. Doug Ross

      Here’s hoping that 2018 is finally the year that libertarian principles take hold in America as opposed to the current mess created by Democrats and Republicans.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        You think “libertarian principles” haven’t taken hold in America? What do you think has been eating away at our society for a generation — this deep malaise has led to the election of more and more people whose “qualification” is that they hate government, leading them to run it into the ground, leading to MORE alienation from government, leading to the election of pols who hate government even MORE, and so on…

        1. Doug Ross

          The facts do not support your baseless claims. Libertarians wouldn’t run deficits. Libertarians wouldn’t spy on Americans. Libertarians wouldn’t raise taxes, they’d cut spending. Libertarians wouldn’t keep the war on terror going. Libertarians WOULD have implemented same sex marriage, legalized marijuana, and scaled back entitlements.

          For so many politicians you claim hate government, they sure seem to be doing exactly the opposite. Anyway, the highest ranking libertarian leaning politician is Rand Paul and he hasn’t been able to get any of his major policies enacted.

          But, you keep telling yourself its the libertarian’s fault. Not Pelosi, Schumer, McConnell, McCain, Clyburn, et al who have been in there for decades. Yep, it’s libertarians.

          If people hate government it’s because government is lousy at what it does.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            It’s so hard to discuss someone who flatly says absurd things like “government is lousy at what it does.”

            Excuse me, Doug, but when someone says “libertarian principles” to me, I hear the unrelenting drip, drip, drip of cynicism and negativity aimed at everything that government is about. You evidently imagine something positive. I don’t.

            You know why? Because I’ve lived through the last few decades, and paid attention.

            Today on my afternoon walk, I passed by a granite plinth on the State House grounds, celebrating the completion of the group of state government buildings that surround it — starting with the State House itself, then to the Calhoun building, then to the Brown, Blatt and Gressette buildings that all went up in the ’70s. And on one side was a relief image of Gov. McNair, giving him credit for having gotten these things done in his time in office.

            And the whole spirit was one of pride that these things had been built, and would go on to serve the people of South Carolina for generations to come.

            On one level, the pride was a bit much, since the buildings are not marvels of architectural beauty. But they do still stand, and they do still serve.

            And I knew as I looked upon them that it would have been hard, and increasingly impossible, for these serviceable buildings to have been constructed in the following decades. I absolutely can’t imagine it today. And this was a rather modest undertaking, compared to, say, Eisenhower’s Interstate highway system.

            It started with the “Reagan Revolution,” during which Republicans decided they’d never heard a funnier joke than “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” And the cynicism and utter bile aimed toward the very idea of government just got worse and worse in the three decades after that, until you got to the most extreme expression of all: The Sanford pathology of not wanting to spend money on public services even if it falls out of the sky.

            This has had a corrosive effect on our country and our state. People who would like to continue the work of preceding generation of building a country together increasingly don’t even bother suggesting anything because they can’t stand the tidal wave of negativity that comes from people who say “government is lousy at what it does,” and worse, far worse, the legions who nod their heads, without any reason to.

            The only extent to which your statement is true is that government HAS gotten worse at what it does in the hands of people who hate it and wish to undermine it.

            The one glory of this nation, the thing that sets it apart from others in human history, is its system of government. Or at least it was. But over the past generation, we’ve been electing less and less worthy people to run it. And now we have, in the White House, a loathsome creature whose election would have been laughable at any previous moment in our history.

            We need to work to redeem our system. But that won’t be accomplished by people who say, or believe, that “government is lousy at what it does…”

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Short version. You say “libertarian,” and you imagine matchless efficiency.

              You say it to me, and I see exactly what we have, after years and years of rule by people who want to drown the government in a bathtub…

              1. Doug Ross

                And yet the government has continued to grow since the 1980s and taxes continue to take a large portion of the earnings of people who work for a living. Rather than drowning government in the bathtub, it appears to be floating along just fine in a gold plated yacht.

                I was doing some end of year tax planning yesterday and determined that my federal taxes for last year exceeded the sum of my mortgage, car payment, utility bills (electric, gas, water, cable, phone).. with enough left over to pay for a week long cruise for my family.

                I basically work Monday and half of Tuesday for the federal government (30% of my income for federal tax + FICA + Medicare), Tuesday afternoon for the state of South Carolina (income, sales tax), and half of Wednesday for Richland County (property tax, sales tax).

                How much more would you like to see me pay in your ideal non-libertarian world? Instead of being cynical, I should be outraged. I know, I know, you don’t think about money. It all belongs to everyone.

            2. Doug Ross

              You completely ignored my assertion that none of the policies enacted by government represent the libertarian ideal. NONE. Cynicism regarding the government isn’t new nor is it a monopoly view held by Libertarians. Democrats hate everything that the Republican Party represents and vice versa. This is nothing new… it goes back as far as the formation of the country.

              Here’s your chance to prove me wrong – explain to me how raising the gas tax and concurrently creating a tax deduction for gas expenses represents efficiency. Which parts of that are based on libertarian cynicism? It’s those kind of actions that make me more confident each day in my belief that government is inefficient and run by idiots.

              And you want me to change my views because the government built some buildings decades ago?

          2. bud

            Libertarians won’t fight polluters. Libertarians won’t protect children from exploitation. Libertarians will only exacerbate income inequality. Libertarians will reduce life expectancy by making it harder to get health insurance. Libertarians will push us into a new gilded age. As Brad suggests libertarian principles have already infected our body politic. And the results are going to be disastrous.

            1. Doug Ross

              “Libertarians will only exacerbate income inequality. ”

              Please define income inequality and how you would fix it. If you take it from “the rich” and give it to “the poor”, I guarantee you’ll be coming back for more later.

              Income inequality is largely related to not taking advantage of the opportunities that are presented to people or making poor choices that continue the cycle of poverty. A high school dropout shouldn’t expect to be on the same level as someone with initiative.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Are those still a thing?

        I never actually used one of those, so I don’t know how good they were. And I tried not to use dictionaries, because they were time traps for me. If I looked up a word, it led to my looking up other words, and so on, and next thing I knew I had wasted 10 minutes. It just scratched an itch in my brain.

        Then came the Internet, which of course is like that times a billion. Everything links to everything else, and you just keep going and going. Some people are addicted to porn. I’m addicted to looking stuff up, to following links. It unleashes a torrent of some pleasure-inducing chemical.

        I think it’s because my brain worked like Google before there was Google. My favorite literary device is allusion. Everything reminds me of something, which reminds me of something, which reminds me of something. So I felt this kinship with search engines almost immediately…

        Consequently, the Web makes me less productive, not more so. It’s a contradiction, but there it is…

  3. Gregory Hardy

    “Filling the former Sears with the men’s department of Belk was a master stroke of hiding the damage …”

    Not sure what you mean by “the damage,” but from what I understand, the transaction went like this:

    Columbiana raised the rent on Sears; Sears couldn’t afford to pay the new rent and left; Belk could afford to expand into that new area, so it did.

  4. Mark Stewart

    The purchase (and repurchase) of the Richland Mall will go down as the dumbest Columbia area real estate investment – probably ever. Well, except for the City being bamboozled into supporting Bull Street…

    I was also shocked at the rapid decline at the Village at Sandhill last year. That place doesn’t appear to be renewing leases at expiration, nor finding any real replacement tenants. Pretty sad – and poorly located; so revitalization seems most unlikely.

    1. Doug Ross

      How about the big plan to buy the Columbia Place Mall and turn it into a Richland County administrative Taj Mahal? Somebody’s (or several somebodies) are going to get very rich on that boondoggle. Initial estimates are $250 million which means it will likely cost twice that. And want to bet there will be a tax increase to cover the cost? Or maybe they’ll pull the “it’s just a penny” tax scam they used for the roads.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Reminds me of what Greenville did. Have you ever seen those county offices in the old mall there? It’s right next to the Governor’s School.

        Nothing fancy about that, though. It looks like what it is, some governmental offices in an abandoned mall. Kind of like those state agencies that are housed in the old outlet mall off Bush River.

        Frankly, I don’t know what to think about the Richland County plans, mainly because we haven’t seen the plans, or learned the true cost, or anything.

        The only opinion I have is that I have never seen a rollout of an idea more likely to promote suspicion and distrust toward the relevant governmental entity. These games the council is playing with this supposed plan are just embarrassing. How could anyone think this is the way to go about building support for an idea?

        1. Doug Ross

          “How could anyone think this is the way to go about building support for an idea?”

          Because they know how to play the game. It worked for Bull Street and for the Penny Tax. You just lie about all the benefits and have other people who get duped into spouting the same lies. Still waiting on those 16,000 jobs from the penny tax that Steve Benjamin promised.

            1. Doug Ross

              Where are the 16,000 jobs? Where are the hundreds of dollars of years in car maintenance saved? Those were lies.

              It’s great that you can just say, “Oh, well… they mucked it up after the tax was approved”. Perhaps you should put as much energy into holding them accountable as you did cheerleading for the tax?

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                No, they weren’t lies, Doug. They were projections. They were all anyone had to go by, since we don’t know the future.

                Or at least, the rest of us don’t. Doug knows that elected official are all crooks and will always rip him off. And since however things work out that’s the way he perceives it, he’s always right.

                And knowing that about the future, he is against EVERYTHING. And if a situation DOES go wrong, Doug is totally vindicated because HE KNEW ALL ALONG that things would go wrong.

                If you always bet that things will go wrong, sometimes you’re going to be right. That does not vindicate an attitude of perpetual cynicism and negativity. It just doesn’t…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Doug’s insistence that numerical projections turn out to be EXACTLY RIGHT (or else someone was LYING!) takes me back to what I was writing about earlier today, about how I don’t like to see specific campaign promises to be made.

                  It’s also related to another peeve of mine: I don’t like to see numbers attached to projections or probabilities. For instance, I’m fine if you say “There’s a good chance of rain this afternoon.” I HATE it when people say “There’s a 60 percent chance of rain today.”

                  Or when doctors say, “On a scale of one to 10, how bad is your pain?” Makes me want to say, “Well, it was about a 2 when I walked in, but it just jumped to 11.” I mean, come on: Why would you ask me to attach a numerical value to something as subjective as pain? There is no way in THIS universe that I can transfer from me to you the understanding of what a “3” feels like to ME.

                  In fact, that’s sort of what the Spinal Tap joke is about. Nigel Tufnel thinks “10” is an absolute — that it is a fixed level of loudness that does not vary. Therefore, any amp with an “11” on it is “one louder.”

                  Assigning specific numbers to things can make us all dumber…

                2. bud

                  I’m fine if you say “There’s a good chance of rain this afternoon.” I HATE it when people say “There’s a 60 percent chance of rain today.”

                  I’m exactly the opposite. I despise the statement “there’s a good chance of rain.” Just detest that kind of vague forecasting. Take your best shot and give me a number. The world revolves around numbers, not meaningless weasel statements. My brain works to try and make everything into a number of some sort. How can a brain function any other way.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    It’s the numbers that are meaningless. If you want numbers, stick to ones and zeroes. It’s either going to rain or it isn’t. 100 percent or zero percent. The 60 percent meant nothing, as it measured nothing that existed or would actually happen in the real world.

                    Numbers are for things that can be measured or counted, period. Frankly, I think I’m the one with respect for numbers here. They shouldn’t be used in meaningless ways. They should be precise and reliable…

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Lemme give you a for-instance…

                      About an hour ago, I Tweeted this:

                      Late this morning, the weather app on my phone was telling me there was an 80 percent of frozen precipitation at about the time I tweeted that, continue through now (the sun is still shining, although about to set), and on into the evening.

                      What use was that number to me?

                      Yeah, sure — if there’s an 80 percent chance, there’s a 20 percent chance it won’t happen. But here’s a clue from the world of reality: It was never going to happen. There was a zero percent chance that it would happen. You know how I know? Because I hopped into my time machine and traveled to NOW, so I know that not only did it NOT happen, but it didn’t even come remotely close to happening.

                      Yes, I know that’s nonsense to people who believe in probabilities as a science. And yeah, maybe if you made your prediction 1,000 times, it would snow roughly 800 times. But I don’t see how that was ANY use to me this morning.

                      All day, my family has been going back and forth on whether to have my twin granddaughters’ birthday party this evening. We’re having it now. Yeah, there would have been a lot of confusion if someone had just said, “It’s likely to snow.” But I wouldn’t be nearly as irritated as I am by the fact that someone had to say “80 percent….”

                    2. Brad Warthen Post author

                      My wife just mentioned to me that at one point it was 85 percent. Then, a few minutes later, as she decided to go ahead to the twins’ house and get ready for the party, she looked again and it was zero.

                      It would have been equally helpful (that is, not at all), if the indicator on those two occasions had said:

                      — probably gonna snow

                      — never mind; not gonna snow

                      Only numbers people are comforted by having those ideas expressed by the false precision of numerical values…

                3. Doug Ross

                  I don’t insist they turn out exactly right. That is false. I expect them to be relatively accurate or else state that they are best case scenarios. That did not happen.

                  How about you give me some examples of when the projections for government projects were inaccurate in favor of the public? Even the estimates for the cost of the road repairs for the penny tax program were off drastically. Normally if you are forecasting, you’d hope to be close. And you’d expect to be over or under an equal number of times. But just tell me when a government program has come in UNDER budget. I don’t know how you can be so oblivious to how often this happens — it’s hype and lies without any accountability. If I went to my customers and forecast a project at X and it came in at X times 2, I wouldn’t have a job anymore.

                  You remember all the projections for the booming hydrogen economy and all the new business that was going to come out of Innovista? How did that work out? Oh, I know, it was just a simple error in forecasting. And I know you didn’t care to focus on those marketing pitches because your vision was different… but what we ended up with was a parking garage, a few buildings for USC to use, a bunch of dorms, and a Tilted Kilt.

                  Who cares if it was only a couple hundred million dollars. Whoops! You’ll get ’em next time, tiger!

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    “You remember all the projections for the booming hydrogen economy and all the new business that was going to come out of Innovista? How did that work out? Oh, I know, it was just a simple error in forecasting. And I know you didn’t care to focus on those marketing pitches because your vision was different… but what we ended up with was a parking garage, a few buildings for USC to use, a bunch of dorms, and a Tilted Kilt.”

                    Actually, that area continues to develop kind of along the lines of the original live/work/play concept, only more slowly than I’d hoped. All sort of things tie into the concept — the continued development of the greenway along the river, the new Moore school, the baseball park, the new student housing, various new places to eat and drink, the redevelopment of Greene Street.

                    It’s closely related, of course, to the continued redevelopment of the Vista itself and Main Street. From about Sumter Street down to the river, there have been a lot of positive things happening in an area that Columbia had largely given up on a generation ago…

                4. bud

                  No no no! You have this all wrong. The weather service determined that in 80% of the situations with conditions that existed at the time we would get icy conditions. That was their best assessment. Give those odds you can decide whether to go ahead with plans or risk the possibility of the 20%. But with a completely meaningless “chance” of ice you lack sufficient information to make a rational decision. This couldn’t be any more obvious.

                5. Norm Ivey

                  Precipitation forecasts are a mathematical equation.
                  PoP=Probability of Precipitation
                  C=Level of Confidence based on current observations
                  A=Area of the forecast area that might experience precipitation based on historical records under similar circumstances

                  So 80% chance of frozen precipitation could mean that the forecast the forecaster was 100% sure that 80% of the forecast area would receive precipitation, or it could mean that the forecaster was 80% sure that 100% of the area would receive precipitation, or it could mean the forecaster was 90% sure that 90% of the area would receive precipitation. I suspect that this was the 100% sure that 80% of the area would receive precipitation.

                  It’s not that the 80% prediction was wrong. It was just your luck you were in the 20% area that did not receive any precipitation, or that you had moved beyond the boundaries of the forecast area. At the station level, the forecasts can differ within just a few miles of each other.

                  If I were a gambling man, and one could bet on such things, I would bet on precipitation occurring at a specific location any time the forecast exceeded 50% and bet against it any time it was less than 50%.

                6. bud

                  I was watching a basketball game last night and near the end of the game the trailing team decided they needed to foul in order to stop the clock. According to Brad’s logic it really wouldn’t have mattered which player to foul since they were all better than 50% shooters. Each would have been “likely” to make the shots so why pick the 55% guy vs the 85% player?

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Evidently, you’re not following what I’m saying. But most people don’t when I get onto this topic. They generally just shake their heads at my eccentricity and drop the subject rather than hear more craziness.

                    In the example you give, the percentage is measuring actual experience. One guy has made 85 percent of his free throws and the other has made 55 of his. Obviously, the first guy is better at free throws. That’s the relevant information: “He’s better at free throws, and therefore is more likely to make it.”

                    So foul the other guy — if you can, foul Ollie from “Hoosiers.”

                    If you’re smart, that’s what you do. Me, I hate the whole idea of intentional fouls. I think they’re dishonorable. Mind you, I feel much the same way about punting and intentional walks. But then, I’m not a professional coach or manager…

        2. Richard

          Greenville isn’t Richland County, you know where the county council wants a multi-million dollar renovation to their board room.

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    This anecdote that starts a story in today’s Post is almost eerily like an experience I had at Belk before Christmas:

    HERMITAGE, Pa. — Barbara Cake had made the sale. A man was hovering near the gold bracelets at the J.C. Penney jewelry counter when she said, “Hi, sir, how are you?” Before long, he was swiping his credit card for both a bracelet and a pair of diamond earrings for his wife. But Barbara wasn’t done.

    “If she doesn’t like these,” she told the customer, “then tell her you know a lot of ladies who would.”

    “I just want my husband to buy me a watch,” she continued. “She should be truly happy with these.”

    Barbara ripped the receipt from the register, pointed at the flimsy paper and, in a tone that sounded as if she were revealing a sworn secret, she delivered her favorite line.

    “Just wait till you see what you saved.”

    There were four days until Christmas, and this customer had decided against shopping online to come to a real store and talk to real people. To Barbara, that meant she had to provide something he couldn’t get from clicking buttons on a computer. Could the Internet assure the customer that he was making the right choice? Could it praise him for being a thoughtful husband? Could it make sure that he was getting the best possible deal?…

    A few days before Christmas, I went to the “fine jewelry” counter at Belk. At the last minute, I had decided to buy my wife some new earrings. I used to buy her earrings all the time — in fact, that’s what I gave her the first Christmas I knew her, in 1973 — and I decided I was overdue to do so again. And she had recently mentioned something about some white gold ones that she had lost.

    So I concentrated on finding some white gold hoops. And I found some likely ones. But while looking for them, I ran across some that I thought looked nicer, but they were a combination of white and yellow gold. I was really torn. I personally preferred the white-and-yellow ones, but their retail price was about $100 less than the others, and I didn’t want to be cheap…

    Anyway, the way the clerk, named Suzy, worked with me was just like in the Post’s story. The key moment was when she said, “Would you like me to price them for you?” I said sure. They were on what I had thought was a 40 percent off display, but I looked again and they were 50 percent off. And something about her tone communicated that she would give me an even better deal.

    And she did. She took another 25 percent off the already lowered price. So I was looking at less than 40 percent total on either pair.

    Then she proposed to wrap up both pairs, and I said “No! Not both of them! I have to decide…” I mean, I wasn’t born yesterday. I mean, um, hang on… She waited through a long moment while I reflected that I could get both pairs for less than the retail price of the cheaper pair (the pair I liked). And if my wife wanted to take either pair back, she could spend the money on clothes at after-Christmas sales — and I wanted her to do that, since she so seldom spends on herself.

    “I’ll take them both,” I said.

    Here’s the good part… my wife liked the yellow-and-gold ones better, just as I did! She took back the others, and bought some clothes, and still has cash left over (which I HOPE she will spend on herself).

    So the lady at Belk helped me make a decision that I ended up being happy with. Which is what good human sales people do…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        No, but it’s weird you mention that. I had that EXACT experience 30 years or so ago at a shop in Memphis. I was shopping for my wife then, too, and I was helped by a clerk who was, if anything, hotter than the one in that clip.

        And she was wearing a… garment that was much looser than the one in the clip. And she kept bending and showing me everything she had, which was quite a lot. Which she had to know she was doing…

        Actually, maybe it was more like 40 years ago. Only in the ’70s — before AIDS, before herpes was a huge thing — were people quite THAT casual about sexuality in their daily lives.

        Those of you who are too young to have been adults then… well, ya missed out, kids…

        1. Doug Ross

          “Which she had to know she was doing… before AIDS, before herpes was a huge thing — were people quite THAT casual about sexuality in their daily lives.”

          So she was asking for it? Quite a leap from a loose shirt to casual sexuality in the pre-AIDs era.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I think you’re misunderstanding me.

            I’m saying there was a casualness about sexuality that didn’t exist later. I don’t mean “casual sex,” although there was that. I refer more to a casualness ABOUT sex.

            For instance, in the late 70s or early 80s I remember that one local multiplex (this was in Memphis) would have one screen showing a XXX feature alongside the usual new Hollywood releases.

            I remember also, back in the mid-70s, the time when a young woman who was one of my fellow editors on the campus newspaper showed me and my friend Dave Hampton the contact sheets from an assignment for her photography class, asking us to help pick the best shots. They were of her and boyfriend nude, entwined in various poses. We tried to be cool: “Well, I think this frame has good composition — don’t you, Dave?” “Oh, yes indeed — excellent composition! Quite dynamic!” But I think we failed. Our heads were about to explode, but the girl herself was entirely unembarrassed, and seemed to earnestly value our opinions.

            Those are a couple of things that come to mind that I associate with the ’70s and maybe the start of the 80s, and not later times.

            You kind of had to be there…

  6. JesseS

    It makes me think of a Modest Mouse song from 1997.

    “Go to the grocery store, buy some new friends
    And find out the beginning, the end, and the best of it
    Well, do you need a lot of what you’ve got to survive?”

    “Here’s the man with teeth like god’s shoeshine
    He sparkles shimmers shines”

    “Let’s all have another Orange Julius
    Thick syrup standing in lines
    The malls are the soon to be ghost towns
    Well so long, farewell, goodbye”

  7. Richard

    “Every town has the same two malls: the one white people go to and the one white people used to go to.” Chris Rock

  8. Mr. Smith

    We’re very cavalier with our land and spaces. Throw something up shiny and new today. Rip it down and throw up something else newer and shinier a few years later. It’s a kind of devaluing of space that shows a sloppy and heedless attitude toward our surroundings.

    Still, I wouldn’t compare a shopping mall to the Forum or the Acropolis.

  9. bud

    Buying from small, local businesses is not hard and can loosen the grip of the corporate plutocrats:

    The Villa vs Dominos
    Miss Cocky vs Zales
    State Credit Union vs Bank of America
    What a Burger vs McDonalds
    Zesto vs Chick-fil-a
    IGA vs Walmart
    Hunter Gatherer vs Buffalo Wild Wings
    Longs Pharmacy vs CVS
    Buy clothes from good will and adopt pets from reputable rescue organization

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yes. And tell every body you do business with that they need to advertise on this blog, to keep our little uberlocal microeconomy going.

        I would do it myself, of course, except that I’m just not a sales guy…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          And with regard to “State Credit Union vs Bank of America,” you’ll note that Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union — where I do all my “banking” — advertises here and has done so for years, bless them…

    1. Richard

      Have you eaten at Zesto’s lately? A meal that used to be $8 just a few years ago is now over $12… for two pieces of chicken.

      BTW – I wouldn’t eat at Domino’s, McDonalds, or Buffalo Wild Wings if they gave away their food. But Chick-fil-a should be on every corner.

      Where do the clothes from Goodwill originate?

    2. Doug Ross

      Ok, you’ve named a few local businesses.

      What do you drive?
      Do you buy gasoline?
      Do you take prescription medicine?
      Do you own a cellphone? internet? cable tv? do you watch MSNBC or go to the movies?
      Buy Coke? Pepsi? Budweiser or other InBev products?

      I go to the local Chinese restaurant and the Blythewood hardware store but that doesn’t make me a radical leftist. Everything I buy turns into jobs for whoever produces it. If a local business can compete on quality, service, or access, they will get my business. But I’m not running a charity to try and keep small businesses in business. They have to compete.

      1. bud

        I drive gasoline cars for now but hopefully go all electric eventually. Also need solar panels. I most certainly don’t drink Coke, Pepsi or Budweiser. But that’s because those drinks are revolting. Some things are monopolized like certain prescription drugs. We’ve discussed the Epipen debacle here and that’s my point. We need to have competition for everything. I may get rid of my Verizon phone and get some type of track phone. So no Doug I’m not Ed Begley Jr. Yet. But he certainly has the right way of thinking and to me he’s an American hero.

      2. bud

        Doug I can ask leading questions too:

        Do you breathe the air?
        Do you drink water?
        Will you draw SS?
        Do you feel safe on an airplane?
        Do you use the internet?
        Do you have a federally insured bank account?
        Are you free to attend the church of your choice?

        I could go on. But if you answered yes to these and many, many others then you should be thankful for government.

        1. Doug Ross

          I paid more than my share into Medicare and social security. I wish I didn’t have to. I hold out no hope of getting back the money I will pay in over 50 years that would have been better to invest privately.

          Safe on an airplane? I fly over 100 flights a year. The places are safe because the private airlines can’t afford otherwise. If you are talking about the TSA however, it is the biggest waste of tax dollars I know of. Totally useless and staffed with high school dropouts who couldn’t protect a lemonade stand.

          Seriously, you think my right to attend a church is dependent on some government agency? What are you smoking?

        2. Doug Ross

          Here’s the top 10 companies in the U.S. by market cap. Which are run by plutocrats? Which do you refuse to give your money to?

          1 Apple Inc.
          2 Alphabet Inc. (Google)
          3 Microsoft
          4 Amazon.com
          5 Berkshire Hathaway
          6 ExxonMobil
          7 Johnson & Johnson
          8 Facebook
          9 JPMorgan Chase
          10 Wells Fargo

          Does Warren Buffett fall into the plutocrat category? He’s the second richest person in America. Berkshire Hathway “owns GEICO, Dairy Queen, BNSF Railway, Lubrizol, Fruit of the Loom, Helzberg Diamonds, Long & Foster, FlightSafety International, Pampered Chef, and NetJets, and also owns 26.7% of the Kraft Heinz Company, and significant minority holdings in American Express (17.15%), The Coca-Cola Company (9.4%), Wells Fargo (9.9%), IBM (6.9%), and Apple (2.5%)”

          1. bud

            Doug you’re actually supporting my point. It is nearly impossible to live in this country without catering to large corporations. Thanks to Libertarian thinking we’ve entered a new gilded age. And these big companies will control more and more of our lives and only a teeny tiny number of people will benefit. By I do try to pick a few companies that are at least somewhat showing some a bit of concern for America’s interests instead of their own personal greed. To paraphrase James Carville – It’s the competition stupid. We need more of it and the government can and should promote competition instead of bowing to the flawed libertarian mantra that the invisible hand will make everything right. That invisible hand shakes pretty badly. And we all pay.

            1. Doug Ross

              Where do you think Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook came from? Some plutocrat just snapping his fingers and they appeared out of thin air? They are all a result of winning in a competitive marketplace. Remember Sears? They were the Amazon of their day. Remember IBM? They dominated the IT market two decades ago. Now they’re irrelevant. How about U.S. Steel?

              You act as if your life is diminished by the existence of large companies. Those companies create the jobs that are the backbone of this country. They employ millions of people who pay billions in taxes. You should be thankful they exist.

              1. bud

                Doug you bend over backwards to miss the point. Big companies are fine as long as we have adequate competition. Once that disappears we end up with very large companies controlled by a tiny handful of men who really add nothing to the economy. Sure these companies can dissipate over time. That is the typical profit maximizing strategy for monopolies like 70s era IBM. We’re seeing the same thing today with Apple and Microsoft. But they leave in their wake a greatly diminished economy. The government should be working to prevent monopoly power. Instead with the likes of Paul “Ayn Rand” Ryan we are promoting the concentration of wealth and power. That’s the libertarian way and it’s dangerous for America. And we’re seeing the results as our life expectancy drops while our GINI coefficient soars.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  You know what? You guys — Doug and Bud — are like the Duke brothers in “Trading Places.” With them, every situation or conversation turns into an argument over nature vs. nurture…

    3. Norm Ivey

      Given a choice, I’ll shop small/local, but I’m not wedded to the concept. I like craft beer, but once I get beyond the local breweries, I often have to buy at Total Wine or Green’s. I like local restaurants like Polliwogs, the taco truck on Decker and the Original House of Pancakes in Trenholm Plaza, but McDonald’s and Panera are both open and on my route to work. The locally owned hardware store that used to be nearby refused to stand behind a defective product, and I had no problem shopping at Home Depot afterwards. We needed a new hand mixer a few weeks ago. Where do you find such a product that sold by a local or small business? I had a Bed, Bath and Beyond coupon, so….

      Trying to stick to a strictly local/small economy would drive me nuts.

  10. Skot Garrick

    Richland (Fashion) Mall crashed long before Amazon or on-line shopping. The developers took the easy upfront dollars from building, and the Mall never had more than a 60% occupancy. Does anyone remember the original food court for that mall? It was an enormous space with a large skylight. It is walled off at the back of the mall. Incidentally, I have heard from several sources the only reason Barnes & Noble is still there is because they do not pay rent. Their original lease agreement stated they do not pay if the occupancy goes below 60%, and it does not look like the place will ever have more than 5% or so. Which speaks to a point you made, Brad, about how they pay the power bill. Wouldn’t it be smart to lower their lease agreement (rent) so that local businesses and retailers could afford to open there, and at least have some form of revenue stream, as opposed to the spaces that have sat empty for more than a decade?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      You raise a good point. I’ve always wondered about the management of the place, from the time we first moved back to SC in 1987. Why couldn’t they make a go of it? The mall seems ideally situated for affluent shoppers who don’t feel like driving out into the boonies to shop.

      By contrast, Edens has done a great job with Trenholm Plaza just a few blocks away. Edens seems to have the formula down. Ever since it opened, their Lexington Pavilion strip has been a regular shopping destination of ours.

      What is it that Edens knows that the folks who have managed Richland over the years have not?

  11. Mikemarble

    What makes you think columbiana is gonna fail? All of my peers love going there, it just added a Dave n busters, it’s still opening stores, it brings in quite the crowd, I’m pretty sure it’s not going anywhere any time soon unless something drastic happens. Online shopping isn’t killing malls at all. In all my research I’ve not once come across a case of a mall just being killed by the Internet, a lot of them are struggling because there’s just too many.

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