For many years I owned and operated a storefront legal clinic in a major regional shopping center, which afforded me a close-up view of the fascinating world of retail.
The Christmas season was always interesting. My first Yuletide in the centre saw me shaking my head as merchants squabbled over the brightness of the Christmas decorations in various corridors of the mall. We all paid our proportionate share of those decorations, of course, but the conventional wisdom was that shoppers were attracted to bright shiny things, so more of them would drift into the more brightly lit areas of the center. Angry merchants demanded that Santa and his elves be relocated to their particular aisle, and a thousand curses on any maintenance personnel who allowed the lights to burn out on any particular display.
My perennial holiday favorite however has always been the Christmas Eve parade through the mall, that I’ve dubbed the walk of the mall zombies. Until I was immersed in the life of the mall I was thought that the stories of guys doing their last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve was apocryphal-an urban myth- no one could possibly leave shopping for their loved ones to the last few hours available-could they?
I’m here to offer testimony that it is indeed true! Overall, the mall is usually deathly quiet on Christmas Eve, a few shoppers strolling through and picking up last-minute items, or checking out the early Boxing Day sales for something for themselves-that is, until dusk. As darkness descends and the parking lot lights wink on, an hour so before closing time, however, the procession begins.
Men, obviously straight from work, still wearing their work attire, be it business suit or mechanics overalls, wandering urgently but aimlessly through the mall, brows furrowed, eyes darting furtively from storefront to storefront.
Toys”R”us would barely rate a glance- obviously the wives had long since organized presents for the tykes. No, most of the traffic seemed headed for La Senza, with its sexy négligées, or Purdy’s, where the chocolates are already gift- wrapped, with a few more adventurous souls straying into the kitchen gadget store.
Every now and then a guy would foolishly wander instead into a consumer electronics shop, hell bent on destruction, and we would cringe. No wife, ever, wants a high tech gadget under the tree Christmas morning – might as well wrap up a power tool while you are at it!
Its a spectacle as predictable as the swallows return to Capistrano, or the great migration of wildebeest across the Serengetti, but nowhere near as impressive – just very, very sad