Monday, April 23, 2018

Whither Retail? ...

My pal Laura – Hi, Laura! – who owns a store tweeted a link this morning to a story in the the Tribune with this headline:

"Even on Broadway, retail is dying before our eyes. Or is it? What does it all mean for Tribune Tower?"

The editor in me, as well as the consumer in me, is irked.

Chicago has a Broadway. I used to live near it. As in New York, it runs north- and south-ish. Not as in New York, it is not known as the theater district but it is home to plenty of stores.

But the piece is written by the Trib's theater critic, so, yup, the Broadway reference is about New York. But Tribune Tower is on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. And while Michigan Avenue is known as Chicago's shopping destination and is home to some very chichi brands, I presume that the rents on the Mag Mile do not equal those of the Great White Way. So, apples to oranges right off the bat.

Also, it's not really such a puzzler that folks who have just dropped many hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars for tickets to a Broadway show (most folks don't go to the theater alone, eh?) and may also be paying for accommodations in New York don't have a lot of extra cash to drop on shopping.

I looked into prices for "Springsteen on Broadway." The top price on TicketBastard is more than $800 but tickets are sold out so I moseyed on over to SeatGeek and sure enough, tickets can be had, the top price for which seems to be around $2,500. $5,000+ for three hours? I know there are people in the world who can afford that but those people are not me.

In Chicago, a top ticket to "Hamilton" is more than $600. One of my brothers treated me to tickets for my birthday last year. We went a couple weeks ago. A matinee. The face value? $187. Each. And I don't want to think about TicketBastard's fees. It was a great show and I'd love to see it again but seats on the main floor don't offer much legroom as it is. And I've sat in the front row of the mezzanine with my knees pressed up against whatever the word is for the iron "wall" that contains people from falling onto the main floor. I shudder to think of what my knees would endure in the cheap seats.

Randolph Street is home to a number of theaters in Chicago but The Loop is the theater district more generally in terms of "Broadway in Chicago." The Goodman is on Dearborn. The Steppenwolf is on Halsted in Lincoln Park.

Folks may have slightly more cash to spend after seeing a show in Chicago but the world of retail has been changing. Carson's has been a Chicagoland staple for more than 100 years but the flagship location on State Street became a Target years ago. A Target. I haven't stepped foot in Macy's on State since it took over Marshall Field's. And that was many years ago.

But some recent policies strike me as really dumb. At Crate & Barrel not too long ago, the clerk asked me if I'd like a bag. Um, yes? I'm happy to reuse bags when I go grocery shopping but it hadn't occurred to me to take a bag with me into C&B. She told me she'd have to add the fee for the bag onto my total. I skipped the bag and walked out of the store with my purchase and the receipt. I appreciate that we all need to do our part to care for the planet but there was a time when it was fun to amass C&B bags to reuse them. C&B got its free advertising and folks like me, who love a good handle bag, had a stash for everyday toting.

I don't shop at C&B much anymore but combine Chicago's insane sales tax with having to pay for bags to carry purchases out of the store and gee, maybe I'll just order online next time and enjoy the convenience of having everything shipped to my door (even as I do think about the carbon footprint that involves).

See the problem?

It's not all Amazon's fault. Yes, I wish bookstores were still more prevalent. For many years, when I wanted a book, I wanted it. Right then. As soon as I could get to the store and find it on the shelf.

But I also bought a lot of books that way, many of which I never read – and have since donated – so for financial reasons, I started using my local libraries. A lot. Now I "date" books first and then decide whether to buy them. Some I buy online. Some I find in thrift stores. Some I buy directly from the authors. (It's fun having writers who are friends!) But if Borders were still nearby, I'd still shop there sometimes.

It breaks my heart that Trib Tower is going condo. (Though if I could afford a unit, I'd move in.) I wish that the Apple store had stuck to its location further north on Michigan Avenue instead of taking over Pioneer Court, just south of the Trib and what was once a lovely bit of open space in an increasingly crowded city.

But I don't think the ground floor of Trib Tower will have any problem attracting and maintaining tenants, though, as with Marshall Field's, I can't imagine ever setting foot inside there again.

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