One of the earliest shopping malls in Nebraska — the United States! — was Crossroads Shopping Center. It was the first time anyone had to choose between going to town and going to the mall.
Town was a few things. Our local town — Bellevue — in the 1960s still had a classy women’s dress shop AND a general store as well as a hardware store, a movie theater, a drugstore, a jeweler, two banks, a farm implement store and a liquor store. If nothing in downtown Bellevue served the need, one could drive a few miles north to down town South Omaha. This was most often “town” for us because there was a department store and more choices. And then, if the ladies wanted to make a day of it (a rare occurrence because back then families did not automatically have two cars) they’d go to Omaha.
I have only a couple of memories of that ever happening. One of those events stands out because I was old enough to listen to rock music on the radio (“Summer in the City” by Lovin’ Spoonful in particular because the first time I heard it I was actually IN a city and it was a hot summer day) and have crushes on boys. My mom was going to a garden party at the home of my dad’s boss. She needed a dress. She found a beautiful cotton dress, light green with bouquets of flowers all around the skirt and one in front and one in back. My mom was most impressed with the care that had gone into the making of the dress — the bouquet matched perfectly in back when the dress was zipped.
It was expensive, though. $20 for a cotton dress. The inflation calculator says that’s $150 today. My mom’s friend was stunned. Such an extravagance was beyond her husband’s income. The odd and wonderful thing about this dress is that I saw one like it — or maybe it! — in a used clothing boutique in San Diego fifteen years ago. It had pride of place in the front window and a price tag of far more than $20.
It’s great being a kid because you are OK with having NO idea of what’s going on in the “grand scheme.” In the case of Crossroads, I’m not sure even my parents perceived the grand scheme. It was far from where we lived, so we didn’t go there more than two or three times. I don’t know if it occurred to anyone that the advent of the mall marked a crossroads in American retail and the death of down town all over the US.
Monte Vista, Colorado, with its empty shop fronts and near dead economy, is one of the casualties of the shift in the way people buy. People who’ve lived here a long time say that well into the 70s Woolworths, J.C. Pennys and other stores did good business on Adams Avenue (the main shopping street). But with Walmart only fifteen miles away, I’m sure the small downtown shops had to hang it up. Now it is at least 50% empty buildings. The hardware store persists, barely. There are two thrift stores, a couple of beauty shops and a few other things including the art co-op where I store my paintings.
My dream is to open a bookstore/coffeehouse/music venue downtown but I have no capital with which to do it. In a perfect world, the owner of one of those empty buildings would offer me a store front at some ridiculously low rent and I could form a little cooperative to pay the rent and staff the coffee house. Maybe we’d only be open Thursdays through Sundays at first, to catch the movie “crowd” and be there for kids to do their homework on Fridays and Saturdays. I’ve even thought of offering tutors — I’d tutor in writing and I am sure a couple other friends who are retired educators would tutor in their areas of expertise. I think I can put together a starter stock of used books and could maybe start up a warm and friendly place for people to meet and gather. But rents for retail space in the near ghost-town in which I live are high.