1981 – I worked construction putting up houses in Fountain Hills, Arizona. On the way home, tired, hot, sunburned, I would stop at a Dairy Queen in Scottsdale and buy a medium vanilla chocolate-dipped ice cream cone. I loved those things after a long day of work building houses in the desert.
2020 – After sushi at Sushiya in Escondido, on the way to see a movie at Angelika, we stopped at a Dairy Queen. I had my favorite vanilla chocolate-dipped ice cream cone. It’s a little more expensive now than it was when I was 23. But then, I am 63 now, and I still buy the same cone at the same retail chain store. Dairy Queen forever!
This made me think about how the retail landscape in America has changed over the course of my life.
1970ies – There were waterbed stores all over the place. As I drove down Glendale Avenue in Glendale, Arizona, heading east, I am sure there were 10 waterbed stores within a few blocks. I had a waterbed in those years. It lasted for a few years, then it became impractical as I started moving more often during college years, and I gave it away. All the waterbed stores are now gone.
1970ies – Also in those years, unfinished furniture stores were ubiquitous. I remember browsing through those. I never really bought “proper” unfinished furniture, but I did buy a few shelves of particle board which I painted bright green, blue, yellow and red. We made throw pillows of crazy colors which were our “couch.” Good enough for 21-year-olds. All the unfinished furniture stores are now gone.
1980ies – When the VHS revolution took over and the thrill of being able to “rent” a movie that you could watch in the privacy of your home, video rental stores sprung up all over every neighborhood. You got a membership, kind of like a library card, and you could rent movies for a few days. If you forgot to bring them back in time, you were charged a late fee. I remember thinking I wanted to rent some of those girly movies they had in the backroom – oh the bliss – but I actually have no recollection ever following through with that. Eventually, Blockbuster replaced all the mom-and-pop video rental stores, but then, Blockbuster forgot to disrupt itself and Netflix came along. All the video rental stores are now gone.
1990ies – Those were the years when the cell phone stores arose. You chose expensive phones and expensive plans where you counted the minutes. I remember having 120 “minutes” was a large plan. We justified the expense that we’d use the cell phones “for emergencies only” but I remember it felt neat being able to make a call from a moving car on the I-15 for the first time. That was around 1993 or 1994. All the cell phone stores are now gone, and some have morphed to the smartphone outlets of Apple or Verizon.
1970ies through 2000 – Back in 1974, every mall in America had either a B. Dalton book store or a Waldenbooks. That’s when I still went to the mall. I cared little about any of the stores, except Dairy Queen and the bookstore. In the mid 1980ies I saw my first “super bookstore.” It was a “Bookstar” on Rosecrans in San Diego. The selection was immense. Shortly after that, Borders started appearing, along with Barnes & Noble. Now all we have left is Barnes & Noble, and the occasional bookstore in airports. There are a couple at Chicago O’Hare that I like. I don’t buy hard books to read anymore, so I have this policy that I buy “something” when I go to Barnes & Noble, like a coffee table book, an art book, or anything else that I don’t want just in digital format. You have to flip through art books in hardcopy. And my policy to buy something at Barnes & Noble is to help them stay in business. All the little bookstores in malls are now gone, but I can’t imagine a world without bookstores.
The retail changes over the decades are drastic, and with nostalgia I think about the days when I browsed around in unfinished furniture stores and breathed in that woodshop aroma.
I could use a chocolate-dipped cone right about now.