Mall of the future

By Daniel Dunkle | Jan 27, 2017

There was something a little different this past Christmas season.

I noticed that almost every present under the tree came in the mail in an Amazon box. These were gifts for the kids (other than the ones brought by Santa, of course), and even my lump of coal came this way.

The gifts I bought for Christine were of the last-minute variety bought entirely in stores in Rockland. I would love to tell you that I did that because I am a valiant lover of our local business community and base all of my financial decisions on my high-minded principles, but if I'm being honest, procrastination played a role.

One of the stores I hit every Christmas is the Hallmark store at the plaza. This year I found some slippers for Christine and a little ornament for Samantha that had two characters from a Pixar movie (Joy and Sadness from "Inside Out" if you're curious). Not long after, we had a story that the store was closing.

I am concerned about what these observations seem to be forecasting.

One of the 20 or so jobs I have had in my life was working at a store in the 1990s that sold music on audio cassette. You may remember it; it was called Tape World and it was at the Bangor Mall. It was kind of a fun place to work.

I can still remember many of the album covers: the little figures on Starship's "Knee Deep in the Hoopla," Phil Collins' floating black-and-white head. I remember hearing En Vogue's album over and over again; Whitney Houston's "The Bodyguard Soundtrack" and some insipid Kenny G Christmas album.

Before I worked at the music store, I used to visit the store every week as a mall rat. Growing up in the Bangor area, wandering around the mall was often my Friday night. My friend James and I would usually start at the music store and end up at the nearby movie theater. One fun memory is taping ourselves on the display video cameras at Sears. Our magnum opus as film-makers was Earth Quake, which featured James looking panicked while I shook the camera.

We didn't have social media, so "hanging out, down the street, same old thing we did last week,"* was what I looked forward to in geometry class.

When we went to the mall, there were always older people walking around or sitting on benches. I got the idea that these people liked to walk around and see everybody as much as they were there to do any serious shopping.

Back before I had my own car, or on quiet weekend nights, I would hit the local video store to find the evening's entertainment.

And so my point is, we don't have video stores or record stores anymore and that's kind of a bummer because I really like walking around and looking at all the covers. Maybe that's a flaw in my character ... maybe I'm just a consumerist zombie.

Even now, I like to drive down to Brunswick to browse at Bull Moose Video.

Locally, I see they are putting in "self-checkouts" at some of the stores. That really bothers me. Every one of those things represents someone who doesn't have a job in the future. What are we supposed to do for all of these people?

I don't believe raising the minimum wage is driving this. Arguing that is playing politics. You know how business works; a business has to do what it can to save money and they would automate these businesses regardless of the minimum wage. You can't really point fingers at the businesspeople either, since it's their job to keep costs down and stay profitable.

If the government had simply adjusted minimum wage for cost of living a few cents at a time over the past 30 years, it wouldn't have been a painful transition. The way they left it, there was never going to be a good time to raise it.

People say, "It's not supposed to be a living wage." Well, that's fine if there were enough living-wage jobs for everyone who needs to live, but I'm not sure that's the case. I'm so sick of this "let them eat cake" statement. Oppose it if you want to, but don't dump on people who are working hard to serve you.

However, I would argue there is a business opportunity for people in the future.

As prone to nostalgia as I am, I don't believe time ever runs backwards. We have progressed to a point of innovation where we won't need as many brick-and-mortar stores.

However, innovation also leads to opportunities.

So in the future some great business pioneer might open a new kind of mall. There will be an arcade to play video games and a store where you can pick up puppies and a library similar to a bookstore where you can sit and read, benches under a skylight where you can people-watch, and a room full of toys for kids to play with. All that and a large space between the stores for people to walk around in and get exercise. And the only difference will be, this mall isn't a place to shop, it's just there because we still need to get out of the house once in a while, and teenagers still need a place to hang out with their friends. Maybe it makes its money by selling tickets or membership passes like a gym.

It's either that, or take up ice fishing. Either one beats sitting around watching the tube.

Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, two children and two cats. Email him your questions and memories of the Rockland area at Follow him on Twitter @DanDunkle.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Patrick Michael Florance | Feb 03, 2017 09:53

Great insight, Dan!



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Feb 02, 2017 15:06


Posted by: Peter Petersen | Feb 01, 2017 08:33

it will be the new public library!

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