Friday, August 9, 2013

Is the shopping mall concept dead? Or do I just have a knack for "killing off" all of my former employers?

The current court fight taking place over whether or not to shutter a shopping mall in suburban Matteson had a personal hit in my memory – I actually once had a job in one of the stores in that mall.

Actually, not just a store as in one of those generic shops that sell tacky trinkets that can be found in any mall.

MY STINT IN suburban Matteson was at the Carson, Pirie, Scott store that was one of the Lincoln Mall shopping center’s anchors – and will potentially be the only survivor of the 40-year-old mall on Lincoln Highway at Cicero Avenue (just a mile or so from the Cook/Will county line).

In my case, the very first job I got out of college was a part-time gig for a few months at the then Chicago Heights-based Star Newspapers. The pay wasn’t great, and the hours weren’t excessive, so I needed more money.

So for a few months, I worked as a sales clerk in the men’s clothing department at Carsons a few days a week, combined with the night shift work I did for the newspaper.

Eventually, I moved on to a full-time news reporting gig (the now-defunct City News Bureau) that paid barely better, but enough that I could do it fulltime.

MY MEMORIES OF working at Lincoln Mall are about 26 years old, and are similar enough to those of anyone who has ever done a part-time job in retail to come up with extra money.

Personally, I always felt sorry for anyone who had to do retail full-time to earn a living. It’s not easy work, and it contains its frustrations from dealing with customers who prove on a daily basis that people like Harry Selfridge and Marshall Field didn’t have a clue what they were talking about when they said, “The customer is always right.”

The customer usually doesn’t have a clue what they want, yet they don’t like having anyone try to guide them because it exposes their ignorance – so to speak!

I actually have more intense memories of my co-workers from those days, even though I barely remember their actual names and haven’t seen most of them since the day I quit in disgust during the first week of a new year.

I REMEMBER QUITTING because of all the negative sales commissions I was getting in the days following the Christmas holiday of 1987. All those “presents” I sold to people for the holiday were being returned. Any commission bonus I received prior to the holiday was being taken back.

There’s no way Carsons was going to lose out from the fact that somebody didn’t like the tacky yellow sweater I sold some woman as a gift for her brother.

But I also remember the crowds that would stream through the mall proper, which I would usually wander about during my breaks. I was never the type who wanted to spend time in a break room or employee lounge. Why stay cooped up when I can check out the surroundings.

Only it seems now that there just aren’t any surroundings to check out.

FOR AS I understand, Carsons is the only anchor retailer remaining in Lincoln Mall. The Sears, Montgomery Wards and J.C. Penney’s that I remember are gone.

In fact, more than half of the little storefronts inside the mall are now empty.

Yet the mall is closing down because its current structural condition has become so decrepit that Matteson village officials contend it is unsafe. It is in need of significant repairs. And they don’t think the mall’s current owner (a New York-based developer) is acting quickly enough to make such repairs.

Which is why this fight is now in the courts. A hearing is scheduled for next week, and it is possible that a judge could issue some sort of order that could force the mall to close until repairs are made.

THAT BIG A structure sitting empty would be such a money-loser that it would force repairs to be made. Unless the owner (who isn’t the easiest of people to reach these days) somehow decides to just write off his financial losses.

Which I would hope does not happen.

I already have a string of news organizations (the Star Newspapers, City News Bureau, United Press International) in my work history whose offices no longer exist. A part of me wonders if I personally have become a “kiss of death” to a news outfit.

I’d hate to see it come to the point where the only place I could go to, point to it, and say “I once worked here,” is a Subway Sandwich franchise in suburban Calumet City.


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