08 December 2008

Reign of the superthug

In retail America to-day there is a growing trepidation. Stores are closing. Chains are liquidating and going out of business right and left. Places that were once safe to walk around and shop now pose a cold and forbidding presence. Husks of once thriving retail litter and blight the suburban landscape.

What is the common thread of this retail failure?

The state of the economy is an obvious answer. But it doesn't explain everything. Certainly the depression will bring a final denouement to the many failing zombie retailing firms out there (you know who you are). But even before the terminus of the late credit boom, malls were failing in large numbers. Certain chains couldn't put it all together even in good economic times (Kmart, Circuit City, etc.). Scarred commercial strips abounded on the bleak and fractured arterials of the predominantly blue collar inner suburbs, not to mention the urban core itself.

Retail space is still being expanded and constructed despite the depression; what is being built, however, is a highly selective portion of the retail scene. The good retail offerings increasingly have turned to thriving upper income areas. Retail growth trends favor these demographics. The newest and fanciest retail concepts find fruition here. Nobody builds enclosed malls and shopping centers anymore. Open air concepts such as "lifestyle centers" and strip shopping plazas are the order of the day. Like lemmings as always, the development community follows the alleged trends.

But there was already good retail infrastructure existing. So why build even more space? The retail sector is vastly overbuilt. There is simply too much space chasing too few tenants and merchants.

It is, of course, a factor of location. People want retail offerings to be located reasonably close to where they live and work. They do not feel like driving an inordinate distance (as inner city dwellers like myself must do) to shop for groceries.

But people also will not shop where they do not feel safe, no matter how convenient from a location perspective.

If you read dead retail tribute sites such as this one, you will come to notice a common thread behind the various stories of retail failure portrayed therein. You will come to notice that each mall or retail center started out with high hopes, and may have even thrived for a time. However, the end result is often the same: the mall becomes populated by the "inferior element" in society, and the retail offerings come to cater to their needs, providing the average suburban shopper less of a reason to visit. Inevitably the crime and shootings follow, which precipitates the final period of decline leading to eventual closure.

What is the culprit therein? Poor mall management? Economic misfortune? New and unforeseen retail competition? Developer greed? Cheep commercial credit? (Corn-Fed credit per Bernanke's non-stop printing presses indeed permits an excess of commercial development that otherwise would not exist. But that is an enabling factor. Why build anew, with all the issues that entails, when it is immensely cheaper to invest in the already existing capital structure?)

In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, which happens to be the Urban Prairie Schooner Heartland, there are three enclosed shopping malls located within a few miles of each other, all located closely upon the east-west axis that is Interstate 10. Each mall serves its specific retail niche which it has assumed over time based on changing market conditions. Each mall has adapted to its competitors and continues to thrive and remain profitable for its owners. Each mall provides a safe, pleasant, clean shopping experience free from fears of the lack of security or safety.

Why do three shopping malls thrive therein, despite close proximity? Because people shop there with the expectation that they will not be molested or otherwise harmed by a criminal element.

These malls draw patrons from all over the New Orleans metropolitan region. In decades past, my relatives from St. Bernard Parish would make the long trek across the city to Metairie or Kenner to shop at the malls there. Why did they prefer to make this long trip rather than spend their money at retail centers more proximate to their homes? (For those unfamiliar, St. Bernard Parish has no enclosed malls located within its limits. The most the parish's retail offerings could muster were a freestanding Sears [now defunct, a hurricane victim] and a Wal-Mart Supercenter.)

For those of you who know the New Orleans area, you will remember that in years past, the single enclosed mall located east of the Industrial Canal was the now-defunct Plaza at Lake Forest. For those of you not familiar, please peruse this insightful article to discover for yourself the sordid history of that center. No wonder my relations refused to shop there.

Granted, this is a localized example, but instructive nevertheless.

Eastbank Jefferson Parish, as of yet, does not house a significant underclass resident population. The vast underclass abyss of adjacent New Orleans can only traverse the inter-parish frontier with difficulty due to a poor transit system. Even when entering the E.J., erstwhile thugs will be watched at all times by a vigilant and probably excessively violent police state apparatus which vests itself in the guise of the Sheriff's Office.

I do not condone the sometimes thug-like activities of the JPSO here, having been on the receiving end a few times in my life myself. But the point is that safety is a primary factor in the success or failure of a retail venture. When the superthug is admitted into the retail precinct and permitted to do his thing, events predictably devolve downward from there.

This is not the job of the State police, which only makes things worse in their own way. This is up to the mall management. The thug's progress must be arrested at the outset.

But it is an uphill struggle. Increasingly large sections of the population have turned to indolence, subsidy, and other elements of the thug life. The thug population is increasing rapidly, which should be no surprise given that thug values have become the more or less mainstream cultural conceits of modern Amerikan society: living for the moment, emphasis on materialism, disrespect of other human beings, rejection of responsibilty and the sacredness of those human bonds inherent in the institutions of marriage and the family, disdain of productive activity including work, inculcation of a subsidy mentality of obtaining something for nothing, increasing pathological and criminal behavior, increased rates of social disorders characterized as "mental illness", decline of moral codes and value systems, rejection of the intrinsic value of human life and in particular the right to life of the unborn, and of course increased practice of all these values and increased tolerance of all those others who practice thug values.

So it should be no surprise that our malls and shopping areas have fallen prey to them, particularly our older centers in those neighborhoods which thugs have either colonized or otherwise "gone thuggin'."

And so the newer centers arise in the far suburbs, in areas free from thug activity for the moment. But as the empire of thuggery expands and productive human activity presumes to occupy less and less space within the geography of the urban area, even these centers will one day fall, a futile fiat money regime attempt to keep a decent offering of retail alive with only a limited lifespan. (This is intrinsically known by those who develop these centers. They are so cheaply constructed and adorned, I can only presume they are working under the presumption that they will only be profitable for a short period of perhaps ten to twenty years before dropping to 'second-tier' status with the thug invasion and thus making an eventual appointment with the wrecking ball.)

And in the final account, the thugs will control our destiny, since they will comprise the absolute majority. But by that time, don't expect much retail to be left, since the thugs will be too busy murdering us for anyone to care about much save bare survival.

It goes beyond retail, unfortunately. The dead mall phenomenon is but the canary in the coal mine. The thug increasingly plays a larger and larger role in our nation to-day. In due time, this role will become pivotal.

Such is the endgame of allowing the superthug to rampage unchecked. And such is the epitaph of our society.

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