What Will We Do When the Stores Are Gone?

August 29, 2016
By

By Phineas J. Stone

Perhaps the biggest threat to the layout, zoning and traditional organization of Boston and its neighborhoods are the white ‘Amazon’ trucks that have swarmed the neighborhoods over the past six months.

On every stoop and in most doorways, one will see two or three packages per day waiting for residents to arrive. Some of them have plastic bins, too, that are filled with vegetables or, in some cases, the ingredients for that night’s dinner.

It’s all waiting at the door.

The significant part of that is these trucks are bringing things that we once bought at a store in our business districts. After perusing the aisles, asking the employees a few questions and, maybe, trying on a garment or asking a technical question of a paid “expert,” we settled on a purchase. Then we would happily take our new clothes or electronics or what have you home with us.

Now, folks sit on the couch and watch television on their computer – on demand, mind you – while making these same decisions on their phones while looking at pictures and choosing prompts. They touch the picture on the screen, read a little about it – if they’re of the social justice mindset, perhaps they’re interested in who made the item and how much that “artisan” will be paid from the purchase – and then they enter a credit card number and “check out.” Soon, perhaps even the next day, a brown box with what they ordered will be at their door, provided that an opportunist hasn’t absconded with it before they arrive.

This is the new way of doing things, and no one can stop it.

Industry experts told us some years ago that meaningful Internet shopping wouldn’t take shape for a few decades, but in this age everything is exponential. I believe the trend crept up on those experts far quicker than they expected.

The other day I read that Macy’s is closing down 100 stores.

Last Christmas, retailers lamented the fact that online shopping ruined their holiday receipts. For the first time, enough online shopping was done to significantly eat into the business plans of retail giants and small business owners too.

This presents a problem for our traditional business districts. What happens when the small businesses that compete with online retailers lose all their customers? The quaintness of retail districts punctuated with service businesses and restaurants is a stabilizing force in Boston neighborhoods.

What happens when a business district is left with only services and restaurants? Already, though, service oriented businesses are threatened and they don’t even know it yet. There are online services that will come to one’s house in the evenings to do their nails or give a pedicure. Talented chefs now will even come to your home instead of you going to his or her restaurant. It’s all mobile. Dry cleaners with vision have picked a central location in cheaper industrial areas, and employ people to go out and pick up orders and deliver them to the work or homes of customers.

Will we only walk down Tremont Street or Boylston Street to go to a restaurant or meet a friend for coffee? Is that all that will be left?

Know-it-alls will bring up the supermarkets.

Everyone has to have food, right? Just wait…

Last summer, hidden away in a little room at the top of Everett City Hall, a group of executives from Seattle met with that City’s Planning Board. Who cares, right? In that room, however, is what I believe to be the demise of a treasured Boston tradition – food shoppin’.

At that meeting, Amazon executive rolled out in detail a plan for Everett’s industrial area whereby they would store fresh foods and perishables at a giant fulfillment center. The idea was customers could pick what they wanted online before 10 a.m. By the end of that day, the U.S. Postal Service would deliver bins with those items to the customer’s doorstep, stoop or lockbox. (Soon, most apartment buildings or condos will include a fridge/freezer as a lobby amenity – if that’s not already being done.) There were a lot of puzzled looks from the Board, but Amazon knew what they were doing and Everett officials embraced it.

Shortly after, those white Amazon trucks began appearing everywhere in Boston bringing packages. Soon, if not already, that same Everett facility will be providing food for those Boston residents who are on the go and don’t like “food shoppin’” like I do.

The supermarkets, corner stores and groceries don’t even know this is coming.

I love Boston’s business districts. I want to see them flourish, but this is the age of people who consider most everything I love a waste of time. And far too many people – especially the younger set – consider browsing at a store or supermarket to be a waste of time, even if it were for a staple like food. Absent a major movement amongst consumers, this is just a tidal wave that can’t be stopped.

When the store’s are gone, what will be in those spaces – more units?

—————

I’ve kept quiet about it to now, but at the risk of upsetting the men in black suits, I have to wonder what’s up with all the low-flying and CIA-looking helicopters that buzz our neighborhoods at odd hours on about any day.

These aren’t traffic copters or helicopter ambulances or even the annoying television heli-hoverers that I’m talking about. Rather, these are the X-Files type of black government helicopters or military-style helicopters that one typically only sees on a battlefield or in Washington, D.C.

I’ve seen them on Saturday mornings traveling in triplicate – only a stone’s throw above my head and flying off to the north. I’ve seen single copters blasting their way up the Expressway and into downtown Boston on a Tuesday at 1 p.m. – seemingly headed straight for the towers in the Financial District. I saw one earlier this summer that I thought was going to land on the Zakim/Bunker Hill Bridge – only to rip off at a high rate of speed over the Bunker Hill Monument and away to wherever these strange, scary looking helicopters go.

What are these things?

Or do I dare to ask?

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