The closing of 20 Sears stores nationally is not merely an occasion for retail nostalgia. It is a moment to ask what kind of communities and society we really want.
The old-style retail stores — Macy’s and Elder-Beerman cannot be far behind — are going and almost gone. We know that.
The question is whether there is a new retail model out there — one that exists on a smaller scale with less stock, but tied to electronic shopping and compelling price points.
Amazon has opened actual brick-and-mortar stores, so there is some indication that there might be such a new model. Sears never found it.
Some of this has to do with business skill and imagination. But it also has to do with values. Are Americans prepared to shop for food, clothes, movies, music, pharmaceuticals, home and garden, and auto supplies, with little or no human interaction? That would make for a lonely, unsocial society.
You may be supporting the economy when you shop at Amazon, but you are not supporting your neighbors.
For Toledo, in particular, the closing of Sears means another empty hulk in West Toledo, adding to a soon-to-be abandoned Kroger building and the empty Andersons building. These together threaten to transform a vast swath of West Toledo into a sort of Southwyck West ghost mall.
Large, empty commercial buildings, we know all too well, can damage the psyche of a city. Ugliness is Public Enemy No. 1 in Toledo today.
But the Executive Parkway area around Sears is actually quite attractive. The challenge will be for city fathers to expand this development of green office park and to replace emptiness and ugliness with intelligent urban design and development. The current mayor and council have a chance to get this one right and somewhat redeem themselves for some of their past planning and zoning sins.
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