Saturday, July 11, 2020

5 Years of Twin Tiers Retail

As of today, it's been five years since I first started this blog to cover the retail sights and memories in the broad region of northern Pennsylvania and both central and western New York. While it is true that posts have slowed a bit this year, I still intend to do two posts each month at this time. Anyways, today's post is special for the reason already highlighted. 

Because of this occasion, I thought I'd take the time to do a Q-and-A special as part of the anniversary. Below are answer to many questions that were asked by various people over on Discord where I had asked users to submit questions for this very post. I want to thank all of you who asked away.

What's the type of store you most enjoy photographing (in general)? What's your most favorite store you've ever been to and/or photographed (specifically)?

I have to say that going to the supermarket and seeing different decor packages is among my favorite things about the hobby. I really love just about any location that still has or makes use of neon.

Boscov's as a chain definitely wins as my favorite store. The Reading east store would have to be the best location I visited as it wasn't updated yet and is one Boscov's original stores. 

Have you ever had an experience where someone has asked you to stop taking photos?

I've had a few instances of this occurring. Generally, any non-Kmart encounter I've gone through has been positive, respectable, and handled in the right way. This would typically be along the lines of the employee or security person simply asking me to stop taking pictures, but doing it in a polite way. Sometimes they would even let me explain the situation, and more often than not they respectfully tell me that it is against company policy. But there are a few cases in which they actually had no problem with it as long as I don't annoy people. I personally can also understand being asked to stop on some occasions and have no problem with doing so if they are polite about it. There was one supermarket that I was kicked out of for taking pictures, but other than that every over encounter was handled properly. 

Of the nearly 30,000 photos I've taken, there's only a few instances where things got somewhat nasty- and they seem to have all occurred at a Kmart. I got kicked out of two stores, but I did later go back to one of them and I got pictures anyway with zero issues.

Is there any place you regret not photographing when you had the chance?

Yes and no. Yes because there are places that would of been amazing to have gotten pictures of, but because of not I was not actively documenting the retail landscape at the time, I missed out. . This includes a couple of Kmart stores in my region that closed just a couple years before I started my journey of retail photography. It was later that I realized that Flickr had an entire community that basically did retail documentation. And later came Discord and other platforms.

Yes. There is an instance where I should of gotten a picture of a long abandoned Kmart store in Painted Post, NY that finally was demolished for a new hotel. This particular Kmart location was very unique by having a very strange layout. Sadly, I missed the chance I had.

No. In a few instances, real life issues prevented me from being able to visit certain locations during a liquidation sale. More often than not, this may be a result of winter weather and having to travel some distance to visit said sale. While I would of loved to document the closing, I don't regret having to deal with hazardous conditions. This current ongoing pandemic has also limited my options.

Of Ames, Caldor and Bradlees, I was wondering if you ever went to the stores when they were open, and if you did, which one did you prefer?

The clear winner of the three for me is Ames, but that is pretty much because I never got the chance to visit a Bradlees or Caldor. So I can't fairly compare the three. And even then I don't have a lot of memories of Ames. The only memory of Ames I have is going to my local location (which itself was a Hills location and is now a JCPenney that is not closing at this time) and being amazed by the toy department having diagonal aisles. I was a kid at the time so I guess that's the one thing that stuck with me about Ames.

Is there any specific locations of any store or restaurant that have sentimental value to you?

I think most can say that stores around them in a local area mean a lot to them and I can say that I feel that to be the case. I will say that I'm particularly fond of the Lycoming Mall in Pennsdale, PA as I remember spending a lot of time there as a child. It was always a treat to make the 2 and 1/2 hour trip there.

Is there any specific place or general region you would like to travel to and photograph, if given the chance?

I definitely would love to get up to the North Country of New York state. I'm also considering venturing more into Ohio possibly to visit some unique Kroger stores. Other than these, I do not have a lot of future plans at this time as I've covered most everything I wanted too.

Is there any part of retail you don't particularly enjoy?

I suppose I'm not as interested in gas stations or auto centers nearly as much as I am into other aspects of retail- unless they happen to be connected to a brand like Sears auto centers are/were. I am a big fan of the Sheetz convenience chain though.

What's the strangest place you've ever photographed?

The strangest place I've photographed may just have to go to the now former Binghamton Kmart. That location had one of the strangest layouts I've experienced at a Kmart. It also didn't help that the store also felt like it was in a rough neighborhood.

I also have to mention that it felt really strange to actually be able to go inside the Bradford Mall for the first time. It opened its doors back in 2017 or so after being closed since 2002.

Why do you dislike Amazon?

As a retail fanatic, I would think most would dislike Amazon. Amazon has pretty much been the final blow to many many companies- and by extension- malls. While its true that Amazon is not fully to blame for the failure of other brands, the thing people seem to forget that having zero physical stores significantly lowers cost of operations. Lease, heat, AC, local taxes and general maintenance is something that other stores have to do deal with that Amazon doesn't. 

There is no uniqueness about Amazon. No stores at this time* means no decor packages from different eras to highlight, no difference between location A and location B and because of no stores, there is no history of the building it operated in- something that other stores sometimes do have whether it be purposely or not. 

As for just general reasons, I have plenty of beef with Amazon. Honestly, some of the same reasons above can apply- just in other ways:

  • There's nothing to make shopping on Amazon unique. All you do is browse, click and buy. Where's the fun in that? 
  • No support for the local economy. Having no stores* in local communities means those communities do not receive taxes from Amazon. This has created a domino effect, which I dub the 'Amazon effect', which can cause physical brick-and-mortar competition to close a store and thus results in a number of jobs being lost and a tax loss for the local community. This usually effects rural areas the most- and these are the areas that actually tend to need such a store due usually not having another similar style store and some people don't have access to online shopping
    • For example, take the area of Bennington, VT. The town is losing JCPenney and unless you count Walmart (I consider Walmart a discount retailer), then it is losing its only true department store
    • Another example is pretty much the entirety of the Gordmans chain.(though they themselves aren't as much as a department store as the previous Stage banners were) but still they provided that nice little department store in areas where others wouldn't go. (I really hope somebody saves Gordmans) 
  • You can't see with your own eyes what you are buying. Anyone can post a picture of something and say that it is what you get, but until you have it your own hands you don't really know. 
  • What sense does it make to buy clothing when you don't even know if it will fit you for sure?
  • Amazon is owned by the richest person in the world and despite what their commercials say, treats its employees pretty badly. The pandemic has highlighted this.
  • Amazon basically caters to making people lazy. (this is not entirely Amazon's fault, but it isn't helping the situation either) 
  • You have to pay a fee to get the best deals. Is it really a deal when have to pay more to even get said deal?
  • Amazon's expanding mindset. Amazon is too big of a company in my book. They have a deal or have some sort of market share with just about every aspect of retail- and even interests in things that have nothing to do with retail such Twitch or Amazon Music. While it may not be a true monopoly, it kind of feels like one.

It is true that most of these reasons describes online shopping in general, but honestly, online shopping never really became a big thing until Amazon made it one. Personally, unless I'm buying directly from a manufacturer or am looking for a niche product, I do not shop online. I'd much rather see what I'm buying and since Amazon has no stores at this time, how can I do that?

*I do not count Whole Foods as an Amazon store. To me it is just a supermarket that is owned by Amazon. Amazon Books and Amazon 4-star may be branded as Amazon stores, but my expectation of Amazon would be for them to be a proper discount store like Target or Walmart. To be objective and fair, I do see Amazon has plans to roll out a fleet of 3,000 stores in the next few years. We'll have to see how that goes and if this will change my opinions about them. If they use the whole technology aspect they've used at their test store, I doubt I will have any interest in shopping there and my opinions on them will likely stay the same. I'm not paying YOU to shop at YOUR store when you are already one of the richest companies- if not the richest- in the world. According to various articles, you aren't even allowed to enter if you don't have an Amazon membership because the store is planned to have no checkout registers. You basically pay virtually. 

How would this work if the power goes out? What if the network in use for the store goes down or gets hacked? The fact they also plan to have no checkout registers is one way Amazon can cut costs that other companies have- or will be a model that other companies follow. And it means more jobs that could have of existed or will be lost.

Also, being able to pay with paper money seems like it should be allowed because last I checked paper money is our currency, not pieces of card-shaped plastic. I can understand being hesitant to use paper money at this time in history thanks to the pandemic situation, but to not allow under normal circumstances seems unfair to the normal consumer. I suppose Amazon gets around this by not even allowing people who don't have a membership in.

So, yeah, that's why I dislike Amazon. I've never bought a product for them and have no desire to do so.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Former Kmart #4188

NOTE: This post comes from outside the blog's coverage area.

For the month of July, we take a look at what was West Virginia's first Kmart store which opened in 1967 with a Kmart foods. One thing that makes this particular location kind of unique is that the Kmart foods area actually had at least part of its storefront at an angle. Part of the space went to expanding Kmart itself while the rest became other tenants. Weight Watchers and The Shape Shop Cafe occupied the remaining space at the time the pictures below were taken.

This location was also the third to last Kmart store in West Virginia when it closed in 2018. Only Elkview and the other Charleston Kmart (Kanawha) lasted longer.

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