Boomers Had A Different Christmas Shopping Experience

OK, boomers. It’s time for Mister Boomer’s annual holiday rant against Internet shopping. Sure, there are many situations that online shopping is both a godsend and a necessity, especially when a lot of the people on your gift list live in other states. Nonetheless, it is frightening to hear about this year’s milestone: that nearly half of all gifts purchased this holiday season will be from online purchases.

A walk through any urban center, large or small, shows the devastating effect the change in consumer spending habits have had on local retail. Faced with impossible competition from big box retailers, both in brick and mortar stores and online, coupled with rising rents and the cost of doing business, retailers of all types are closing their doors at an alarming rate.

It certainly is nostalgic to think about our boomer days when heading out with the family to the downtown shopping zone, or to a mall or local stores, to do all your Christmas shopping, was a big part of the holiday experience. Mister Boomer’s family always made a trip downtown. It was a chance to see the display of holiday lights in the big city, and shop the largest area department store. By the early 1970s, downtown was not the shopping mecca it once was, as suburban malls took to harnessing holiday shoppers in their local environs.

As Mister B became self-sufficient in the ’70s with an income and a car, he broke up his shopping into various days and at various malls to avoid the crowds, which were larger than when he was a kid. Mall parking lots, usually mostly empty at other times of the year, could fill to capacity in the weeks before Christmas. It was a far cry from the holiday experience that he and countless other boomers recall as a child. Chances are if boomers had an Internet shopping option at that point, Mister B and most boomers would have gladly jumped on the bandwagon.

Let’s face it: online shopping is convenient, and allows comparison shopping from the warmth of your own home, which results in most often finding the best price on any given gift item. Yet the holiday spirit of shopping — physically looking for the right gift for each person — has been supplanted by a get-it-done-as-quickly-and-painlessly-as-possible attitude. For most people, however, online shopping represents progress. Despite the negative vibes that current generations are throwing at the Boomer Generation, the one thing that can be said is that we boomers were all about progress. We were the early adopters to countless technologies that paved the way for the smartphones of today as well as the explosion of information and ultimately, shopping abilities, the Internet has offered all generations who could afford it.

Yet Mister Boomer keeps drifting back to the plight of local retail stores. It was the retailers who sponsored the Little League team he was on for three years as a pre-teen. For Mister Boomer, it was a local drug store sponsor, back before chain stores had decimated the local drug store market. Those same retailers — car dealers, furniture stores, dry cleaners, bakeries, dentists, grocery stores, sporting goods stores, funeral homes and more — were sponsors of countless school events, church newsletters, community raffles and fundraisers. It was the retail industry that gave, and still gives, teenagers their first jobs. For a teenage Mister Boomer, it was first a burger joint, then a shoe store that initiated him into the working world. And, it was the retailers who sponsored the annual Thanksgiving parade and Christmas displays, tree and street display lighting. It was these retailers who made the Christmas memories that people now think of as quintessential boomer experiences.

What can be done? Progress is a line into the future. Certainly there is no stopping the Internet, nor is there any appetite in any generation alive to do so. The best we can hope for is that good people everywhere will continue to support their local merchants so they can continue to be a part of our communities for the next generation.

Can you imagine a child of today — very possibly your grandchild or great grandchild — reminiscing about the Christmas of 2019 and waxing nostalgic about the how hard it was shopping on the Internet? Is the only Christmas magic remaining to be found in the ads that splash across your screens? Time will tell what, fifty years from now, people will say of their Christmas shopping experience. Make memories while you can, boomers. Winter is coming.

Do you recall Christmas shopping in your boomer years with nostalgia or a good-riddance mentality, boomers?