Travel restrictions due to COVID-19 means many retired baby boomers will not be able to head to warm, sunny destinations this year to escape our shitty Canadian winters. I’m one of them. So, for the first time in many years, I’m spending the winter chez moi which means I’ll need to buy a winter parka. Which also means, a trip to the mall.
It’s no longer a simple matter of throwing on something decent to wear with a comfortable pair of shoes and heading out for some leisurely retail reconnaissance. Now we have to suit up. Should I wear latex gloves? Do I have my masks (I carry multiples in the car), my hand sanitizer, my wipes? Did I sterilize the steering wheel? Do I have my water in a stainless steel cup with stainless steel straw that won’t pollute the oceans and spread contamination? Am I feeling well? Do I have a cough? And the list goes on.
The fun starts and ends when I arrive at the mall. Which entrance can I use? Most are blocked off with restricted entrances staffed by mask-wearing security staff to ensure we once again douse ourselves in hand sanitizer in case someone with a cough sneaks in. I had a 10:00 a.m. appointment with my hairdresser in Toronto’s Sherway Gardens recently. Most malls don’t open now until 11:00 a.m. so I had to drive around looking for a place where I could legally get in. The malls aren’t as crowded these days, which is a good thing for navigating around. Before we enter and as we leave each store we’re again asked to sanitize our hands so we’re continually walking around with sticky, damp hands.
Some retailers have security personnel posted at their store entrance responsible for collecting a DNA sample, a copy of our tax returns for the last ten years, a complete written medical history, our mother’s maiden name, our telephone number, and the name of our first pet. Then they take our temperature. It’s all becoming too tedious. Once we gain admission to their sacred space, we find stripped-down inventories of merchandise that leave us wondering when they got their last shipment in. Can’t say I blame the retailers, although not many people are carrying shopping bags loaded with purchases these days.
Handle at your own risk
Lunch at the food court is now a challenge with most of the tables and chairs removed. Fortunately, there’s not much traffic so I was able to score my own romantic, tiny table for one so I could consume my prepackaged sushi with a degree of safety. After I’d finished eating and deposited my containers at the recycling station counter, a nice lady reached through a plexiglass barrier with a long, hooked wooden stick and retrieved my discards for disposal. Even though I understand and appreciate the precautions, it did make me feel a tad icky and contaminated.
Browsing is fraught with fear now. We’re afraid to touch merchandise in case we’re reprimanded by vigilant staff or, worse, we transfer our cooties to a scarf or tee shirt that might make someone else sick, or ourselves. If we try something on, the sales associates are burdened with setting the item aside for debugging and decontamination before it goes back on the rack.
Grocery shopping is particularly troublesome as it’s difficult to physically distance. Between sidestepping other customers and squeezing between skids of potatoes and watermelons, we’re constantly on guard. No mindless dawdling over the selection of jams anymore. Blocking traffic is a serious crime and could result in physical injury. Now that the run on toilet paper, cleaning products, and flour has abated somewhat, what’s the excuse for the absence of my large boxes of Red Rose Tea? Or Niagara peaches which are now in season and shockingly absent from the shelf? Even ice-cream is in short supply. Give me strength. Are we living in fifties’ Russia?
So, what’s the logical outcome of all this disillusionment with shopping? Online shopping, of course. It’s so easy to sit in my LaZ-girl and let my fingers do the walking on my iPad. I picked out a winter parka online but wanted to try it on for fit and quality so off I went to the mall, despite all the above-mentioned inconveniences. After checking for the commonly known brand in several stores without success, I came home and ordered it online.
Much as I once enjoyed nothing more than a casual morning or afternoon browsing different shops in the mall, it’s now a chore and even a hassle. I do sympathize with bricks and mortar retailers, but it’s difficult to imagine a solution in the current situation. I sincerely hope that when they do come up with a vaccine, life returns to whatever we used to call normal, but by then it will be too late for too many businesses and that’s tragic. Our economy needs commerce; people need jobs, and mama needs new shoes. Despite the inconveniences, I’m trying to support the bricks and mortar stores but it’s not easy. What does the future of shopping look like for you? Are your altered shopping habits going to become permanent behaviours?