Wherever you go there they are. Woolies, Coles, Target, KMart, Priceline, or McDonald’s, Hungry Jack’s, Domino’s Pizza. These are the shops which constitute the ubiquitous local Mall. Eastgate, Northgate, Fountaingate, generic names which have long lost any viable resonance with the gates of the medieval market town. Throughout Australia, and no doubt in many other countries, unique environments are being spoiled by an invasion of modern commercial establishments we just can’t seem to live without. Don’t get me wrong, I have patronised these stores, well most of them from time to time, but should they, must they be found everywhere and in particular in special and sacred places?
When I enter the mall, I lose my willpower. No matter how single-mindedly determined I am to achieve my purpose, be it to buy one thing or half a dozen, I end up losing my way or being diverted by the blaring, bells, whistles and colours of the mall. As most malls seem to be outdoing themselves in the race to increase their size, you can end up walking a fair distance and getting lost in air conditioned comfort. My energy dissipates as I find myself entering shops in that elusive search for a sale item and invariably I end up seeking solace in a coffee from the food court.
I am invariably unsuccessful in my search but often end up fulfilling the shopkeepers agenda. What I find depressing is the uniform blandness of the mall experience. When you choose to visit an area because of its environmental uniqueness, it can be deflating to find the sameness of the shopping experience.
I lived in the Blue Mountains, a wilderness area, for fourteen years and witnessed the fight to maintain the uniqueness of Katoomba by resisting the push to establish a McDonalds in the town. With stores at Blaxland, the bottom of the Mountains and at Lithgow, over the Mountains, the multinational kept plugging away at an additional store in the heart of the tourist area, and the local community kept resisting. McDonalds isn’t a mall of course, but its service is so standardised that the company prides itself on providing the same service in Cairns as in Moscow.
Malls, it seems to me, are a conglomerate of standardised commercial practices with very little possibility of an individual transaction in which the human need for connection of buying and selling is accommodated.
That’s why I prefer shop at the local Farmer’s and Artisan’s markets wherever I travel. There, you get to mix with locals, both buyers and sellers, and with your purchase gain local currency on where to go and what to do, which can be valuable for making the most of your visit. At these individual and sometimes unique places, you can find fruit, veggies and hand-crafted products which, for all manner of reasons, never make it to the stores. Transactions can also be individual and personal where you can share experiences with local artists about their inspirations and challenges. Unlike the enclosed mall experience, you can easily navigate these open air meeting places,which are usually held in local show grounds or parks.
As well as directly contributing to the local economy and not some overseas head office, one of the best things about shopping at local markets is knowing that they are not leaving an indelible mark on the uniqueness of the local environment, where platypuses play in fresh creeks, which called you to visit in the first place.
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