In the early 90's I had heard from my brother in law of a store called Fry's. It was supposed to an amazing land of electronic joy, of computers and games and technology galore.
I made pilgrimages in the early 90's -first just visiting, and then moving there - and found that it was everything that he had said it was. Aisles of computers and games, cordless phones, games (did I mention that) - all in the context of stores done as Aztec temples or Egyptian pyramids. It was a place where someone who dreamed of those vaunted Macintosh games could wander to their heart's content.
Fast forward 20 years. I have reason to go into a Fry's - not any of those, but one in New Home - to buy a birthday present. I expected to go into some kind of environment of activity - instead, I went into a retail wasteland.
Oh, the shelves were stocked. Fuller than I recall seeing them in years. But the actual customers in the store seemed outnumbered by the red-shirted staff personnel. And there was an empty silence in the store, the sort of thing that makes you try to avoid meeting the eyes of any store personnel in case they latch on to you (Fry's personnel, in the very old days, had a rather bad habit of hounding customers to get credit for the sale).
I stumbled around a bit until a youngish sales clerk came over and guided me to the cell phone accessory I was looking for. I went and waited in the checkout line - gone were the days of packed in line, looking at the snacks and small items set aside to tempt you. The extension for the lines to loop around in the event of long lines mocked me with its emptiness, two soda coolers at the end of them suggesting that someone still maintained the vain hope that they would be used. Behind the counter, where often in the past I had recalled a hum of activity, there was almost silence and three check out clerks and supervisor cycling people out. Paying, I went out after my receipt marked for inspection (the first store I ever remember doing this, even before Costco).
You cannot draw lot of conclusions from a Monday afternoon at 5 PM on the health of a store or an economy, to be sure. But what I saw there left me skeptical in the belief that the example of corporate retail I saw today was anything other than healthy - or promising for the future.