I was in the middle of a phone conversation with a friend when talk turned to TV. “I don’t watch a lot of TV,” I said. “I get most of my news from the internet and have a few favorite shows, but late at night when it’s just me, I tend to tune into one of two preferred home shopping channels.”
Given her reaction you might have thought I’d just confessed to moonlighting at the local strip joint.
“Lori!” she exclaimed. “Home shopping? Are you kidding me?”
I grew up when shopping was something of a pastime, like bowling or gardening, just probably more expensive. When I was young, our little downtown still had a couple of department stores as well as boutique, sporting and gift shops. Every once in a while my Mom would send a taxi to pick my sister and I up and meet her after work to shop. Weekends, my Dad drove us to Harrisburg and Lancaster to the malls. I’ve shopped downtowns in Anchorage, Connecticut, Seattle and Colorado, and the first outlets of their kind in Pennsylvania. I remember visits back east when every female in the house, at least five of us, piled into the car for an afternoon at a Jersey mall. I even made it to the Mall of America. I could kill hours walking in and out of stores, lugging out bags of stuff I probably didn’t need and surely couldn’t afford. Denver had great malls along with the boutique-y LoDo, and was so big with shoppers, a group of Kansas City country clubbers used to charter a private jet to fly them to shop in the Mile High City.
Eighteen years ago, when I arrived on the Oregon Coast, a place I knew would present considerable challenges for an avid shopper, I thought nothing of driving into Portland to spend a couple hours haunting Nordstroms, Macy’s, Borders, the Rack and the shops in Pioneer Place. Then I’d make the nearly three-hour drive home again to make dinner.
But 2018 was the year I finally acknowledged what I’ve known for some time but didn’t want to admit — I’m just not the shopper I used to be. Oh, I still like to shop; I just don’t really enjoy walking into the brick-and-mortar buildings the way I once did. I feel a certain amount of guilt about this. I miss walking around the city from store to store. I worry what the future of shopping looks like, the jobs lost, the storefronts empty. But when it comes to finding, say, a pair of to-die-for red boots and I have a choice of Googling the internet, where I’m likely to find pages of them, or searching a real store three hours away, where I’d be lucky to find a pair, well, there really is no contest. Throw in the often free shipping and it seems really silly to make the drive.
But if department stores aren’t doing it so much for me these days, I still love the small boutique shops that somehow manage to stock the stuff no one else has. Some of the coolest gifts I gave this year came from a little local store I usually shop at for my journals. It’s the kind of place where you want to take your time looking over every inch of space because it is that full of cool finds — so cool I returned twice this year to buy more.
And yes, late in the evening, when the hubs is in bed and the pups snoring contentedly beside me, I’ve been known to bounce between two particular channels, waiting for the host to show me that something I can’t live without. It’s how I found the first towel warmer that actually works worth a damn, and the luggage set that fellow travelers covet and, years ago, the collector’s tree ornament honoring 9/11 victims. It remains one of my more treasured decorations.
This was what I was trying to explain to my friend as she chided me long distance about my TV preferences.
“Well I guess, if you say so,” she said, still sounding dubious. “But hey, by the way,” she added. “Do you remember that little travel organizer you sent me?”
“I do,” I said.
“What a great gift. I absolutely love it. I use it all the time.”
“Great,” I said. “Wanna take a guess where I got it?”
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.