Monday, January 28, 2008

What Happens Next?

On Sunday I had a couple of hours to kill after I took my son to his internship as a cameraman at the local PBS TV station. I knew that the Comp USA store was closing its doors forever, as the entire chain was going under. My wife and I had already been there early on in the going-out-of-business sale. On that day, the store looked as it always had in the days when I’d gone in to purchase this or that for one of my long line of desktop computers. It had always been a good source of parts and software and various types of digital storage.

On Sunday, January 27, 2008, the sale had been going on for some weeks. I’m not sure just what I expected to see, but what I encountered was a building about half empty. It was a ghost of its former self, if “self” can be used to describe an ongoing enterprise of retail. Most of the desktop computers were gone. There were still a fair number of laptop machines on display. Almost all of the digital cameras were gone. The remaining merchandise had contracted to a space in the center of the store comprising—perhaps—one half of its normal volume.

The store still had a fair clientele gleaning the things still for sale. There were still blank CDs and DVDs for sale. Still some software. A few inkjet machines remained on the floor, along with scanners and photo-printers. But looking around, watching the employees walking around, asking prospective customers if they needed any help, I became tremendously depressed. Yeah, I know, I know. Why should I be depressed over the demise of a huge retail outfit biting the dust?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. One of them is selfish. The selfish reason is that I quite liked that store. I bought a fair amount of stuff in there, and the purchases pretty much uniformly made me happy. Storage space for a computer. Display screen. A digital camera. A satellite radio receiver. A fan I bought for an older HP computer when the cooling unit died on it. Some computer games. Little things. My wife and son and I liked shopping in there from time to time. So on that very personal and selfish basis, seeing it go was sad.

But there was also an unselfish reason for the sudden depression that gripped me and sent me out the door. It was the employees standing around in there and stationed behind counters and looking on at the rest of us as we shopped this dying carcass. What were these folk going to do? Had they been very happy working for one of the largest computer retailers in the nation? Had they depended on these jobs not only for a steady paycheck but also for health care? Were they at the ends of their ropes? Did they have new prospects? Were there jobs for them waiting when the doors closed that one last time and that final paycheck was deposited and spent? What the hell were these men and women going to do to earn a living?

That was what punched me in the heart of whatever it is that makes me wonder such things. That’s what chased me out of that building and to my truck where my wife was waiting for me.

What’s going to happen?

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