When I was a kid, shopping meant going downtown to Leonard’s Department Store. Leonard’s was an experience, an adventure even. On any given weekend, Leonard’s had people out demonstrating new products, offering taste tests, and having specials such as a 22-cent sale on Feb. 22, which back then was celebrated as George Washington’s Birthday. And, of course, there was the subway. Yep, they had mass transit too! That’s to say nothing of the other entertainment available just outside on the sidewalk, where there might be a street magician or, more likely, a man or woman busking with a guitar. They sang some pretty frightening-sounding blues and I’m pretty sure they knew firsthand of what they sang. Yep, Leonard’s was a store of bits. I miss those days.
As a teenager, it was Seminary South Shopping Center, where we walked around looking tough as we bought our 45s at G.C. Murphy. Then, in college, it was Hulen or Ridgmar Mall. I worked some retail, too – even wrote a song about it called “Workin’ my tail off in retail” that my college professor found more amusing than adhering strictly to the conventions of poetry. She laughed, anyway, which I thought was more important than being Keats.
Retail is always changing, as consumer tastes can be as fickle as Texas weather. But Amazon dropped a giant stick of dynamite in the middle of a sleepy pool of retailers back in the ’90s. Nothing has been the same since. Some retailers are now gone (Montgomery Ward, where I once toiled) or hanging on by a thin thread (Sears, our own Pier 1). Others are adapting, but change is hard.
According to a recent survey by Morning Consult Brand Intelligence, Gen Z, the generation born between 1995 and 2015, is lit about technology. “Lit,” in case you’re older than 26, means you like something.
Morning Consult found Gen Z digs, I mean is lit by, tech, entertainment, and food brands. Google is No. 1. The next three are Netflix, YouTube (owned by Google) and Amazon. No. 5 is Oreo, the only brand that was around when I was a kid. They must be doing something right.
The rest of the top 20.
13. Marvel Studios
16. Pizza Hut
18. Dunkin’ Donuts
19. Dollar Tree
Of those, only a few were around 25 years ago.
Of the retailers on the list, Walmart and Target have been hit hard by Amazon, but they’ve obviously been able to survive and even thrive.
Grant Pruitt, Dallas-based Whitebox Real Estate’s president and managing director, notes that 10 to 15 years ago, consultants were saying that Walmart was going to take over the world.
“There’s a place for brick-and-mortar retail,” he said. “Walmart has proven that. And I don’t think shopping malls are going away. People still want to communicate face-to-face.”
That’s particularly true for luxury brands, he said.
And even the brick-and-mortar retail serial killer, Amazon, is getting in on the act. Reports are that Amazon will open one of its 4-star stores in North Texas, most likely in Frisco.
There are currently three Amazon 4-star locations: Soho in New City; Lone Tree, Colorado, and Berkeley, California. The stores focus on best-selling items in various categories such as electronics, books, kitchen, home, toys and games. The best-selling items at Amazon 4-star last holiday season included Amazon Smart Plug, all-new Echo Dot, Becoming by Michelle Obama, L.O.L. Surprise! Under Wraps Doll Series toys, and the DASH Rapid Egg Cooker.
A friend of mine who lives in New York went to the Soho store and was suitably unimpressed. Of course, you can find just about anything in Soho, from a first edition of Moby Dick to a Beatles album with a “butcher” cover, so how would a store that’s basically a Top 10 list come to life impress anyone in New York?
Whitebox’s Pruitt said an Amazon 4-star store adds a touch of experiential shopping to Amazon’s brand.
“You go there to see what everybody else is buying, kind of a ‘what do I need that I don’t know I need?’ – sort of like the old Sharper Image stores,” he said.
Experience is big for millennials, he notes. “They are willing to pay for that experience,” he said.
Speaking of experiences, Amazon has one for you coming up during its “Christmas in July” Prime Days set for July 15-16. That’s right. Just like Leonard’s, Amazon is a store full of bits.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.
If you were too young to remember Leonard's you can get a taste - literally - at the M&O Grill. Also there is a Leonard's Museum.
Both are at:
200 Carroll St
Fort Worth, Texas 76107
Both worth checking out.