Shop 'til you dropkick
Snotty as I can be about all the vapid consumption that our country seems to be organized around - Biggest! Latest! Newest! Shiniest! - I must also confess that I am someone who likes to shop. No, I don't do as much of it as I used to, but I realize that I've gotten to the point in my life where I really don't need another fruit bowl from Crate & Barrel. And, since I'm no longer working full-time, I no longer have the big jones to stop at the mall on the way home to buy myself a consolation prize - like my 10th or 11th periwinkle blue sweater.
But I still manage to spend plenty of time and money in the course of a year shopping.
Still, I loathe the fact that so much of our culture and our entertainment seems to be focused on shopping. Drive by any super-mall on a Sunday afternoon and you'll find the parking lot jammed.
Shouldn't those shoppers be home cooking a roast beef, or chillin' with their families, or watching football?
A while back, the Kraft family - owners of the New England Patriots and, by all accounts, the very definition of good citizens in terms of their decency, philanthropy, and community involvement - announced that they are building yet another "retail and entertainment complex" on the property they own around Gillette Stadium, where the Pats play on said Sunday afternoons. One of the local TV news stations had an update on the project the other evening, which got me thinking about it a bit.
And the one thought that I can't help but think is this: do we really need yet another big-ass mall?
This one will not only have the same stores that are on every corner - Christmas Tree Shoppe and Victoria's Secret - but also more off-beat ones (at least in this area) like the Bass Pro Shops. Patriot Place will also contain a Patriots museum, an upscale movie theater, restaurants, and a jazz club. This kind of location for a jazz club strikes me as a bit odd - the antithesis of jazz as hipster and counter-cultural. But this jazz club will have 500 seats, so it won't exactly be a smokey Village jazz joint.
There will also be a sports medicine center - which makes sense. (As does the Patriots museum.)
But while all the retail? Is that the only way to attract people these days? It ain't worth going unless there's some shopping to do? (Hypocrisy note: when I go to a museum I have been known to spend as much time in the store as I do looking at the paintings.)
Admittedly, the area around Gillette is kind of a retail dead zone, but unless I've got my geography wrong, the Wrentham Mall is not very far away. And there's apparently another big-ass mall going up just 15 miles up Route 1.
I repeat, do we really need another big-ass mall?
Don't these stores eventually start cannibalizing each other? Or are there so many untapped shoppers out there who have just been waiting for a Christmas Tree Shoppe to open 4 miles from their house instead of 8?
Eventually, Patriot Place is meant to have housing, and perhaps some corporate presence, although why anyone would want to live on top of a football station truly eludes me. They're also using local construction and architectural firms, so there's no doubt that this is something of a labor of Massachusetts love.
Still, do we really need another big-ass mall?
"For me, this is a legacy project," said Robert Kraft , the 65-year-old chairman and chief executive of The Kraft Group and the New England Patriots, during an interview at Gillette Stadium.
"This is where I come to work every day. We want to build something special," he said, speaking for the first time about his vision and motivation for the project.
Well, it's their legacy.
But isn't it possible to envision a legacy that's not primarily centered on shopping? How about starting with residential, but including the types of stores that sustain a residential community - grocery, drug, hardware, dry cleaners? Since it's the Pats, why not add all kinds of sports facilities - indoor tennis and soccer, batting cages, par 3 golf, mini-golf, running track, health club/fitness center, swimming pools, basketball courts, skating rinks - places where families, recreational athletes, aging jocks, and semi-pros could come to play. Shops could be related: Bass Pro - yes; Victoria's Secret - well, this depends on how widely you want to define sport, but probably not.
Keep the jazz club and the theater (everyone doesn't have an inner jock to release; some have an inner Coltrane), keep the restaurants (everybody's gotta eat).
Well, it's their legacy. But do we really need another big-ass mall?
Oh, well, at least this one's within walking distance of the train station, so that you don't have to drive to Patriot Place in your big-ass car.
Source for info contained in this post: Boston Globe article by Jenn Abelson, May 20, 2007.