No one really remembers the day they closed the escalators but I do. I was just a small child at the time, but I remember that day clearly. It used to be fun to ride on stairs that moved, and it seemed a shame to me that I couldn’t do it that day.
Fewer still remember the day that they opened, but I have heard stories from my grandparents. ‘A wonder of technology’ it used to be called. ‘A modern convenience’ where people could just stand and be propelled effortlessly to other areas of the store.
I have since learned of the days leading up to that day, but most folks don’t place much emphasis on those events either. Such things have become all too common place such that most people don’t even stop to consider which events are problems and which are the causes.
First it was a mother who became concerned when her child got a loose piece of clothing caught in between some of the moving parts. After rigorous inspections and improvements, the escalators were re-opened but with many more warning signs and new features added. Then it was an elderly man who complained of it going too fast. It had caused him to lose his balance and he fell part way down sustaining injuries in the process. So they had to slow the device down.
But then it required too many people to stand on it at once as it took longer to get them to the top. This caused concerns with the Fire Marshall and resulted in fines. This too led some to question the energy usage to carry the additional weight of more people and required the store to replace the engines. The end result was the stairs went even slower on the smaller, more ‘environmentally friendly’ motors that were put in place.
There were other stairs around back of course. Some folks took to taking these instead of waiting the extra time on a crowded treadmill. And the regulations to accommodate the physically disabled had long since initiated the installations of elevators in the back of the store.
But alas, most people didn’t want to bother with the crowded contraption, or were too lazy to climb the stairs and too lazy or too anti-social to want to crowd into an elevator. So alas, one day without much fanfare, the magical stairs were simply closed down, a nondescript sign placed at their feet, occasionally instructions left on where to find the regular stairs or how to locate the elevators.
It wasn’t too long after that when the upstairs of the stores were closed entirely to the buying public. There was already a clatter by some about such large stores anyway. The additional cost to heat them, the inordinate profits going into the hands of a selected few share holders (or so they said). And sales were down since most people were only using half of the store, avoiding the upstairs entirely due to the inconvenience of the hindered moving staircase.
Amid cut backs and downsizing resulting from the lack of profits, the store (and many others like it) began to close their upper floors entirely. In some cases entire stores were abandoned due to the added burden of heating a second half of a building where only the first half would be used. In other cases, the upper floors were converted to office space. This, of course meant that yet other buildings specifically created to use as offices were closed as the white collar support staffs moved to the upper floors of the department stores no longer serving as sales floorspace. Some suggestions were made to use them as warehouse space, but the added costs of moving goods up and down made that implausible.
With more passage of time, people lost interest in going to the large department stores entirely. Many blame it on the ‘online sales’ and the convenience of shopping at home, but it used to be a big deal to go to the mall. It used to be a big deal because the big stores were a big deal. And the big stores were cut down, chopped in half and their majesty castrated and prone before the regulators, complainers and whiners of modern society.
I remember when our mall closed, there were some people who seemed happy about it. They said things like “it serves them right” or they complained that the stores “weren’t all that special anyway.” They saw the shell left behind after the erosion of their glory by the nippers and the chippers who took one small piece after another away from them. It’s no wonder they didn’t seem special anymore.
No, not many people remember the day the escalator closed down. Most people didn’t think it was a big deal. Most people still don’t. But I remember. And I remember it being quite a big deal. I was too young to know why then, but looking back now – yes, I know why it was a big deal now.