Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mirrors Reflect Mirrors on the Promenade

Sign held by a panhandler on Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica: "Need the money to buy my wife a new vibrator". The wife, her sleek look completed with a mohawk and a streamlined biker jacket, sat next to him, bantering with passers-by who joked with the husband- "Man, you need to work harder!".

That was pretty much the high point of my quick run to the Promenade. That, and the Chinese acrobat balancing a dozen plates on his head. On earlier visits, a bunch of hotter than hot band of Argentinian musicians who used to perform regularly on the Promenade were a major attraction. But they've been missing for a while now, which makes me suspect that some corporate types might have swooped them up, and they'd be coming out with a record soon. They were crappy musicians anyway, the only appeal being that they were yummy eye candy.

But seriously, the Promenade is becoming more and more lacklustre for the likes of me as we speak. All the quirky, independent shops are long gone, the last to disappear being the beloved independent bookstore, Midnight Special.

Instead we have rows and rows of outposts of corporate empires, clothing stores where the season's trend infects displays with lightening speed, meaning that shopping is basically an endless succession of deja vu. This year's trend flu happens to be ruffles on shirts and tops, and by goodness they're everywhere.

I happen to like ruffles, so don't mind much, but given that clothing is so ephemeral and disposable these days, most of these garments are awfully constructed and made from synthetic or poor quality fabrics. Viscose, polyester, rayon, nylon, polyamide. Chances are, this is what the fabric content on your garments reads like. The irony is that these fabrics make their appearance across the spectrum, from bottom of the barrel stores like Old Navy to high end designer wear. Don't believe me? Check this out then. You've got to have some nerve to sell a dress made of viscose and elastane for $2139 (which by the way, is the discounted price).

Anyway, I digress, but not too much. Point is, the Promenade has been taken over by overpriced, mind-numbingly similar corporate clothing stores. There is also a de rigeur Starbucks (but of course!). Actually, I'm happy for the Starbucks, it's the only place on the promenade that allows you to use its bathrooms for the very nominal price of their cheapest coffee. This may not seems like a big deal, till you're actually stuck on the Promenade, and you really gotta go, and the only alternative to the Starbucks is buying a meal at one of the mediocre restaurants for bathroom privileges.

So now that Midnight Special is gone, we have the excellent choice of deciding between the tightly controlled genres and selections of Borders on the one hand, and Barnes and Noble on the other. Oh wait, there is an actual element of real choice, Barnes and Noble serves Starbucks on its premises, while Borders serves Seattle's Best Coffee. Happy now? Ok, ok, I should not quarrel with bookstores, especially with bookstores that have very liberal policies with regard to browsing and even reading on the premises.

This article, by a former Santa Monica mayor was perhaps written a few years ago, when the takeover of Third Street Promenade by large corporate chains was not yet complete. It is fairly prescient about things to come and correctly predicts that the place has become nothing more than a shopping mall with jacaranda trees, such a change from the vibrant place with independent retailers that it once used to be.

Lest anyone thinks I'm reflexively anti-big business, let me clarify that I have nothing against large corporate chains whatsoever. I shop extensively at retail chains like Target, Ikea, Zara and Trader Joe's, and am thankful for the bargains these places offer to a starving student like me. However, I also like diversity, and the happy co-existence of large and small players in the retail business. However, given the megastore uniformity that the Promenade has embraced, each visit yields more and more disappointment on that score.

A pity indeed, a street of shops and cafes by the ocean has such a nice ring to it!


Blogger Vijayeta said...

Clicked on the link to check out the Yoox dress! It's not all that great either, seriously... $2139!!! Sigh!
It is indeed sad when the standard retail stores take over any place and taking away its original, local flavor completely. Similar thing has begun happening to Khan Market in Delhi. Suddenly there are the mandatory McDonald's, Barista, UCB, Nike, Fabindia etc outlets all over replacing the old bookshops and the chaat shop too next to the temple.
It's really no longer the same place it was till even 5 years ago.

1:02 AM  
Blogger Rohit said...

vijayeta, some comparison that! Promenade to Khan Market :-O

7:39 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Seriously Vij, when I check out the garment construction and fabric content on some of these high-end clothes, I wonder how the designers built up a repuation in the first place!

I think the McDonaldization of Delhi's markets is proceeding at an alarming pace, the last I saw, there were three McDonalds in CP alone!

That's so sad about Khan market. Has the Chinese restaurant there disappeared? I had my first ever date at that place :).

Rohit, that's a fairly reasonable comparison. The Promenade and Khan Market are both shopping destinations that were dominated by independent small businesses, but are now predated by corporate chains.

1:18 AM  
Blogger Adagio For Strings said...

Promenade ALWAYS reminds me of Priya wala walk. ALWAYS :)!

8:32 PM  
Anonymous Sanity Starved said...

O well, it's just too hard to compete with the chains now. Too many of the coffeehouses here have become Starbucks and Tully's too.

Oh, the price is 1872 now :D

10:09 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Adagio, darn I'm such a tubelight! Here I was speculating about who Priya might be!

Pidus, yes the independent coffee shop in this country is fast becoming a relic. They recently showed a Simpsons episode where every single store in a block had been turned into a Starbucks!!

9:03 AM  
Blogger Azahar Machwe said...

Don't worry just passed your name and not your blog or the exotic nick (my pronunciation isnt that good!). So your secret is safe.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Wild Reeds said...

Here in India, we have the same situation in large cities, where malls are changing the streetscape so rapidly, you don't even know where you are anymore - everything looks unfamiliar.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Azahar Machwe said...

Long live Lajpat Nagar!
I guess in India the small/medium trader is still holding out against the BIG brands.
Thank god we still have bookshops like Galgotia and Teksons (in New Delhi). I think the future will provide us with a mixture of branded shops with a few 'speciality' shops.
In England there is a backlash against big shops especially in the food department. People have started supporting their local shops and boycotting the major supermarket. This allows the local business to keep open and thus keeps the supermarket out. Even here the city centers all have the same shops the same brands. Only difference is the price!

The problem with the local business is that they just cannot match the service and price of a big store.
In these days of 24 hour work cycle many times one reaches home too late to shop at the corner shop for stuff like fresh veggies, fruits or meat. Therefore there is no other option except to head for Sainsbury's or TESCO which is open till late (TESCO has two 24 hr stores in Bristol!).

6:32 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

I linked to your blog. Ok?

10:34 PM  
Blogger n.g. said...

mcdonalds has become the epitome of consumerism in india. walk into a mcdonalds and you'll find seas of families swimming in happy meals. later the parents will make jokes about how their dear dear child only insists on going there for the damn toy that comes 'free' with the happy meal. 'my pintu barely took a bite of the burger'. no shit. of course he didnt. because its inedible, moron. quarter pound of healthy wholesome fat and carb specially packed for your 3 year old, because mum and dad dont give two tiny fucks what he eats. he could eat the damn toy for all they care. as long as it keeps him occupied, so they can shop till their newly incremented salaries run dry for stuff they dont really need, but are buying because they saw it being carried into their neighbours' apartment last evening. 'now, i hope this plasma tv comes with an instruction manual in english', the man of the house jokes. 'korean mein start ko kya bolte hain hahahahah!' and the wife obliges by laughing along, imagining the look on the bitch next door's face when she sees our new plasma which is 20 inches wider than theirs.

dear sweet lord. give me this day my sada dosa and filter coffee.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Prasanna said...

Hi Thalassa

Apologies if you guys decipher ed even a hint of any other antisms (other than on the speaker-which was by design and i stand by it)

Please let me know the portions you find as taking potshots at a particular region .I am willing to change it

Just on a personal note,i am married to Bengali.She too is a reader of my blog.So i might be asking for trouble on my homefront if there is anything remotely anti-Bengali in this.(:

I have only immense respect and awe for many Bengalis-their intellect,social awareness

11:46 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Azahar, thanks!

Wild Reeds, yes global homogeneity is at our doorsteps now.

Azahar, you are right, and it took the loss of vibrant traditional markets for the Western world to become aware of the importance of diversity in retail. Hopefully we don't have to repeat that cycle.

Sue, thanks!

Nish, but I think we Indians manage to approach McDonalds with an incredible amount of retail savvy. At least in Delhi, very few Indians actually buy a full meal at McDs. Their highest selling item is the softy cone, and you'd see groups of teenagers hanging out for hours at McDs sharing only an order of fries between them. Most of their real business comes from Western tourists.

Hi Prasanna, I'm sure you didn't mean it, but it seems that you were implying that the stridency of the speakers comes from his being Bengali, which is an insinuation that is not very flattering. Of course this may only be your way of projecting domestic angst on to the persona of our Speaker :).

12:28 PM  
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1:55 AM  

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