Somehow, the axis of the earth shifted beneath my feet, and I didn’t feel a thing.
When I was a teenager, in the heady days of MTV and before the second wave of video games hit, we had only a few things to do to get out of the house. When we were too old to build forts in the woods or make jumps for our bikes, we bugged Mom or Dad to drive us to the Mall, where we could go hang out and wander for hours and maybe meet up with our friends and not look like miserable lonely schlubs. I’d spend a half an hour in the Koenig Art Emporium, looking at brushes or expensive oil paints; I’d go to the poster store and maybe buy a cardboard-backed picture of a Porsche or a Lamborghini. I’d go to one of the two music stores and agonize over whether I should spend $15 on a cassette that might only have two good songs on it. And I’d always stop at the Gap.
The Gap was my touchpoint for fashion in the 1980’s; I wasn’t a Chess King guy (we quietly made fun of the pleated slacks, Capezio and black fedora set in our high school) and I had more style than Sears or K-Mart offered. The Gap was always mobbed. They played decent music, and all my friends and I bought clothes there. I worked for months to afford a fleece-lined denim Gap jacket. I had the Gap’s version of Jams when Jams were cool. I had multiple Gap polo shirts, alternating those with J. Crew polo shirts which hid my pencil neck—I only popped the collar a couple of times, I swear.
I still buy Gap jeans, as they have a wide selection of available styles which still tend to fit me in a 25-year-old way and not a Dad way, and usually it’s a breeze to buy them online during a sale and have them delivered—if they don’t fit, you run them back to the store. After I had a wave of knee blowouts in my “work uniform” this winter, I ordered three pair to replace the fallen soldiers. Two fit as advertised, but one pair was so skinny as to be latex, and I can’t rock that look without major ball squishage (I’m so old I remember when the Gap’s clothes were all 14 sizes too big). They’ve sat in the bag patiently, waiting to go back for a couple of months now, and my blood draw this morning took me in that general direction so I stopped in to the mall to return them. Donning my mask I noticed several shuttered storefronts (the beads and baubles store is gone; the Apple store moved further down the row and has been replaced with a Lululemon store. Macy’s is closed, darkening one whole wing.) When I reached the storefront where the Gap was, I was faced with a boarded up wall.
I was momentarily flabbergasted. Having a mall without a Gap is kind of like having a hand with no thumb; inconceivable to a child of the 80’s like me. They’ve been in dire straits for a long time now, so I can’t say this is a complete shock. But I figured with Columbia’s clientele and proximity to middle-class shoppers, this would be one store that would have stayed open. The closest I’ve got is a factory outlet in another nearby mall, and hopefully they’ll honor the return. If not, I’ll have to squish my balls into some skinny jeans and pour another one out for the inexorable march of progress.