I miss Christmas shopping. Which, by definition, requires shops.
I spent about an hour ordering things on Amazon.com last Sunday, and when I was done I had purchased nine inconsequential gifts.
With free delivery! (Big whoop!)
Buying gifts online is more efficient but less fun than shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. And that's the irony.
While shopping online, I didn't get to wave at anyone, try anything on, smell anything or touch anything. Nobody tried to sell me a chair massage or spritz me with cologne. I was also hungry throughout. Oh, for a bucket of Boardwalk Fries. And, most importantly, I never once laughed, or even smiled.
I miss malls. I even miss complaining about malls. I know they are open but, you know, COVID. And it's not just COVID-19. I miss stores that don't even exist anymore.
Thinking back across Christmases past, I realize that I miss a lot of stuff that is not coming back, things that were long gone before the pandemic even started.
Always the dutiful list maker, I sat down to remember stores that are no more.
* RadioShack: Back in high school, I remember going to RadioShack during the holidays as a guilty pleasure. Back then "stereo equipment" wasn't just a smartphone and a pair of earbuds.
You could stand beside a giant, floor-standing speaker at RadioShack and listen to the tweeters tweet (think of a drum stick tapping the dome of a cymbal) and the woofers woof (think of a thumping bass guitar riff).
And, yes, kids, people used to share music with big speakers and high-wattage amplifiers. Headphones were considered borderline rude. They were for your uncle who taught English at the junior college, smoked a pipe and listened to Mozart.
As recently as 2014 there were RadioShack stores in Brainerd, Hixson and Red Bank. But, alas, there are no more, and I miss them.
* Service Merchandise: How do you explain Service Merchandise to anyone under 25 years old?
The Tennessee-based chain had a three-decade run in Chattanooga with stores in Brainerd and Hixson. The stores, which were technically called catalog showrooms, were like a cross between a Costco and an Amazon fulfillment center.
You wrote a catalog product number on a slip of paper bound to a clipboard, handed it off to a clerk, and a few minutes later here came your item rumbling down a conveyor belt. It was glorious, and different enough to make you feel like you were earning your no-frills, bargain price.
* Sears: This memory chokes me up. When we baby boomers were kids, Sears was Christmas. I remember picking out a pair of stack-heeled shoes for Christmas 1971 out of the Sears catalog. I was a dude. Who knew spontaneous clogging was a thing?
Most Santa letters in the mid-20th century were written with a Sears catalog as a reference tool, often with items circled in Crayon: like Easy-Bake ovens and Hot Wheels Triple Loop drag race sets.
Driving by the empty Sears store at Northgate Mall, I get a little lump in my throat.
* Blockbuster: This may sound strange, but I associate Blockbuster video stores with the holidays. When our two teenage sons were small, Christmas vacation meant several trips a week to the Blockbuster store on Dayton Boulevard.
Our older son, when he was about 3, called Blockbuster "Block-mustard." What I miss most about Blockbuster is the camaraderie. There was always someone around to ask about a movie.
Now, at home, I sometimes spend 30 minutes browsing movies on streaming services, only to give up and return to scrolling on my iPhone. I don't like how that feels.
* Waldenbooks: Waldenbooks was to Barnes & Noble as Golden Gallon is to Publix.
Sometimes you want to browse around in a big bookstore, but other times you just want to pop in to buy a best-seller and a Newsweek. Waldenbooks, which were generally tucked inside malls, didn't have any coffee bars or comfy chairs to seduce you into overstaying.
There was the just best-seller rack and then a few hundred curated fiction and nonfiction titles. Waldenbooks stores felt like they had been edited for your convenience.
* Western Auto: OK, I really have to reach back for this one, but in 1968 if you wanted a Western Flyer bicycle or a charcoal grill or a set of spark plugs, Western Auto was your place. Imagine a bike store, a hardware store and an auto-parts store all mushed together.
My best memory of Western Auto was winning a Zebco fishing rod-and-reel at a drawing in my hometown when I was 11. I immediately thought I would catch all the carp in the Duck River, but the wily old fish just laughed at me.
Western Auto sold out to Sears in the 1980s, which sold it to Advance Auto Parts in the 1990s.
Maybe after COVID-19, people will be so tired of ordering things on computers that there will be another golden era of in-person shopping.
Let your mind consider the possibility: " 'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a (computer) mouse."
Email Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.