Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My Hometown Made National News (for a sad reason)

The Washington Post did a story on my hometown . . . except the story could have made a unicorn depressed. Nationwide, 2017 was the year of the "retail apocalypse," with over 500 retail outlets closing down,*** and the WP thought my hometown mall made a pretty good example of that larger trend.

When I last visited Hermitage in May for my high school reunion, the mall's state shocked me -- about half of it stood empty. That mall used to be the main thing about Hermitage. We're one-third of three interconnected cities in Western Pennsylvania -- Sharon and Farrell being the other two. (There's two smaller connected towns, Sharpsvile and Wheatland, but the latter is basically only a steel mill -- doesn't even have its own post office.) Between the three of us, Hermitage has always been the wealthiest by virtue of its high property values and, of course, the mall. Sharon at least has a downtown, but never competed with the Hermitage mall in any serious way. As a result, our school system was the most well-funded in the district, which benefited me directly as a wee lad growing up there.
As the article explains, though, that's nearly all gone. Most of the mall is abandoned, and local residents are worried about a corresponding decrease in property values. Of course, this decline has been happening for decades. The loss of Amerian manufacturing had always hit Sharon and Farrell harder than Hermitage but, even growing up in the 1990s, I understood that the great number of new funeral homes being built in the area didn't bode well. The whole region had a drastically aging population, and there were no jobs around to keep young people from staying and raising families . Even now, during my home visits when I go to Panera Bread for the wifi, there's a stark contrast: the teenagers working behind the counter, and the roughly dozen customers there all over the age of 60.

****Incidentally, the Kmart mentioned in the article was where I had my second job ever; I worked there two different times, once for a year and another time for about four months.

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