There is a trend that I have noticed on my past few trips to Puerto Rico, which has become even more obvious this trip, maybe because it is Christmas time. It is that shopping here is identical to shopping anywhere else in the United States. Now you might ask “why is that a problem?” Well, I feel that there has been something lost by this homogenization of America, and the world.
I first really noticed this 8 years ago when I traveled to Moscow. One of the things I had been looking forward to was seeing the G.U.M. department store. For years I had heard about the “largest department store in the world. It was even in the Guinness Book of World records. Well, I obviously had not kept up with post-soviet changes. I walked into G.U.M. and found a modern mall, complete with all the biggest European and American chains. Bath and body Works, Nike, Addidas, Gap. All were represented. Right outside of Red Square, another, underground mall with more big name stores.
I have also seen this here in Puerto Rico. The malls used to be full of local stores and chains. Puerto Rican malls had a Puerto Rican flavor. Stores sold local merchandise. Just before Christmas we went to Plaza Las Americas, the biggest mall on the island. The three anchor stores – Macy’s, JCP and Sears. Inside – Gap, Foot Locker, Clarkes, Victoria’s Secret, etc, etc, etc. In all we counted 3 locally owned stores (not counting the barber shop, nail salon or other service shops). I wrote before about how Old San Juan was becoming just another cruise town. Well that is because the same thing is happening there. Marshall’s, Walgreens, Wendy’s, Subway, Senor Frog’s.
Now I am not just being nostalgic for what used to be. Nor am I a tourist who feels that locals should forego good shopping so that I can get an “authentic experience.” But something is lost when every place looks the same. That is true in the U.S. and outside of it. If shopping in Butte MT is the same as it is in San Juan, which is the same as it is in Palisade’ Mall, then the differences between culture and experience have been papered over, not for what is best for the people, but for what makes the most profit for the large mega-companies that own these chains.
There used to be a company called Los Bohios. I made the high quality ceramic pottery that was sold in almost every hotel. But they couldn’t compete with cheap imports. There used to be many locally owned places to guayaberas I could only find 2 places in Old San Juan and only Sears in Plaza Las Americas.
All I am saying is that something has been lost.