By Jeffery Kurz
As I recall, it was by coincidence a few years ago that while I was trying to clear out my mother’s apartment I came across an article entitled something like “Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff.” There have been many similar articles, so it’s hard to recall the precise one.
If you’re of the baby boom era, this is familiar territory. The furniture, heirlooms, memorabilia — pretty much anything — that comes under the general definition of “stuff” as described in that headline is not nearly as prized as your parents, or even you, may have once assumed. There are those who have basements full of this “stuff,” the inheritance of generations, and it’s a dilemma.
My parents grew up during the Depression and came of age during the Second World War. The things of the world — the tangible stuff that you could hold, put your finger on, wear, caress or even kiss — had value, precisely because it was tangible, and that value increased, almost exponentially, if that thing had connection to family, or friends, or history. “That’s Aunt Kate’s rug” was an explanation that needed no further explanation — at least I wasn’t going to ask for one.
Now, times change and trends come and go, but there are those who suspect there’s something more fundamental going on these days, and that’s reflected in an observation recently made by a customer of Cheshire’s Furniture Barn, which is closing after more than a half century of business: ”These days, young people are not interested in quality. They want to change their decor all the time.
“They’re not interested in things that last.”
Furniture Barn owner Fred Reich made a similar observation. “There isn’t a market for this type of business anymore,” he said. “We don’t fit in any longer to where (customers) want to shop.”
So there’s at least a double whammy going on: the trend away from the mom-and-pop shop and toward the mall or online, but also what’s perceived as a changing nature in people. Young people, we hear, don’t want to be tied down. They want to be able to move from place to place without the worry of excessive baggage.
Even though it’s been more than a decade, it’s probably still too early to adequately register the impact and consequences of another double whammy, the advent of the smartphone, as in Apple’s phenomenally successful iPhone of 2007, and the rise of social media. When students exit a classroom with their noses in their phones, there’s something afoot. A generation is growing up that knows nothing but instant access at the swipe of a finger or the push of a button (someday, probably sooner than later, you won’t even have to bother with such touchy-feely things as pushing buttons or swiping fingers). How do you sell furniture to these people?
If you weigh it against the expanse of human history, this has happened in a very short period of time, a very rapid move from the tangible to the virtual. And it’s a move also toward the ephemeral. Things that are in the cloud are not likely to last. Why should it come as a surprise that people who have grown up with this “reality” should not be inclined to be tied down?
And yet, you have to wonder: Has human nature really changed? Nostalgia is as strong as ever, if not more. People still have great affection for the virtual games they played growing up, whether it’s Donkey Kong, or Oregon Trail or Legend of Zelda. (I don’t know; I played stickball.)
And then there’s this passion for vintage. Just the other day, which happened to be National Record Store Day, people of all ages walked into Wallingford’s Redscroll Records. Vinyl records have a tangible appeal, perhaps even more so in the age of the ephemeral and virtual.
From a Record-Journal account of the day, there was this mind-boggling observation: “Frank Sinatra is big with the 16-year-old crowd. Used to be Billy Joel.”
Not so phenomenal, but at least explanatory, was the following from Redscroll co-owner Rick Sienkiewicz: “For younger folks, it’s a tangible thing in a world where so much is intangible. There’s nothing about (MP3s and streaming services) that feels real. It could all disappear in a moment.”
Of course, we learned this week in a heart-breaking way that things in the tangible world can disappear in a moment as well. My parents had lived in Paris following World War II, and I couldn’t help but think about them as I watched the flames rise from Notre-Dame Cathedral. Thousands upon thousands watched and wept and prayed that such a thing that had lasted hundreds upon hundreds of years wouldn’t be lost forever. It’s hard to believe that anyone of any age would ever find it easy to let such a thing go.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org