MORGAN: Our Vast, Throwaway Nation


Our Vast,

Throwaway Nation

By TOM MORGAN • Special to

Many visiting Europeans are stunned by the huge number of derelict and otherwise empty buildings we have. They ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

Most of our cities show signs of manufacturing blight. Especially northern and rust-belt cities. In this state, a city does not qualify as a city unless it can show several shuttered factories, an empty mall, vacant storefronts, office buildings half-empty.

Tom Morgan, the retired Oneonta investment counselor and national syndicated columnist, resides in Franklin.

Maybe an armory. Many of our small towns suffer the same blight with old school buildings and industrial caracasses. Upstaters have grown up with the sight of them. To them they are as much a part of the landscape as maple trees.

European visitors are shocked by the same sight. This is because Europeans do not have enough spare space to allow this. They cannot afford it. So they knock down or reuse old buildings.

We, on the other hand, are rich enough to leave the bodies where they collapsed. Gilbertsville, where I graduated high school, is still home to the remains of a factory that failed in the 1930s.

We are in the midst of adding to the body count of unused buildings. Before the virus struck we were losing shopping malls. One big bank predicted we will lose 25 percent of our malls by 2022. About 9,000 stores closed last year. Many were in malls.

The Wuhan Virus will surely steepen the decline. Victoria’s Secret announced this week it will close 250 stores. Already shaky Macy’s reports sales are down 45 percent. Bell-ringers are warming up the muffled bells. JC Penney and J. Crew have filed for bankruptcy. Lord & Taylor is looking at liquidation. Neiman Marcus is bankrupt. Nordstrom is closing 15 stores. Etc, bloody etc.

Meanwhile, small businesses are vacating downtown and mini-malls. Many colleges and universities are shrinking because the pool of available students has shrunk.

Some may go under.

Office buildings in cities are somewhat empty. Because so many office workers are lately home workers. Facebook, Google and Microsoft say most of their workers will work from home until 2021. I have to believe many companies will simply occupy less office space in the future. How’re you gonna lure them back to the office, after they’ve seen home cooked lunches?

Don’t forget movie theaters. They are dark now because of the virus. Many will never reopen. They were already edging toward the abyss. The virus is jettisoning them into it.

Old line churches have struggled for years. This virus may have people on their knees. But the praying has been at home. Some churches will perish.

The country will see thousands of clinics, shops, florists and mom and pops of all types close. Wait. They are closed now. Thousands will not re-open. Banks that have cut their corps of tellers to the bone will – in many branches – saw through the bone.

Local governments will take similar measures. My county is cutting a million from its modest budget. It is closing one of its DMV offices.

My point is that this country is going to look like a cemetery for deceased buildings. Even when the economy grows healthy again. And I believe it will. We knew more of our economy would go online down the road. The virus has brought the road to us. Down the road is no longer down.

We are accustomed to seeing empty shops on Main Street. And empty factories here and there. And the odd shuttered shopping mall. Well, the view from the highway is not likely to improve.

If you were in charge of degree programs at a university I would suggest a new one. An MS in Building Re-use.

From Tom…as in Morgan.

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