Generic Asian Gift Shop

There’s a store in the mall that opened up about a week ago called Eastern Arts. If that sounds familiar it’s because you’ve been to a mall sometime in the past fifty years. Right inside the window are the “break-it, you bought it” shelves holding ornate chess sets, Buddhas and every single dragon statue from this year’s Franklin Mint catalogue. Inside the store where the register are several glass cases containing knives, throwing stars, Zeppo lighters and everything you’ve ever needed to make the people behind you at a security checkpoint late for their flight. Behind the glass cases, decorative swords, paper fans and other wall hangers from varying aspects of the many Asian cultures including masks adorn the wall.

If none of this sounds familiar, my mistake. You’ve never been to a mall period.

Whenever I have actual spending money, the places I mostly frequent in the mall are the movies and the frozen yogurt place. One provides two hours of blissful escape from reality while the other releases endorphins for far cheaper than it would cost to become addicted to drugs. Gift shops like this rarely ever have anything anyone really needs. Most of the products exist solely to be looked at.

Sure, there’s a rice bowl and chopstick gifts set for ten bucks. But I can go down to a kiosk at Quincy Market in Boston to buy an assortment of chopsticks for a dollar a pair. The bowls can be found at Pier One, TJ Maxx or anywhere else with a clearance rack for less than five dollars. Then there’s the specialty teas and artisan soaps. Again, these are things that I can find at other places and there’s nothing about this shop that makes me want to come here specifically for these items.

After a few minutes of browsing the shelves and wondering how many of the store closing sales from other shops did he buy his stock from, I was confronted with several shelves full of Christmas ornaments. Holy shit. The last thing I need in this blissful spring heat is to be reminded of the far nastier winter to come that will no doubt trump this past year.

Forgive me if this posts sounds vitriolic because it’s the exact opposite. I really don’t like seeing someone go through the effort of opening a store only to have it last barely a few month. A shop like this is not a corporate chain like the Hallmark store, but very likely owned by someone who thought they could make a killing by selling vaguely exotic kitsch. The problem with Eastern Arts is there is absolutely nothing there that you can’t find everywhere else, in places you might actually like to shop at when the weather is nice.

There’s a store with a very similar theme located in the Peabody Essex Mall in Salem. If memory serves me, this shop has been open for business since I first visited Salem as a tourist way back in 1999. Same general theme with the waving kitties and the jade ornaments, but there’s also clothes and things that might draw people into this particular store. What’s the key to their success? How about being in Salem’s central nervous system for starters.

The tourist season is year round but it’s strongest during the summer. Then there are the two big events, the month of October and the week of the Salem Film Festival when Salem basically becomes the capital of Massachusetts with people pouring into town with money and a desire to spend it on souvenirs. The owners of that little gift shop are like spiders in web at that point. (I like spiders, don’t twist the metaphor)

Eastern Arts is located in a mall on the outskirts of a town that is frankly not big enough to even have an in skirts. As such the clientele is divided between senior citizens who are afraid of teenagers and teenagers who are a great argument for making the Hunger Games a reality. (Not all kids who hang out at the mall are assholes. But there are those who would serve society better if I could bet on their odds for survival in an arena filled with rabid dogs)

The people who have money to spend already have clothing outlets, jewelry stores and beauty parlors, not to mention kiosks of remote control helicopters and an ice cream stand and frozen yogurt place respectively to pass before they reach Eastern Arts. I truly hope for the owner’s sake that I am wrong and that they make it through that all important first two years.


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