I’ve come across a couple of articles recently about how the declining newspaper industry will eventually leave small town communities without anybody to act as a watchdog on local government.

One said a study showed that when a newspaper left a small community, the powers that be started being much more relaxed with the local budget. Without someone to let everybody know what they were doing, money was spent much more freely.

Trust me, I go to their meetings. Aside from people who are employed by said government, there are always very few people at these meetings.

Not that I’m saying the governments around here would do such a thing. But one thing we all learn as kids is that when we’re not being watched, there’s no telling what we’ll get up to.

But I’m not here to disparage local politicians or bemoan the fate of the newspaper industry. Already enough people doing that.

No, I’m here to talk about an astounding thing I saw the other day. According to various reports, The Gap, JCPenney, Victoria’s Secret and Foot Locker all announced store closures of more than 465 locations in less than 48 hours a couple of weeks ago.

Dollar Tree also announced they’re going to close 390 of those Family Dollars they bought a few years back and change 200 of them into new Dollar Tree locations.

Since the first of the year, nearly 5,000 retail stores have closed nationwide. Yes, the internet is a big reason why, with a special shout out to Amazon. Amazon briefly tried to open stores itself, but they announced they’re going to close all 87 stores they opened in the past few years.

Despite what popular culture might tell you, some men like going in stores and buying stuff and I’m one of them. Now, I don’t go into Victoria’s Secret due to a humorous misunderstanding many years ago, but I have made a few visits to JCPenny and Footlocker. Never bought anything because I’m too cheap, but I’ve been in them.

Now, Dollar Tree has been known to have to occasionally run me off after several hours, but I never get over the thrill of dumping a bunch of stuff on the checkout counter and being told my total is $14.75. I usually laugh maniacally on my way to the car.

Gone are the days when a boarded-up Walmart was immediately replaced by a larger, newer one a few feet down the road. Now something closes and that’s it. While there are shuttered stores around here, the closings of all the Sears stores in towns around us and the closing of the Knoxville Center Mall really resonates with a certain segment of the population.

It wasn’t that long ago that a trip to Knoxville Center, forever known as East Town Mall to most of us, was a treat for those of us down here. Sure, West Town Mall was nice, but it was easy to get to. Straight up the interstate or, if you didn’t have to worry about time, a leisurely drive up Highway 11 and you were there.

But East Town, well, you had to take the interstate into Knoxville, then SWITCH interstates and look for the fabled exit 8! And then not only did you find a gigantic, crowded mall, but you found all kinds of stores surrounding it and restaurants galore.

Now, some of the stores are still there and restaurants dot the landscape, but East Town (I can’t bring myself to call it Knoxville Center) has basically become the setting for a horror movie set in a deserted mall.

It’s not the only mall to become a hunting ground for Michael Myers in recent years. On a much smaller scale, the Oak Ridge mall became totally abandoned a few years ago and I think is either being torn down or there are plans to tear it down and replace it with something better.

And there are plans for East Town. They’re going to put apartments into it. Yay.

I can’t say too much as I do a lot of shopping online, but it does seem like a large part of my life is over with all these stores closing. But life goes on. I’ve been told two stores named Gimball’s and Macy’s once dominated the retail world. Do they still exist? I think Macy’s does in big cities.

It might not happen in the lifetimes of those who have a few years on us, but somebody will undoubtedly say one day, “What in the heck was a Walmart?”

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