John Grindrod: The changing face of shopping and fooling the bad guys

Certainly shopping over the course of my lifetime has changed dramatically. When the Grindrods first arrived in Lima from my birth city of Chicago in early June of 1958, those who wanted to shop headed downtown to patronize stores like The Leader, Gregg’s, S.S. Kresge and F. W. Woolworth.

However, by the mid-1960s, the American Mall and shortly after, the Lima Mall, opened their doors, and stores began filling those slots, including some like The Leader and Woolworth, that used to be found downtown. While some stores remained downtown, malls certainly changed the way Lima’s and many other cities’ shoppers bought their goods.

Fast-forward so many decades later, and, while there are still malls, including here in Lima, the Lima Mall, and several other brick-and-mortar stores, the trends in shopping have changed again, especially for younger consumers. So much shopping is done on-line that, starting in 2005, not only was there a Black Friday but also a Cyber Monday for e-commerce transactions.

Surely it’s not surprising that it was founder and former CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, who was designated as the world’s richest person. During my travels for both labor and leisure, I’ve seen many massive distribution centers with fleets of Amazon’s trucks outside, testimony to the popularity of on-line shopping.

I think proof as to how popular online shopping has become is the fact that even a dinosaur like me — who still remembers the locations in Lima’s downtown area of every one of the stores to which I alluded in this column’s first paragraph, and also rode my bike up and down the mounds of excavated dirt off of West Elm Street in the very first phase of the American Mall’s being built — has even used Amazon online shopping on several occasions.

Of course, the younger the consumer, the more reliance there is on online shopping. With shifts in trends when it comes to the way we live, there often comes with those trends an uptick in criminal behaviors. We’ve seen it when large outdoor gatherings for leisurely pursuits brought more pickpockets to those gatherings starting long ago.

And, when it comes to online shopping and the delivery of those purchases, often on porches of unoccupied houses, it spawned what seemed to be a whole new illegal activity that came with its own figurative epithet, the porch pirate. In terms of its etymology, the term porch pirate originated on the internet and began being used on Twitter in 2010. It was added to the Urban Dictionary in 2011 to describe thieves who take packages left by couriers off others’ porches.

As for the frequency of porch pirating, according to NBC Nightly News, in 2021, 79 percent of all American consumers had at least one package stolen. The problem has become so prevalent that some communities such as Campbell, California, have police forces that have initiated programs where fake wrapped packages with GPS tracking devices are placed on porches and then tracked as a means to stop ”the pirate” making his escape.

Although the term porch pirate is relatively new, the criminal behavior certainly is not. I had to laugh when I heard a story during the coverage of the passing of legendary baseball play-by-play man Vin Scully, who died in early August of last year at the age of 94. The anecdote is a story Scully told often during speaking engagements when he spoke of his childhood growing up in New York City in the 1930s.

Scully spoke of a sanitation workers’ strike that began just before the Christmas season. As the garbage piled up in the streets during the strike and labor negotiations hit snags, Scully’s mother had an idea as to what to do with the refuse generated in her house. Each time the garbage reached a point it would fill a good-sized box, Mom would put the garbage in a box, wrap the box in Christmas paper and put a bow on it and place it on the porch.

And sure enough, the great Dodger broadcaster recalled, it never took more than an hour before the early version of the porch pirate came a calling, snagging the box and scurrying away, anxious to reach a covert location to gaze upon the fruits of his larceny.

So it has gone in the world of consumerism over the years. Shopping trends have evolved from my childhood trips to what I still recall had the look of a true department store, Greggs, and on to my times selling those ladies’ and kids’ footwear at Butler Shoes while listening to that splash of the fountain at the Lima Mall, where I thought older gentlemen would always have a place to sit on that bench that encircled it and, years later, on the those fleets of Amazon trucks.

Sadly, the criminal behavior has evolved as well. But, what that Vin Scully anecdote shows is that some nefarious activity like porch pirating thought to be new is surely not. Just imagine the look on those thieves’ faces when they gleefully tore that Christmas wrapping off those boxes, popped open the lids and gazed upon coffee grounds and egg shells.

Boy, I sure wish I’d been around to meet Mrs. Scully. She must have been a hoot!

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].