Grand Closings in Evanston, Illinois as Recession Hits

At first, the crater in the ground where the basement was supposed to be before crews quit working looked like the aftermath of a drone attack.

But soon weeds began encroaching, white tailed rabbits bounded up and down the berms and a flock of goldfinches settled in, each perching in a cyclone fence slot in an avian pyramid.

Now the site of the half-built, bankrupt Sienna Court Condominiums in Evanston resembles a zoo exhibit with cliffs, savannahs, trickling water from sprinklers and a construction ladder turned three-story roost for its grackle, house sparrow and gull residents. Location, location.

And the human residents of the “wetland reversion,” their units spaced as far apart as streetlights and their resale dreams dashed into receivership?

They’re discovering the only thing worse than living next to a construction zone is not living next to a construction zone.

A block away, a curb-hugging, zero-lot-line eyesore called Ferris Homes has no wildlife reintroduction in progress because it has no green space. But a year after the 49-condominium unit building opened, the bank is foreclosing on 38 units because of unpaid construction loans. Correct. Only 11 units sold.

condo

And how was your year?

This recession hasn’t just made things rough for people who sell things and people who can no longer buy them (because they also sell things to people who can no longer buy them.) It’s made things rough for the nation’s copywriters.

Once upon a time there were two can’t-fail headlines: Grand Opening and Sale.

Sure, you’d add “pre-construction” and “builder’s special” to Grand Opening when there was nothing to look at but homesites–also known as dirt–and a Realtor in a pixie haircut. Sure you’d add “model close-out,” when the sign for the Rivers at Lakewood or Timbers at Creekwood and red and blue balloons were up. But Grand Opening did the heavy lifting.

And sale? Once upon a time you could have any kind of sale–an end-of-year, end-of-the-summer, Christmas-in-July, we’ve-lost-our-lease sale (right), we’ve-lost-our-mind sale (having got it back from last year), back-to-school, Labor Day, Memorial Day and Father’s Day sale, we’ve-got-to-make-room-for-the-new-models (right) sale– as long as merch wasn’t on sale all the time.

Flash forward to Christmas 2008 when retailers decided the only way to salvage Christmas was to start discounting at Halloween and haven’t let up yet.

Now Grand Opening suggests its evil twin, Grand Closing–with real estate reporters replaced by count reporters–and Sale has devolved into the proverbial Every Day Low Prices which is to say merch is on sale all the time.

And it gets worse. Remember the dictum about good restaurants don’t advertise?

In this college town, “good restaurants” have fallen back on the campus marketing 101 tactic of wind-shielding cars. They are putting We Have Take-Out And Delivery hand-scrawled signs on cardboard in their windows vowing to bring you their white table cloth service in clamshells and paper bags to enjoy by TV light! Hey a customer is a customer.

Parents of Northwestern University undergrads may pay $36,756 a year for tuition, but that doesn’t mean Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door Spa could stay in business offering massages for $140 and facials for $180. It held its Grand Closing in 2008.

And the Evanston library has a new custodial challenge: what to do about the growing assemblage of “luggage” hidden behind chairs by the homeless while they wait for the overnight shelter to open.

Still, the hardest part for copywriters in this recession is not the death of Grand Opening and Sale as attention riveters and traffic creators.

It’s not finding value-reverent substitutes for “luxurious,” “pamper” and “indulge” or a way of saying “staycation” without making people roll their eyes and want to flash their unemployment cards.

It’s even not the 33 seconds of legal disclaimers mandated in radio ads that undo the preceding offer and make the announcer sound like Al Franken doing a gag.

It is finding a replacement for “needs.”

Because in the days when people bought lattes, Pilates classes and $35 cab rides, no one questioned “hair care needs,” “home-decoration needs,” or even “cruise ship” and “jewelry” needs. No one thought it insensitive and a little decadent.

Nor did anyone think recession would come to describe their new condo’s landscaping.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her first book, titled Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health, has just been released by Prometheus Books. She can be reached at: martharosenberg@sbcglobal.net. Read other articles by Martha.

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  1. Jeff said on August 10th, 2009 at 3:07pm #

    Is America really in denial?