28 thoughts on “Mattressland”

  1. Something that’s been puzzling me– I recently cleared out my parents’ house in the MD suburbs & took lots of stuff to donate to the Opportunity Shop in Bethesda. Noticed the multiple mattress stores along the main drag. large stores — 2 & sometimes 3 store fronts. never saw any customers. I know one store makes money by towing the Post Office patrons who park in the empty mattress store lot — but that’s not enough to pay the rent. Walking near my home in DC there are 3 mattress stores within a mile. Even on a saturday afternoon — no customers. How do these mattress stores stay open? are they laundering money? using those big delivery trucks to deliver something other than mattresses? We recently needed a new mattress, and we ordered on-line from Tuft & Needle. very pleased with the purchase.
    Can anyone explain how these mattress stores are staying in business?

  2. I get the impression that commodity items, that is, those items which are mass produced and are effectively interchangeable will be increasingly sold online and delivered. The future of retail is in stuff that is consumed onsite, requires personal customization or is either local or unique. Since I am a bit of a foodie and love to cook, I prefer shopping at supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and road side stands, but I’ll order online when I just can’t find candle nuts or black rice locally. In contrast, clothing, books, gadgets, small furniture items, tools, hard to find DVDs, electronics project parts and the like I order online.

    Still, I buy my mattresses locally. Mattresses are not commodities. There is no Scoville scale of mattress firmness the way there is for the heat in hot peppers. We have a good discount furniture joint in the area, and they have all the beds out where one can lie on them. If I could order a firmness 3.5 mattress online, I’d seriously consider it, but sleep is too important to me.

    Our nation has an awful lot of retail space. In the 1970s and 1980s, shopping in at the mall became an entertainment. Traffic, the vanishing middle class and online shopping have worked against this. I know some big box space can be recycled. I once interviewed for a job at DEC, the computer company, and they had turned a shopping mall into office space back in the early 1980s. Our old Walmart has been turned into a nautical furnishings shop for our local yacht maker and our old Costco has been turned into offices and a dispatch center for the local power co-op. Of course, we’re a town of 20,000 in the middle of nowhere, so we aren’t a suburb. I think it will be much rougher in the suburbs.

    The suburbs were a fascinating experiment, but it’s not clear that it was a successful one.

  3. DH and I recently purchased a new (to us) mattress. It is one of the brands you mentioned. We saw it on NextDoor, checked out the reviews on Sleepopolis, and made the deal. I knew it was one of those vacuum-packed mattresses and now thanks to this post, I have unwrapped one vicariously. Thanks, Johnny!

    The original buyers were moving from the ‘burbs to The City and had no use for a king size bed. We don’t either, but that’s what size our bed frame is and we have no intention of junking perfectly presentable furniture.

    Today, DH and I spent a couple of hours taking our old mattress to a recycling center that accepts one mattress per person per day without charge. (We like free and we like recycling.) It happened to be about 40 miles away in Napa County. Now, most normal people go to Napa on a sunny Spring day to taste fine wines. What did we do? We went to the dump in Napa. Now our old mattress is going to be recycled and it cost us nothing but a little time and gas.

    The rest of your post is so harrowing that I think I’ll go to bed on my new mattress now and sleep on it. I just hope I don’t have nightmares.

    As always, thanks for making me think, Johnny.

  4. My husband and I are in the processes of buying a new mattress and I have urged him to look into buying one online, via Casper. Thanks for the link to Sleepopolis, as we will check out his reviews. Our oldest son is home for a visit, as his junior year of college is done. He and I were talking about banks. He said he hardly ever goes to an actual bank anymore, but I told him it will probably take a bit longer for banks to go by the wayside. We live in a more rural setting than an urban one, and I would say the majority of the adults in our town still go to the banks.

  5. Ruszz:

    I still remember these decades later our Hungarian intern at the planning agency in Knoxville, TN where I worked at the time. as we toured the joyous “Used Car Dealer Row” on Clinton Pike. Her word was not “Lovely” but simply “Nice” in a sarcastic tone. 🙂

  6. I’m boggled at how many people are still opening small retail stores. Like everywhere, there are a lot of small strip malls around here. Many have a significant vacancy problem, but even when they have stores there’s constant turnover with clothing stores, furniture stores, and even knickknack stores. They almost never last long. Why are people still funnelling their savings into starting businesses with no future?

    All that empty commercial space – and, even more so, all their empty parking lots – create a great opportunity for comparatively affordable housing and/or mixed-use development. So far, it hasn’t been used much. At some point, it will be. My town has a trust fund it built up from development fees, which was once huge, but is almost depleted from the typical budget shortfalls for an auto-oriented city. I suspect when that runs out in a few more years they will become very amenable to rezonings requested by developers offering huge development fees for areas that need virtually no further investments from the city.

    1. Some markets have pent up demand for housing, professional office space, light manufacturing, or entertainment venues. In those locations dead retail space will eventually be transformed into other uses – no doubt with the co-operation of local authorities eager to generate new revenue flows.

      But many, many other locations are stagnant or in active decline. There is no demand for anything. Full stop. No money will be available to retrofit the strip malls, shuttered burger joints, and old drive thru banks into anything at all. They’ll sit empty, rot, and fester.

      1. Not long ago, a 1 million-square-foot mall in a Midwestern suburb sold for $2 million. I thought to myself what would be a possible use of this property given trends in American society?

        The answer I came up with was a high-end home. Lots of size, but not much care about exterior finishes. Plenty of parking for multiple vehicles. More separation from other buildings than one typically gets in a McMansion.

    2. I suspect when that runs out in a few more years they will become very amenable to rezonings requested by developers offering huge development fees for areas that need virtually no further investments from the city.

      Only when the older generations die off. Because many people would rather have a vacant for five years box that attracts homeless encampments than allow APARTMENTS anywhere near their precious, prestigious (decaying) 1987 tract homes.

      1. Our landscape will change one funeral at a time. Individual buildings will die. Whole neighborhoods will die. And the older people who vote and/or administer our towns will inevitably die as well. I give it another twenty years. Then we’ll have a legitimate opportunity to try something new. Some places will be reborn and thrive. Many others will simply keep dying. Shrug. I’m not going to be too broken up about the loss of some half assed suburb of Tampa or Houston. The poor will have to live someplace…

  7. Maybe BUT…

    The same argument was made about New York City when the 1961 comprehensive zoning amendment was passed.

    From my copy of the 1958 Vorhees Walker Smith and Smith report:

    “Retail trading patterns have altered so rapidly in the post-war era that it is no longer possible to estimate land requirements for local stores on the basis of old formulas. The growth of the supermarket has plainly reduced the role of the neighborhood food store. The efficiency of the large supermarket is such that a given volume of sales can be handled with sharply reduced frontage requirements.”

    The report then talks about the “integrated shopping center” providing “one-stop shopping for the automobile.” As a result, it held, there is an “excessive amount of retail frontage in numerous strip developments of the city.” Tear it down and build parking!

    Which is why the housing projects of the 1960s and 1970s have so little retail. The idea of people opening their own business was simply not thought of. All corporations in the future. (Nationally, self employment fell until the 1970s, when it turned around). As late as the early 1990s, when I was at City Planning, there were still people who believed the amount of commercial storefront space had to be reduced. So there would be fewer places for crack dealers.

    Well, there was a lot of retail vacancy in Brooklyn for a long time, but not now. When the population rebounded, the economy rebounded, and new uses for storefront popped up — everything for restaurants and bars to daycare and senior center, along with art workshop spaces — it turned out there was a shortage. Even in neighborhoods with two “main streets” in close proximity such as Park Slope (7th and previously empty 5th Avenues) and Carroll Gardens (Court and previously empty Smith).

    Now the problem is high rents. Or was. Vacancy is up because landlords with stars in their eyes are demanding rents no independent business could afford and no national company is stupid enough to pay.

    I think it would make sense for older suburban areas such as these to densify rather than paving over more farmland for exurbs. Housing now occupied by empty nesters and divorcees may become occupied by parents with grandparents in accessory units. If these are the places that have the cheap space, these are the places that will have the next round of innovation. The artists went to Soho because it was cheap. It isn’t cheap now.

      1. In big cities you can find both the old and the new at the same time. There’s a demand and market to serve both of them. In smaller towns, not so. Hence you can go to a vaudeville act or to the movies in a cinema in NYC any day. In a small town, they usually went from theaters to the cinema (and are now in many cases struggling to find anyone that could use this vacancy, or just decided to tear down the old).

        Why shouldn’t NYC be able to retain some sort of mattress retail somewhere? I believe it could be feasible (but perhaps with some twist to it we today don’t associate mattress’ stores with )

        1. There is a key point about NYC commercial zones. They are actually mixed-use zones that permit residences and community facilities. They were never exclusive.

          The question is whether communities will finally decide to allow multifamily there, combined homes/businesses/offices, and other variants. Get enough of them on one side of the road connected by bike paths, and you have a little community to support some stores. Just reduce the parking.

  8. One of your photos captured what I think is a mini-trend in space re-use: “venue” space for “events”. I’ve seen a fair amount of low-budget 60s/70s former retail space repurposed that way. Where I live, it’s typically done by (I presume Latino) entrepreneurs in neighborhoods with fairly substantial Latino populations. [Note: I live in an inland Midwestern metro.]

  9. Oh man, the mattress store. And the free oil change place. The sad Round Table outpost. And so many of them across the land. Can’t wait to see those get torn down for something better. An island of faux walkability (City Centre at Rolling Brook, blah blah) is better than nothing I guess.

    There are some strip malls that are surviving though. Usually on the extreme ends of the spectrum. You’ve the got the discount strip – dollar store, vape shop, etc – and then the high-end lifestyle center – a Whole Foods, nice sushi place, etc. Or an immigrant-driven place that operates on its own rules. Basically, people need a damn good reason to shop offline nowadays.

  10. Well, the beverage supply depots have a chance, at least, in most states, unless their liquor laws change.

  11. Funny you mention banks. Where I live is a quite walkable area with (for the most part) neighborhoods with good bones dating before 1960 (Annapolis MD), we have a branch bank near my house and one at the head of our historic main street. People have their panties in a bunch because both of them were just vacated by regional banks. The funny thing is the people who are all bothered by these closings are all over 60.

    1. When I was in my 20s, I had an elderly aunt who lived in a farmhouse way out in the middle of nowhere western Kentucky. The farmhouse had never had running water, and she was just fine with that. I thought she was crazy not to want running water. I am now 61. I am perfectly happy with the level of technology in my life. I have a cellphone but it is not smart :^); I reluctantly gave up my cheap landline because the sound quality was poor. I get my TV with rabbit ears and a digital converter box (which means not much TV), supplemented heavily by actual DVDs (not to mention VHS cassettes) that I play on a machine. I like email, Internet blogs, and paying my bills online, but I would rather read my books in paper form. I believe that to some extent (not always) if one grows old with a certain level of technology one is comfortable with that and does not change unless he/she sees a need for that. For instance, if I feel like my pocketbook is being unnecessarily drained by a mattress store for what should not be all that expensive, then I will try an online company. But my finances are simple, and I would rather deal with my neighbors at the bank than strangers at a faraway tech center when it comes to my money. That is why I think people over 60 don’t like such change. It will be interesting to see if today’s young adults feel similarly when then become senior citizens.

  12. How true. I live in a condo building with just 40 units. Every day multiple boxes arrive from Amazon and other online retailers. In November and December there’s an avalanche of deliveries. Amazing really.

    But the other notable influx of purchases is from the farmers market that takes place a block away. I see big bags of locally grown stuff brought in from there. We heavily patronize the neighborhood restaurants, brew pubs, coffee shops, donut shops and ice cream parlors too.

    So are we looking at a purchasing landscape that becomes increasingly either locally made or online?

    1. Not sure I understand the farmer’s market thing myself. Why buying strawberries from the back of a badly maintained small diesel pickup truck driving 60 miles from Watsonville (the same place the commercial California berries come from) is inherently better…especially when it is the same company at every market and you are not supporting a yeoman farmer really anyway. But this may be a California comment, actually (and I do shop at the markets sometimes)

      1. The “experience” of buying things is often the whole point. Going out to the farmers market is a form of entertainment. Why do people take their laptops to work at a coffee shop? They have a table and coffee at home. People go out simply because they like going out. Do people enjoy hanging out in a mattress store? Not so much. Food, drink, music, and schmoozing with other people is the point. But there’s a limit to how many of our older establishments will be able to convert to this sort of model. In the end, there will be a lot of empty buildings that aren’t going to be repopulated with any kind of retail. In my experience the willingness of local authorities to let these places convert to some other use is highly limited. They may get there eventually, but there’s going to be a long lag time between reality and official responses.

        1. Good points all. Thanks again for the perceptive gimlet eye on the decline of “The National Automotive Slum”*

          * Kunstler’s argument is that energy crash and ecological calamity will destroy the framework for the techopocalypse. I think it could be both at the same time and in different places.

          1. My understanding of the big picture re: Kunstler keeps shifting as I gather new information and explore more real world dynamics.

            A century from now I think Kunstler’s vision of a post technological deindustrialized future will be pretty close to the mark. But in the short to medium term (the next twenty to thirty years) we’re more likely to see society use every trick in the book to keep things going just a little bit longer. We’ll experience a stress of some kind and we’ll patch it. Then there will be another stress and we’ll patch that too. Then another and another. More patches. We’ve been doing that for the last forty years. We’ll do it for a while longer. Then… the moment will arrive when we run out of duct tape and all the old patches will fail at the same time. That’s when things get ugly, because there simply won’t be any solutions no matter what we try. That won’t be the end of the world. But it will be the end of our current living arrangements and a lot of people will be seriously hurt in the transition.

            Instead of attempting to get everyone on board with a plan for avoiding this unsavory future (herding cats, don’t bother, waste of time) individuals need to look around and assess their own condition. Some people and places are far better positioned to ride out the future than others. Thirty years from now a cardiac surgeon in Singapore who speaks English, Mandarin, and Hindi will likely have the skills and resources to relocate to a better situation somewhere in the world as circumstances shift. A farmer in southern Brazil may not be rich or have many options for relocation in the decades ahead, but there’s a good chance that that quiet corner of the world may be one of the safer spots to simply live an ordinary uneventful life while other parts of the planet melt down. Montreal might do relatively well all things considered. Las Vegas? Meh. Are you young and beautiful? You’ll have options. Old and infirm? You’re fucked. Spin the magic wheel. A lot of this is just going to be dumb luck and happenstance.

      2. Our farmers market is strictly locally grown, and they’re all small farmers who each grow a variety of fruits and vegetables. Also small meat producers. The food is infinitely better than the crap in grocery stores that’s picked in California or Chile before it’s ripe and shipped around the world.

    1. Hi Johnny,
      I am a big fan of this blog! I love how many pictures your posts have; they really let me get a feel for all the places you visit. I am not naturally a big fan of suburban architecture, but reading your blog made me see more of them as places of potential, instead of simply “not-traditional-urbanism”.
      I know one of your topics of interest is how suburban-style buildings age and how they are reused ( or not), so I wanted to share a place I saw from Baltimore. On North Ave, there was a drive-thru KFC that closed down a few years ago. It was converted into a car rental office ( with a parking lot). The Car Rental place has been there for a few years, so the change seems to be successful. ( I know it can be hard to repurpose these things.) Anyway, I thought it could be useful to file away in your “What Happens to Old Drive-Thrus” Folder. Thanks again for the great blog!
      (I wasn’t sure how to share pictures, so they are on my instagram. Feel free to use if you like:

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