In the wake of a pandemic, shopping for satisfaction proves futile, not fun.

I jumped in my car at 6:45 p.m. to escape from the house. Aside from a walk and some outdoor exercise, I’d been stuck at my desk for hours, working furiously on behalf of a freelance client before dealing with the proverbial what’s for dinner? question. At day’s end, I wanted (make that needed) a change of scenery, so I left to pursue a diversion, a pastime that always seemed to clear my mind and calm my nerves: retail therapy.

Stein Mart was the destination of choice. Since I hadn’t visited in a while, I was surprised to find “Going Out of Business” and “70 – 80% Off” and “Everything Must Go!” signs splashed all over the exterior of the building when I drove up. Huh? How had I missed this news? When was Stein Mart added to the list of beloved retailers who’d be closing their doors for good?

Though many of Stein Mart’s offerings were kitschy, I frequently found cute shoes that I could walk in, a knickknack that made our holiday home more festive, or an affordable fashion accessory that suited my style. Plus, as I browsed the aisles, Stein Mart reminded me of my mother and how she loved shopping there. As her “personal stylist,” I would give anything to walk through that store with her again. Alas, this can’t happen now for two reasons: Mom is gone, and Stein Mart is about to follow suit.

I guess my thwarted shopping experience shouldn’t have shocked me so. The last time I breezed through the same standalone store, it looked like they’d eliminated much of their inventory; the remaining clothes were haphazardly displayed on racks positioned in an endless parallel formation. The store was #boring. A real downer when I needed a lift.

Fact is, Stein Mart isn’t the only retailer where I’ve recently noticed bare shelves and bland merchandise. My quest for “me time” has led me to stop in at Old Navy, The Gap, Loft, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Nordstrom, and even a popular resale shop located in the Park Cities. Different merchants, different locations, same story. Lots of uninspired offerings and empty shelves. God forbid you set out hoping to find any sort of cheerful, colored apparel in hopes of brightening your day. I’ve been scouring the aisles for months in search of a simple pink t-shirt and still can’t find one.

Returning home, I announced to my husband that I plan to get hammered on December 31—not because I’m a big drinker, but because I’ll be heartily celebrating the end of this hellish year. But will the misery really come to an end? After COVID, will the world ever look like it did for all the years of my life, with ample opportunities for retail therapy and escapism conveniently located on every corner? I fear not. And that’s a problem even Amazon Delivery can’t fix.

Donna Scoggins is a Dallas-based freelance writer with 20+ years of experience as a copywriter wordsmithing for some of the world’s most recognizable retail brands, including Neiman Marcus, JCPenney, Pier 1 and Tuesday Morning.