‘Everything is available instore now.’

Was it, I wondered, a misprint? Instore? In store?

But endless repetition on billboards, in newspapers, on television, assured me that a new word had entered the vocabulary. It was one which, at one and the same time, was linked with the past, and yet affirmed the brave new world.

‘In store’ had about it both an element of uncertainty and of expectation. ‘You never know what’s in store for you’… and truly that was the case. I never knew what would be in my Christmas stocking (give or take the inevitable orange) and I did not expect to know. Ours was a household poor enough for one to be grateful for what one got.

But ‘instore’ has a different meaning entirely. It implies the instant availability of everything and anything, a democracy of good things for all – where what you want is what you get, and the only surprise is how accessible it is. It’s all waiting for you (and everyone else, everywhere) ‘instore’.

But just as the new word has entered the currency, it is in danger of becoming redundant. Woolworth’s (where in my youth you could buy everything from gobstoppers to stink bombs) is going out of business. We may have to rethink our terminology. The bonanza is coming to an end, everything is decidedly not available instore now, and it is not merely a matter of semantics.

It would be hard to think of a more apocalyptic symbol for our society than the demise of General Motors. But the mighty motorcar has been humbled more quickly than you could say Icelandic Bank.

‘Will anything ever be same again?’ people asked in the Great Depression. And the answer was a long time coming. In 2009 it may take more than a little Christian fortitude to wish people a Happy New Year.

John Shepley

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