It's been more than a week since fans of the late Archie the talking snowman started mounting their drive to bring him back. As much as the critics would like this to just go away -- it isn't. In that time, the Bring Back Archie Fan Page on Facebook has attracted quite an audience -- nearly 6,500 friends as of Sunday night's counting.
At this point, with just days until "Black Friday" and the official start of the Christmas holiday shopping season, a couple truths to come to grips with for the fans and foes of Archie's return:
- Mall officials say Archie's in retirement. They don't say he's in permanent retirement, offering instead a softer version. They cite concerns those with wonderful childhood memories don't need to know any more details of just where Archie is. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to read between the lines;
- The corporate folks who actually own Chapel Hill Mall have been far more pleasant to deal with than the locals by most accounts, even without providing the nitty-gritty details on Archie's whereabouts -- even if it's the place where he's retired. For more than just the holiday season, I would delicately add; they're right to soft-pedal that bit of information, I suspect. Nobody wants to play the Grinch;
- as for the well-meaning folks who'd like to see Archie return to his spot at Chapel Hill Mall, they realize no matter how much they may desire to see their childhood memory come back to life after a seven-year hiatus it's not likely going to happen. They've re-focused their energies on the potential of rebuilding Archie, maybe even finding a new Akron home. I believe they are sincere and genuine in wanting their kids to have the same kind of holiday experience they did growing up Akron pre-2004.
With the exception of the local mall folks who could obviously learn a lesson or two in customer relations, and a couple of yahoos on the Facebook page overstepping their bounds, the discussion has been pretty straightforward: desire to relive one of Akron's warm and fuzzy traditions versus the business interests of a retail establishment unable at this point to deliver.
The owners of Chapel Hill Mall made their decision in 2004, but that was before lots of people were so easily mobilized by social media. Facebook is tailor-made as a great vehicle for such movements, and should be taken seriously by any business but especially those in retail, and so close to the public. Being caught on tape laughingly "no commenting" to a television reporter -- on camera -- while closing the door and then making sure security escorts the reporter outside the building, hardly reflects "taking seriously" the outreach one expects in dealing with customers or the community.
Calls to punish Chapel Hill, however, because of missteps from a public or community relations view are counterproductive. Let's not forget greater Akron used to provide jobs, shopping outlets and a tax base from three malls. Chapel Hill, and Summit Mall, are not just places to shop; these places are also central points where communities come together, where our neighbors not only shop but also work, and they provide a healthy tax base that supports not only the shops and stores under one massive roof but can also serve as a magnet for other business development. One just has to see what the Rolling Acres area is like today to drive that reminder home.
Miss Archie? Nothing wrong with that. Think it's time to move on? Nothing wrong with that, either. Traditions have to start somewhere, and one has to think the things our kids experience today may very well likely rise to the level of Archie, or Mr. Jing-a-ling, or Bruce the Talking Spruce. That's the funny thing about nostalgia and keeping memories alive to the point where they become traditions -- it's not really something that originates solely with a marketing plan, it's that rare ingredient that touches our hearts that make it so.