The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Have the mall rats finally won? Have they made the shopping mall, a quintessential symbol of mass American consumerism, an unbearable place to visit, unworthy of the average time-pressed shopper's time? That seems to be the case, as analysts are strongly recommending retailers to think beyond the mall for their stores.

This is kind of shocking. When malls started to crop up in force some thirty years ago, they were villified as the killers of traditional downtown shopping districts. And so they were. I remember in my little hometown, the opening of the local mall (strategically near the main interstate junction, naturally) killed off the older, more antiquated mall already there, which in turn had killed off the old downtown stores that had thrived years earlier. What further contributed to their unpopularity (in some eyes) were what they represented: conformity, ugly modernity, and all that jazz. So, the idea that they're now out of favor is almost unbelievable.

As someone who grew up in the '80s, I spent quite a bit of my formative years in malls. Especially in a small town, when there was precious little else to do, the mall was pretty much the only place to be. Parents had little concern over leaving their kids there, because it was perceived to be a safe place (although I dispute that; it's not like that crack mall security inspired tons of confidence). I probably spent more time in the bookstores and movie theaters than anywhere else. Very often, I'd spend entire days at a mall--literally from 9 in the morning until 7 at night. It's a wonder my brain never turned to mush... entirely.

I'm not sure that we should thank the Wal-Marts and Targets of the world for killing off the mall. I mean, how are these new-style supermegastores any better than the mall? Just as ugly, just as harmful to local economies.