I know, I know. Not everybody loved the mall, but I really did. Now it's dying and I think that's such a bummer.
When I was a young girl, my mom and I had a standing monthly date night. It always started at our local Pizza Hut where I cashed in my Book It certificate for a personal pan pizza and a new star sticker on the gigantic Book It button that I wore with pride. Girls' night usually ended at the mall. Sometimes we would see a movie at the twin cinema, other times we would simply window shop down the long hall. I loved going to the mall with my mom.
My first real job was at the mall. Well, it was my first job if you don’t count mixing cream cheese in the prep kitchen of a local bagel shop and I DO NOT. I drove my sixteen-year-old self to the mall, asked for an application, filled it out hopefully, and then fielded the phone call- on a land line connected to my mom and dad’s living room wall- for an interview. Through my high school years, I spent 15-20 hours per week at the mall. I sold jeans, folded clothes, and calculated how far my next paycheck would go when I factored in my employee discount, all while Blackstreet and Dr. Dre sang No Diggity on the mixed tape that played over the store speakers. I loved working at the mall.
As a new mom, I sometimes felt isolated. In the absence of a built-in mom group and desperately longing to be in a place that was not my own living room, I went to the mall. I put my daughter in the stroller, and we walked the mall with the seniors getting their morning exercise. We stopped at the common play area and my daughter toddled out with the other children while I sat on the sidelines and watched her explore. I loved taking my daughter to the mall.
The mall was simply always there. It’s where our parents took us to visit the real Santa in center court. It’s where we dressed in our home-made costumes, attended the Mall-O-Ween festivities, and nearly lost our mom in the sea of frazzled mothers. It’s where my tween friends convinced our parents to let us have our first unsupervised outing- on the firm understanding that we were to meet the pick-up mom at the JCPenney door at 3pm and to use this quarter to call home if we needed anything before then. It’s where my mom soothed my very first broken heart and a Rachel Green haircut gone wrong with my first and only pair of Lucky jeans. It’s where my dad and I went shopping for Mom’s Christmas gift and he embarrassed me by cracking a dad joke in front of the cashier.
I recently took my four-year-old daughter to this same mall for new shoes. We could have ordered online, but I wanted to spend the afternoon with my little girl while she’s still little. I wanted to try shoes on her growing feet and compromise when what I envisioned didn’t line up with the light up shoes her heart was set on. I wanted to look at clothes and listen as she gabbed about all the things she might like to have someday. I wanted to eat a hot pretzel and window shop as we walked the long halls of the mall. We went to the mall, but the mall wasn’t the same. The mall is dying. The pretzel stand is empty, as is half the food court. There are exactly three stores left in that big mall that carry clothing in her size. There are as many empty store fronts as there are occupied ones and I have a feeling the rest of the stores will follow suit as their leases expire. Gone are the days when the mall was a buzzing place to safely congregate, window shop, grab a snack, shop for shoes, and have a girls’ night. The free play area was long ago replaced with overpriced coin operated rides that only sometimes work. The building itself has fallen into disrepair and the piano in the food court sits quietly unattended. The hallways are empty, even in the middle of a business day. It is quiet and tired. It is dying.
I want to be mad about this, but I’m as guilty as the masses when it comes to killing the mall. Online shopping is king and there is simply no way for the mall to compete. The times are changing with the shopping preferences of the people and I’ll have to look elsewhere for girls’ nights with my own daughter, but I will always remember the mall.
For more stories on standing happily in the awkward middle of life, love, and parenthood, follow Happy Like This by Mandy McCarty Harris.