Back Against the Mall

our local shopping mall just isn’t what it used to be. or is it?

Eric Rasmussen

Quick question – how many of you have been to the mall lately? I have to admit, despite a summer of bustling outdoor activities, I’ve made it out to the mall a few times this summer. My 2 year-old loves the model train set-up in the Sears wing (which is currently out of order – and seriously, mall big-wigs, if you could see the teary, quivering bottom lip look on his face every time he puts a quarter in the slot and nothing happens, you would fix that thing lickety-split). Whether you’ve been there or not, let me fill you in on the current state of the Oakwood retail mecca.

It’s a little depressing. There are several vacant store spots, many of which are growing weeds in the corners and attracting wolves. A lot of the formerly dazzling fluorescent lights are flickering and buzzing. A rough gang of biker-looking transients has taken over the Younkers wing, so if you need to visit Radio Shack, you have to pay a pretty hefty “protection” fee. Groups of small children without any shoes, mostly Sbarro employees, follow you around the whole time, begging for spare change in exchange for slices of calzone.

I’m kidding! The mall is just as bright and clean as it has always been, except there are a few more vacant stores than in recent years, and fewer customers than I ever remember there being, even in off-season summer months. And even if I’m wrong (the vacancy rate is normal for this depressed economy, and I just keep showing up during low-traffic times), I do experience guilt each time I’m there.

This guilt stems from the trend (both locally and nationally) over the past decade of hating “the mall.” I have a slightly more difficult time working up the smug mall hatred that seems so trendy because I have a history with the mall, having worked there for about seven years in high school and college.

The value placed on buying local is something I believe in, and for some people, the mall is the enemy of all that is local. Plus, I also agree with urban development trends towards minimizing a city’s footprint and reigning in suburban sprawl. In some people’s minds, malls killed downtowns across America, and nothing will be sweeter than watching them slowly suffocate.

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