Wednesday, March 26, 2014


I was a young radio DJ, doing a remote broadcast from the grand opening of a new record store in an old mall, and a guy about my age ankled up to me and started talking about "the outside world."  I had no idea where the boundary line was drawn to designate the inside world versus the outside, but as he spoke, I found that he sliced it this way: the mall was his world and whatever happened beyond the parking lot was part of the great "outside."  

I asked the denim-clad guy just what it was that he did and he said, "I hang around the mall."  I said I could see that, but what did he do for, you know, a job?  And the answer was the same.  He told me that he went home to his parents' to sleep and shower, and then reported to the mall when it opened and stayed until it closed.  When he got hungry, the guy at "Eats-a Pizza" would give him a slice in exchange for hauling out the trash or something, and that was pretty much his existence.

I haven't thought of that fellow for many years, not until I saw the report on the news the other day that said malls are a dying way to do business. There has not been a new enclosed mall built in the United States for six years now, and do you remember the days when it seemed like a new one opened every six days?

Reasons for the decline of the mall as we know it vary from fear of crime and terrorist activity (as witness the recent fatal shootings of two employees at a Zumiez store in the Columbia MD mall), the added popularity of smaller stores as opposed to mega-department stores,  and the easier availability that shopping online offers.  I have to say, you can't beat Amazon for having everything, including the ability to get everything to you in a day or two, even before they start sending you pants by drone. 

Malls used to say they were the new American town centers, where the entire family could spend a day shopping for shoes, clothes, and drill bits, grab some supper at the Food Court and then take in a movie at the Cinemania 27.

Experts say that local strip malls, or "neighborhood and community shopping centers," as they like to be called, will continue to thrive, what with the easy access they offer to nail salons, tuxedo rental shops, bank branches and overpriced coffee desserts.  And good news for lovers of fine films...local theaters, the kind with just one or two screens and popcorn and Jujubes at the concession stand, will always do well, because they show the films that people really want to see. 

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