An Ode To Shopping Malls

by MR Magazine Staff

One day in 2015, Dan Bell left his home in Baltimore and drove into the suburbs to visit the Owings Mills Mall. It was a trip out of memory. As a 9-year-old boy, he had attended the grand opening of this 820,000-square-foot shopping emporium with his family. Gold dust and pink feathers rained down from the glass-roof atrium that day as thousands gathered. Saks Fifth Avenue was an anchor tenant. The food court, lined with palm trees, was called the Conservatory. The ABC station in Baltimore dispatched its Copter Cam 2 to sweep over the parking lot and broadcast shots of the ocean of cars. Mr. Bell remembered his aunt driving around for 45 minutes to find a spot. This was 1986, a peak mall year in America. At least one new shopping mall had been built in the United States every year since the 1950s, and 19 opened in 1990 alone. To capture the spirit of the time, Esquire dispatched a writer to the Chicago suburbs to follow two teenage boys on a typical Saturday night of mall cruising. Movies of the era, like “The Blues Brothers” (1980), “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982), “True Stories” (1986), “Clueless” (1995), “Mallrats” (1995) and “Jackie Brown” (1997), included key sequences set within these “cathedrals of consumption,” a term coined by the sociologist George Ritzer to describe large indoor shopping spaces. If you were remotely involved in the booming consumer culture in those years, you spent hours circling indoor fountains and riding escalators while sucking down an Orange Julius. Even the eternally alienated Joan Didion wrote of buying two straw hats, four bottles of nail enamel and “a toaster, on sale at Sears,” at the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu. At the time of his return visit in 2015, Mr. Bell had not been to the mall in Owings Mills, Md. — or any shopping mall — in more than a decade. Although he had heard that it was struggling, he was not prepared for what he saw. Read more at The New York Times.