The shopping mall has fallen on hard, even haunting times

Have you seen the eerie photos of abandoned mallsmall that have been roaming the internet? (Cue the theme song to “The Twilight Zone.”) The black-and-white photos show dead plants under dingy skylights, creepy corridors with missing ceiling tiles, doorless stores, broken windows, electrical fixtures dangling from the rafters, and missing escalators. Dust and gloom hang in the air.

And I realize I’m one reason why the mall concept is struggling.

Shop til I drop

I used to love shopping at a mall. As a product of the 1970s, I grew up when the mall concept emerged. They offered merchandise we couldn’t get in small Iowa towns or too expensive if available in a small Main Street store. My family lived on a farm over 40 miles from the malls we frequented. Crossroads Center in Waterloo and College Square Mall in nearby Cedar Falls opened in 1969. Southbridge Mall in Mason City opened in 1973. We gravitated to the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area where the two malls were just a few miles apart for greater selection, and our aunt lived in Waterloo whom we would usually visit.

We considered a Saturday trip to the mall a big deal—an excursion. Dad would drive. Mom would discuss her list and what stores she wanted to visit. I’d be plotting what to beg for. My brother was more concerned where we’d have lunch. Once we arrived, Dad would find a bench in the atrium, strike up a conversation with some unsuspecting husband doing the same thing, and corral our shopping bags. If we played our cards right, our aunt would treat us at Bishop’s Buffet in Crossroads. (My first experience with French silk pie.)

After college and settling into my journalism career in north central Iowa, I ventured west and south to another Crossroads Mall, this time in Fort Dodge, and an outlet mall in Story City. Shopping with friends instead of my parents was liberating!

Birthplace of the mall

By the time I married and moved to the Twin Cities, the mall concept was in full bloom. Southdale, in the suburb of Edina, was the nation’s first indoor regional shopping center. It dwarfed the malls I was accustomed to, and exuded opulence. I lived just five miles from its sister mall, Rosedale, and became a frequent shopper there.

Then IT happened. The retail behemoth Mall of America redesigned the shopping concept when it opened in 1992. It’s a mere 25 minutes from home. Be still my quaking heart! Today is has over 400 stores, close to 12,000 employees, and 35 to 40 million visits yearly. For several years, I’d make trips there for my birthday in June, and Christmas shopping in December. We would take out-of-town family there to impress and overwhelm; give the granddaughters tickets to the amusement park. And always get lost.

My husband and I would go to Las Vegas occasionally where I explored the glitzy shopping world of the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace and the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. I rarely walked out with anything as they were high-end malls. Thankfully Vegas had a healthy share of outlet malls away from the Strip that better suited my budget.

Fade to black

Then a few years ago, my shopping fervor faded away. Maybe it’s because I no longer fit the demographic of the younger shopper. Maybe it was being without a full-time job to afford the pleasures of shopping. Maybe it was the spike in rowdy youth being dropped off at the mall by their parents. Or maybe I just got bored roaming the cavernous yet swanky halls and searching for my car in the expansive parking lot.

Apparently I’m not the only one wandering away from malls, as the creepy images demonstrate. To shut out the retail grotesqueness, I close my eyes and fondly remember the shopping trips to Cedar Falls and Waterloo when the goal was more than shopping for school clothes, Sunday shoes, bath towels, bedding, pots and pans. Those trips were times of relaxed and simple family togetherness that can never be replicated. I miss that.








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