Sunday, May 27, 2012
The Mall - Today and Yesterday
I have nothing against shopping malls, but they just don’t fit with my shopping patterns. Nonetheless yesterday I went to the mall because I needed new glasses. When I use the term “mall” I am referring to the big enclosed shopping areas that have multiple stores all facing toward a large enclosed central area. I am a destination shopper – that is, I am not intro strolling past lots of stores and window-shopping. I am more into going to the store that sells what I want to buy, buying it and going home. I find malls frustrating because I have to figure out what is where, find the nearest entrance, and usually have to walk some distance to find my destination. If a mall store has an exterior entrance they are much more likely to get my business. But once a store is inside a mall with no outside entrance, it is off my radar screen. But yesterday, I found myself at a local mall, getting glasses, and waiting around “for about an hour.” I was hungry, so I went a short distance to the chicken sandwich shop and got a sandwich and a bottle of water. After that I found the restroom and went to an ATM. So far, so good, but I still had 40 minutes to kill. I walked around a little bit looking in store windows and at the kiosks. It was too bad I didn’t need a new case for my iPhone because there seemed to be lots of places selling them. There were stores selling fancy lingerie, running shoes, inexpensive jewelry, video games, and cell phones – not to mention other stuff that was so far off my radar screen I didn’t notice. There were two perfectly good department stores I could have gone into and no doubt found something to spend money on, but they were both a bit of a trek from where I was sitting, now happily perched reading my email. Since the store where I bought my glasses and the food court were dead zones for my phone and iPad, I was pleased to find a place to sit where I got a decent signal. So I sat there until it was time to get my glasses. While I was sitting there a small train came by carrying long-suffering adults and bunches of small children. I thought about catching the train, but then I had no accompanying small children and I wasn’t sure that once I got into one of the little cars that I could get out. Besides, I really didn’t have a destination! But, I have to say that I realize that I am the average “mall customer. “ I work long hours and so for me shopping is a necessity, and not a fun activity. I have problems with my feet, so walking through a mall is no different than walking in an airport – it makes my feet hurt. At this point in my life, I need to buy very little and I know what I like and where to buy it. But the malls are filled with people younger than me, some with baby strollers and kids in tow, moving happily from store to store and clearly they are spending money or the stores would not survive. So I am just a demographic misfit. I remember the first mall I ever experienced was Eastwood Mall in Birmingham. I just checked it out the Web and refreshed my memory. http://www.birminghamrewound.com/EastwoodMall. Opened in 1960, it was the biggest mall in the South, with 47 stores. I boasted 73 degrees inside year-around. I remember that it was cooled by artesian well water. When it opened, the whole city was abuzz. Imagine, 47 stores and not going outside. Birmingham can get VERY hot in the summer and VERY cold in the winter, so the prospect was tantalizing. I remember going to the opening and marveling at the whole concept! At the time I was in 9th grade – the perfect age for appreciating such a marvel. I understand that Eastwood Mall is gone now, but that area remains a shopping mecca for the east side of Birmingham. When we moved to Maryland in 1976, I frequented Harundale Mall http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harundale_Mall in Glen Burnie, MD. It was said to the first enclosed shopping mall on the east coast and first air conditioned mall in America. I fondly remember Hoschild-Kohn. Today that mall is gone, replaced by a Plaza. In that same time frame, I shopped at the Severna Park Mall and Jumpers Hole Mall, now both turned inside out. It seems that the trend today is to turn the smaller malls into strip centers. Today there are mega- regional malls that are forcing the smaller regional malls to reconfigure, sometimes converting to plazas or putting office space where department stores once thrived. Today shopping is definitely different than it was in the late fifties when malls first came on the scene. Some say the malls killed the downtowns in some American cities. So now we have a few really large malls, downtowns that still have empty department store buildings, plazas that have been converted from medium-sized malls, warehouses, big boxes and local shopping districts and the newly emerging town centers. The local shopping districts seem to be ever-popular because many residents appreciate the need to support their local merchants. But… what changes lie ahead of us with the Internet and its impact of shopping? We already have chain stores saying you can order it online and pick-it up at the store. With some “big box” stores, it is possible check on the availability of a given item before ever leaving your home. Now you can scan in an item with your cell phone and check the price at another store. But as long as there are malls, teenagers will go to the movies, young couples will push their infants in strollers and old ladies will kill time while waiting on their glasses.