Meet Me at the Food Court

As a Gen Xer, my formative years spanned the 80s and early 90s, which means I spent a considerable amount of time hanging out in malls. And as an adult, I still have a part of me that holds those bastions to consumerism very near and dear to my heart.

Last weekend, Virginia and I needed to do two things: pick up a birthday gift for one of her friends and hit the Gap. Yes, I thought, knitting our shopping plan together, we get to go to the mall! I still love the mall. I love that in order to get to the actual inside, you need to walk through an old-school department store first. Virginia and I wended our way through Macy’s girls section, luggage, home goods, and their Christmas displays before we were spit out into one of the ends of the mall, when we start walking and browsing—passing windows displaying perfectly coiffed mannequins or scenes of pre-holiday cheer. Yes, shopping with a ten-year-old can mean fighting off the occasional, “Can we PLEASE go to Game Stop and buy the new Pokémon 3DS game?” But a little bit of begging and whining won’t spoil it for me. We had clear goals in mind when we started and when we were done, plastic bags in hand, we rewarded ourselves with lunch from the food court. Even though I rarely go to the mall (maybe because I rarely go), I secretly relish every moment of this bonding while shopping.

I think slowly over the last couple of decades, malls have become old fashioned and in most ways, unnecessary—they’re now these relics of the days before Amazon. All of the stores in a mall have not only a website, but an online, ultra-convenient way to shop for the same items in stores often with free shipping thrown in. Rightly, most of us think, why would I get out of my pajamas and drive to a mall when I can buy this now and have it arrive it two days? Which is why fewer and fewer malls are thriving. Last May, The New Yorker ran a story that examines the current (ir)relevance of malls in “Are Malls Over?” There’s even a website Retail History that provides a listing state by state of “dead malls.” The mall VA and I went to last weekend in Plymouth Meeting was pretty desolate. I also wonder there’s a link between the helicopter parenting trend and the death of malls. No child is unsupervised anymore. A mall is no longer your tween’s babysitter after school and on weekends. Or your teenager’s place of work. The Galleria in Sherman Oaks hasn’t been the mall from Fast Times in, well, forever. I don’t think it is a mall anymore.

Yeah, the shop ‘til you drop mentality hasn’t gone away (Black Friday madness is a case in point), but it doesn’t seem to live solely within the confines of stores sandwiched between a Boscov’s and a J.C. Penny. I don’t feel the need to join the swarms of post-Thanksgiving bargain hunters, but I do enjoy an afternoon at the mall with Virginia.

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