Omnitopia Chapter LXVII: Enclosed Shopping Structures
My birth year cohorts (1967) were probably the first to truly come of age in a mall. In the beginning, there was “downtown,” and Cedar Rapids, IA had a damn fine one back in the early ’70s, including a Curiosity Shoppe of some sort where you could buy globes of the Moon and my brother Steve got his H.O. track supplies.
Then came the “plaza” and its dirty cousin “the strip mall,” where you could find those awful Michaels places and the occasional cafeteria restaurant (we had Bishop’s). In my quasi-hometown, ours was called Lindale Plaza, and it had the first arcade place in Iowa, featuring Pong, Tank, Lunar Lander, and a game where you used a continuous puff of air to guide objects (lit by blacklight) through various hoops (Steve, do you remember this one?).
Lindale Plaza, of course, became Lindale Mall – check out the before and after pics – and so did everything else. Some genius figured out that people shop more when their toes aren’t falling off from -20 degree wind chill, and voilà, my youth was born.
I bursted into puberty inside a really crappy mall called Military Circle just off the freeway in Norfolk, Virginia. Outside, they had a Flipper McCoy’s arcade place, and inside was the record store chain, a Sears, a place where you got huge cookies, and the theater where I saw “Return of the Jedi.” Despite its nastiness, we found ourselves there most weekends, and I learned every quirk of every store, much the way all of you did in your hometowns.
Tessa doesn’t get malls, nor does she understand why I love them. Perhaps I get the sense of infinite possibility with protection from the weather. Maybe it’s because the food court allows you to get two entrees from two different places and fries from another, and a dessert from somewhere else. When people talk shit about malls, I think they don’t know how good they’ve got it.
That said, let’s look at some more “ubiquitous environments,” shall we?
Dillards, Belk’s, Saks, Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, etc. – Yes, I know some of these are supposed to be “better” than others, but at the butt-end of every mall, you’ll find one of these behemoths trying to separate you from your wallet. Not trying very hard, mind you, as customer service in these places can be abysmal for things you want (pants that fit, non-itchy sweaters) but lugubriously overzealous for things you don’t (Britney’s new perfume).
The floors in these places always depress me – the chipped, scuffed linoleum, juxtaposed with a pair of pleated dress pants – and the amount of makeup worn by the ladies at the counter usually competes with Queen Elizabeth I. The only lady I ever liked was Tessa’s mom Sandy, who was the Estee Lauder salesperson in Kerrville, Texas. I’d buy anything from that woman.
Record Bar, Sam Goody, etc. – Can you smell the desperation? When entering these over-loud cheese factories from the outside, you get the feeling that you may be the last generation to pass through these shoplifting alarms. Piss-poor selection and CDs that cost $17.99? Why would any self-respecting 13-year-old bother, when he can get the Shins album for ten bucks on iTunes (or free from Limewire)?
I still go into these place to look at the posters, which, if you haven’t noticed, are the same ones from 1981: Bob Marley smoking weed, Janis Joplin with a bottle of Southern Comfort, and a bunch of dancing bears courtesy of the Dead. Throw in the Doritos Girl wearing a bikini, and you sense that Sam Goody will be about as relevant in 2030 as the zoetrope.
Delia’s – I never though I’d be jealous of teenage girls, but SHIT they sell cool clothes at this place. It’s what Urban Outfitters would be if they were as cool as they think they are, and everything cost half as much. I’m dying to fit into a 12-year-old girl’s Orange Crush T-Shirt! I’ll just have to wait for Lucy to get old enough to be vaguely ironic.
Urban Outfitters – Speaking of which, I really wish I liked this place better. I know you have to be underweight and preferably a white hipster DJ living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to have a shot, but really, can’t they make stuff for us aging fratboys as well?
We would have been outraged at U.O. back in 1991, selling our irony back to ourselves at $24 a shirt, but now we just sit and take it. How can you possibly wear that “Getting Lucky in Kentucky” T-shirt when 45,000 other too-cool-for-school future art majors already have it?
Banana Republic – I admit, this store hits my sweet spot. Bold, interesting, colorful and classy, I could wear nothing but Ban Rep for the next year and not care what YOU think. It’s come a long way from those pith-helmet and bizarre loincloths of the early ’80s. And though it can get sort of “guido” every two years or so (and is expensive), I would encourage each of you to get a pinstripe blazer.
Spencer’s Gifts – How have these guys managed to stay around for so long? Their current incarnation is of the lowest-common-denominator beer-pong Beavis-humor, but back in my mallrat days, it was the place to go for all your Edible Undie, Joy Jelly and “tobacco water pipe” needs.
They always had the Halloween market cornered with fake teeth and blue hair dye, and usually sold out of Ouija Boards. Spencer’s Gifts: if it didn’t exist, we’d have to create it.
The Apple Store – Oh, my sweet sweet Apple store. Your white curves, your translucent stairs, your roomy bathroom. Let me fondle your Nanos, rub my hands along your G5 towers for warmth. You’re as cozy as a Georgia O’Keeffe flower. How can anyone use a PC when they’ve been inside your sugar walls?
Athletic Attic, The Foot Locker, Athlete’s Foot – I know they’re all about sports, but why do they seem so bereft of motion, so funereal of pace? I know some people like to “try their shoes on” and all that, but if you are pretty sure about your size, everything can be had on eBay for a ninth of the price.
God knows I had my share of retail jobs, and bringing out shoes for people with an 8% chance of them actually buying them has to be a big fucking drag, but STOP MAKING ME FEEL BAD FOR ASKING. And would you please have a size 13 or bigger in there? Lindsay and I can’t buy your shoes if you don’t have them for us manly men.
The Discovery Store, The Sharper Image – I’m fairly sure your massaging chair has been sat in by seven-hundred people today, and it is going to give me the flu. No, I don’t need a USB-powered dental flosser. Why are your executive dart magnet sets $379? I’m sure that pillow stops migraines, I’m fucking sure. I have nobody to play backgammon with, thanks. This radio picks up Lisbon? *sigh*
Old Navy – Those who can, do – those you can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym. Those who can’t teach gym, purposely walk around America with the name of the store emblazoned on their chest in six-inch letters.