I used to know everyone at the mall — the girls at Orange Julius and the Mrs. Fields cookie shop, the arcade attendants, the Moxie Java baristas. Like many American teenagers in a middle-size city in the middle of the country, I considered the mall a second home for a while, and those people were family.
So when I visited Vancouver Mall on Thursday to see how Gold’s Gym and H&M were coming along, that uncanny sense of belonging crept up again. Of course, I’m 1,500 miles and more than a decade removed from my mall rat days in Fargo, N.D., but malls come in pretty reliable shapes and colors. My shopping habits changed but the feelings never did.
In those days I spent very little but found an appreciation for the normative aesthetic I still find solace in today. I’ve spent countless hours under the high ceilings that reflect the glow of a half-mile of storefronts off the clean tile floors. I watched as a local department store made way for a Macy’s, as coffee shops became coffee chains, as the food court became a place to be more than a place to eat.
Today I have a more nuanced view about the mall. It’s more than a place to hang out — though it still is, as well it should be. It’s an all-American economic engine. A climate-controlled flag over our mastery of nature. A place to go when there’s no place else to go.
The mall is one of the last elements of our fractionated culture that is multigenerational, since malls have been around for so long and try to appeal so broadly. We all know what a mall is. We all know what to find there. It’s important because it just is.