When I was a kid in the late 80’s, early 90’s, my parents would oftentimes take me to the malls in St. Louis. I remember looking at the gigantic buildings with awe. They were filled with so many stores and people were everywhere. Being a toddler, I was drawn to Toys R’ Us, the indoor arcades, and the mini amusement parks they’d have set up for children, such as little trains, carousels, or miniature golf. They’re fond memories.
On birthdays my mother would take me into Toys R’ Us and I could get anything I wanted. I’d always go to the Nintendo section and was hard pressed to choose which game to take home. Also, as I grew, I was in need of new school clothes, so we’d often go to the mall and there’d be these giant clothing stores, just filled with blue jeans, jackets, and shirts. As a child it was all breathtaking. So much clothes! So much stuff! So many people!
Shopping there was an experience. There were food courts selling all kinds of tasty treats, kiosks trying to sell you expensive jewelry behind immaculate glass, and giant fountains spraying water high into the air, down into sparkling water below. When you’d get tired from walking through the giant hallways, there were special chairs you could put money into and they’d give you a massage. I can remember sitting in one of these chairs, getting a massage, begging my mom for quarters or other spare change which I could flip into the fountain. Or I remember getting hungry and my parents getting me a giant pretzel, an Orange Julius, and some funnel cake, strange foreign treats which were unlike anything I would ever eat at home.
As I got older, particularly when I was maybe twelve years old or so, like all young boys, you start to notice the girls. There were cute, teenage women all over the place, shopping with their friends. There were groups of guys wandering around as well, many of them on the on the lookout, meeting and flirting with the girls. It was a nice place to meet new people, talk together at the food court, and go to a movie together. These giant malls had their own movie theaters.
I’m sort of baffled to see the malls shutting down, one by one. Most are hanging on by a thread and many of them that have managed to stay open are now dead malls. Unlike my childhood memories, they’re now giant, creepy, vacant buildings, like something out of a video game after an apocalypse. You go into these places and there’s not a soul in there. It’s like aliens came and abducted all of humanity but somehow you’ve been left behind. You walk around these places thinking, “Where is everybody?”
Dan Bell creates a wonderful series on Youtube called ‘Dead Malls’, which is interesting to watch. He’ll normally begin each episode with footage from the mall when it was booming, back in the 80’s and 90’s (when I was a kid), and then cuts to it today. The contrast is hard to believe. Like take a look at this video. It features an enormous mall built near when I was born in Ohio, but it’s now completely dead.
So what’s happened to these malls? From what I’ve read at least, it seems to be a combination of the evaporation of the middle class, competition from online shopping sites like Amazon, and a new generation of people who do not want to leave their homes, doing all their shopping from their computers and phones.
These malls were once filled with stores like Dillards, JC Penny, Sears, and other places. As the middle class evaporated, these places went along with them. I don’t know, it’s just sad.