apr 12

dead malls

I have lived in some weird places -- in a crawl space above my office, in an Alaskan fish cannery, in a renovated school classroom -- but nothing beats the year I lived above a mall.

It was the mid-90s, one of those edge-of-existence midwest towns that has always been struggling for name recognition. A couple decades before that, a scary development had begun to encroach upon small cities everywhere: mall culture. Malls were popping up on the fringes of cities, snagging people from downtowns and putting them onto anesthetized shopping streets recognized only as very high numbers -- 54th Street, 98th Avenue. (Today, they don't hide their cul-de-sac lineage, and instead go with names like Shady Lake Lane.)

But it wasn't one of these malls I lived above. Rather, I lived above the mall that fought against those malls. In the early-80s, downtowns began to devise ways to compete against the sprawling menace on the edge of town. It sounds ridiculous now, but many cities in the midwest contemplated this architectural disaster: put a roof on a second or third street and call that a mall. (If you live in Minneapolis, you know Nicollet Street, right? Well, for a while, there was serious consideration to put a roof on it, and call it a "real mall.")

I lived in a city that actually did that.

Walking through this mall had the effect of being trapped in a prism between the future and the past. All the same rustic brick storefronts were there as always, but there was now also shopping lighting. My second-story bedroom window, which decades before overlooked a bustling downtown, now overlooked a food court. My mailbox was in the same place as the entrance to the mall, so every morning I greeted shoppers in my bath robe. Pumped in from the mall, the same exact song woke me up every morning: "Copacabana" by Barry Manillow in fucking orchestrated Muzak. I wrote a screenplay while I lived there called Face The Muzak, a Dostoevskian tale of a guy who starts to go crazy because of the Muzak that surrounds him.

By now, you're wondering where I'm going with this. Well, of course there's a link: DeadMalls.com, a collection of dying retail giants. My mall isn't on there, but it should be, as my mall is really dead: the roof was torn off last year.

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