An ode to malls: Why their apparent demise is the saddest news ever

It’s a dark time for us mall-lovers.

And no, I don’t mean those of you who “go to the mall” or “meet in front of it.” (How dare you!) I mean those of us whose entire youths are folded, like a gorgeous pair of American Eagle jeans, into mall culture. Those of us who spent Friday nights walking up and down and in and out, and just hanging out, hoping to be seen.

The mall was both a meeting place and a destination. At least one day every weekend, someone like me would descend upon the local haunt and spend hours accumulating bags full of discounted, less-than-$10 things we thought would make us into our suburban equivalent of Cher Horowitz. (Think: Bonne Bell lipglosses, Leonardo DiCaprio fan books, Spice Girls paraphernalia, and camouflage polyester T-shirts, to name a few.) The more bags, the more like a character in a movie montage you’d feel. And then you’d count down the days until you could do it again.

Not that physical marketplace culture ended with us: if you worked in retail, you saw the next generation of mall-lovers rise up and take over. They congregated in stores, in front of the movie theatre, and roamed aimlessly, spending hard-earned dollars (all in coin) on discounted merch. And then when we were done work, we’d wander around the mall (any mall) because that’s what malls are for. The dream would never die. Not for us, the people of the mall.

Except, apparently, this is no longer the case! Yesterday, Target announced its intention to pull out of Canadian malls within a matter of weeks, which will leave big, gaping spaces in buildings riddled with more and more gaping spaces. On top of that, a Business of Fashion article recently determined that the bankruptcy of DeLiA’s signals the end of mall culture as a whole (which is assisted by the slow demise of Wet Seal), and Mexx, Jacob, and Smart Set, are making their exit, too. The mall is no longer the safe, bright, shiny, happy place we saw in teen movies—it’s turning into the desolate wasteland we saw in Gone Girl. And it makes me sad.

Of course, you could see something like this coming. As online shopping increased, retailers didn’t exactly do their best to lure us back in those early days. And for those who didn’t see the mall as a way of socializing (and instead saw it as a symbol of crowds and strife), online shopping and outlet stores were a reprieve. Online prices tended to be cheaper. There was also more product available, sites offered exclusive discounts, and you didn’t have to deal with anyone. If you’re someone who hates people or trying things on, it’s a dream (and the mall was a nightmare.)

But nobody thought “nightmare” was actually the norm. Those of us who still go to the mall (and are happy about it), didn’t think that many people didn’t want to be there. And we certainly didn’t think these seemingly un-toppable stores would ever topple; that a store like DeLiA’s (symbol of Y2K) would ever cease to exist. Or Jacob. Or Mexx for cool moms. And now Target. It seems over-dramatic to ask whether this is the last frontier as life as we know it—but it might be.

That’s a bad thing. Technology makes a lot of miracles possible, but to abolish the purchasing of goods in person isn’t just about making shopping convenient. There’s a social aspect to malls. To buy things, you have to talk to somebody. You’re physically close to human beings, and from them, you learn about social cues and manners and how to interact with strangers. And by purchasing items in person, you’re also ensuring the people you’re buying from have jobs. (Jobs that matter, too.) Through malls, there’s also the perpetuation of marketplace culture — something that dates back to ancient times, where news and greetings and life was exchanged in front of shops and vendors. (I mean, even my Grandpa meets his best friends at the mall to talk about politics in front of Second Cup. Though he was born after Jesus and friends.)

To ask whether we’re really willing to give that up in exchange for click-shopping feels a bit like Kathleen Kelly trying to rally against Fox Books in You’ve Got Mail (even though in 2015 Fox Books would be in trouble too). But it’s a question worth asking. Is the very real demise of mall culture something we’re willing to accept? Are we really okay with abandoned buildings and job loss? Are we really into taking away one of the only safe spaces we’ve consistently given teens?

Save The Shop Around the Corner!