Regular readers will know that I have a continuing fascination with shopping malls, their rise and recent fall. So I was interested to read this New York Times piece and its accompanying video about America’s Love Affair With Malls.
A fine synopsis of a basic problem:
We are reliably informed that whatever part of the economic crisis can’t be pinned on Wall Street — or on mortgage-related financial insanity — can be pinned on consumers who overspent. But personal consumption amounts to some 70 percent of the American economy. So if we don’t spend, we don’t recover. Fiscal health isn’t possible until money is again sloshing into cash registers, including those at this mall and every other retailer.
In other words, shopping was part of the problem and now it’s part of the cure. And once we’re cured, economists report, we really need to learn how to save, which suggests that we will need to quit shopping again. So the mall we married has become the toxic spouse we can’t quit, though we really must quit, but just not any time soon. The mall, for its part, is wounded by our ambivalence and feels financially adrift.
The article focuses on the Mall of America:
Eleven thousand people work at the mall in this suburb of Minneapolis, a five-minute ride from the airport. Forty million visitors arrive here each year, which, according to the mall’s promotional material, is more than visit Disney World, the Grand Canyon and Graceland combined. The mall has a seven-acre theme park with 24 rides, an aquarium with hundreds of sharks, an 18-hole miniature golf course, 20,000 parking spaces and 520 retail stores.
The mall has its own security force and a holding cell, which is run by the Bloomington police. There are 250 video cameras spread around the mall, which Darcy Kwyla, a security systems controller, monitors in a hushed room. “You see everything,” says Ms. Kwyla, as she flips from camera to camera with a control panel on her desk. “Sex in the parking lot, a naked guy on drugs walking through the mall, thefts, fights. You name it.”
There are 71 Mall of America package tours from 32 countries. And there are special events, like the “Spirit of America” cheerleading competition, which unleashes a couple of thousand cheerleaders in the mall.
It’s an altogether fascianting read for those who appreciate the cultural value of shopping.