Normally we like to keep it light and positive at Mallrate, but we feel this topic is important to any fan of Shopping Malls. The 90s were a magical time for the Mall and they were at their absolute peak. Unfortunately, between the instability of the world economy and the rise of online couch shopping, many of these great Centres are not making it out of that awesome decade.
Entering a Mall in the 90s is a feeling I will never forget. I'm not sure if it was the brash, in-your-face décor; perhaps it was as much the brightly coloured people, but the environment was electric. The 70s Mall was calmer - oranges and avocados were the hues of choice, but as the end of the 80s approached, these Malls began to pop with colour. I will never forget entering these hallowed places, breathing in the air and feeling such a sense of anticipation for the fun day ahead.
It was never about “I need a pair of shoes, I'm going to the Mall”. The actual purchasing of goods was secondary. The Mall was an experience, where people went to hang out, browse, socialise in their little groups at the food court, and maybe pick up an item or two. It was about having a great day out, extending into magical evenings, where things migrated from the food court to the Cinema.
Malls today still have that magic, albeit more subdued, with more neutral, minimalist designs. They remain adored and I can still not think of a better day out. However, until we get the hover-cars from Back to the Future II and people start wearing bright spandex, I fear we won't get quite the same magic back again. But, what of the venerable Centres that didn't make it? Are they just to be repurposed into parking lots and forgotten forever? For the stories and good times they contain within, that is no way to go. And if we cannot save these Malls (Please, support your local Mall. E-mail us about it, send us pictures or videos of your day there), at least we can immortalise them on the internet for people to see who were unable to experience them first-hand.
A scene from the hilarious "Mean Girls"
This is where Producer and Filmmaker Dan Bell comes in. Born in 1977, he was a product of the late 80s and 90s. This puts him smack bang in the epicentre of 90s Mall culture. In 2015 he began a series called “Dead Malls”. He, like me, was a child of the Mall. He recalls in his Ted Talk, the sense of great anticipation when a new Mall opened in his local area. He also speaks of his first few Mall jobs. Now, few teens I know would have spoken fondly of working in Customer Service in a Mall if you had asked them at the time. But ask them a few years later, and fond nostalgia has replaced the misery. This is because a Mall job is special. You are not a lone entity but are surrounded by entire tribes of like-minded teens within a beautiful air conditioned little bubble. You have an entire food court where you can escape it all – beats the hell out of a stuffy office, I can tell you!
Dan Bell's talk at Ted X Mid Atlantic, Washington DC, October 2016
The preview video of Bell's Youtube series, "Dead Malls"
Bell recalls stories of hanging out at the Mall, most a little weird when you hear them as anecdotes but perfectly normal in the moment! He then recalls spending one last day at his local Mall before the wrecking-ball was going to come upon it, and describes the ominous feeling of something not being quite right. I can relate to this feeling, the innate sense that what was about to happen to this place was just plain wrong. Of course Bell could do nothing to stop it; but at least he could document it. As he walks through, the Mall is in a strange state. It is absolutely dead, but it is still ready to receive customers as if it was it's opening day – except no-one is coming. It is to me both melancholic and tremendously nostalgic to watch. I have never been to this Mall, but I know that it is HIS Mall and I can use my own experiences to empathise as he is filming.
Is this how we want to end up?? Get to the Mall!
The Dead Mall series was sparked off by comments on this video of his last walkthrough, saying how many people shared his experiences and who have a dead or dying Mall close to them that he should check out. That is exactly what he did. I have found a kindred spirit in Dan Bell, even though he is ever-so-slightly more nihilistic than I. We here at Mallrate choose to record and celebrate the open Malls (both those that have made it out of the 80s and 90s, as well as those that have been newly constructed) and Dan Bell records and celebrates (in a good way) those Malls that have come and gone. Both are, we feel, tremendously important. Please, we highly recommend watching this series; but only after visiting (and maybe while you're there, treating yourself to a new CD or pair of sunglasses!) the Mall near you that is still around today. You will maybe not speak very highly of it in a social forum, you may hide your fondness for it, but you will miss it if it ever goes away.