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I grew up in shopping malls.  It's not hard to do, not for people my age, not in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.  My early memories of the mall were focused aroudn two things - the pizza joint in the food court, and the arcade.  That was back in the early 80's, before delivery pizza hit it big, and you still had lots and lots of little restaurants all over that specialized in pizza.  I think the pieces were square, and were served on paper plates on plastic trays.  The mall also had a McDonalds, but we didn't go there very much.  The pizza was better.

Ah, the arcade, one of my favorite places in my youth.  Every visit to the mall, it was always a question of, "Are we going to get pizza this time, and how many quarters can I get for the arcade?"   The actual shopping was awful.  As an ornrey little kid, I didn't much enjoy it at all, having to stand around and wait while my mom looked at stuff, or occasionally having to go try stuff on in the annoying little fitting rooms that never had any place to sit.

There was a toy store in the mall, of which I have fond memories.  We didn't buy stuff there that often, occasionally a model or a star wars figure, but I always enjoyed going in to look at stuff.  One year I entered a model painting contest with a model dinosaur, and managed to get an honorable mention.  That was my most prized tropy for many, many years.

One only entered the Sherman Oaks Galleria through the multi-level parking lot.  Each level had a different color.  Later, MUCH later, I learned that there was actually a way to enter the building from the street.  There was a quite nice walkway, flanked with some trees and whatnot, and an escalator that went down to the bus stop on the main street.  This was an older mall, and didn't have the acres of parking on ever side.

As I got older, the mall changed.  One year they remodeled the food court area, and it was never quite the same.  The pizza place dissapeared, but the arcade got bigger.  My mom took me to movies now and then, usually in the mornings on weekends, when it was cheaper.  During the early 90's there was a boom in collectible card games, and for a while the mall sported two stores that carried Magic : The Gathering.  I spent a fair deal of time looking at the expensive rare cards out on display, talking with the store clerks about cards, discussing strategies, etc.

But by this point, the mall was already in decline.  The consolidation in department store chains had resulted in the two main anchors for the mall being owned by the same company, Robinson's May, and it was simply not viable.  Perhaps because of its ill health, the department stores often had good clearance sales on pants and whatnot.  I went often enough that I knew the normal prices, and could tell when a sale was actually a sale, or just a gimmick.

In its waning days, the Galleria was a ghost town. Stores closed, and they were not replaced.   The food court was still there, remodeled once again, bright and airy under the glass atrium roof, and I remember going there to study every so often.  The movie theater remained to the end, but not much else did.  It was kind of sad and empty, but it always felt like home.  

Then came the inevitable.  The mall was closed.  It simply couldn't compete with larger, newer malls, and there was no way to expand it.  A new plan for the space was drawn up, where most of the space was remade into offices.  Some of it was allocated to a new mega theater, and some to a few new restaurants on the old walkway that was once the pedestrian entrance.  I went there once, and didn't stay very long.

by Zwackus on Sun Mar 25th, 2007 at 09:25:42 AM EST
Nostalgia isn't anymore what it used to be...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sun Mar 25th, 2007 at 09:32:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ahhh, thank you for the flashback (another Valley person here).

There was a multistory Tower Records in the Galleria for a few years, but they closed all their stores (WAAAAHHH!!) last year. I haven't been back to LA for a while and haven't asked anyone what's become of the mall in the past few months.

Even at its height, the Galleria was full of chain stores. Only difference is the stores themselves were a little funkier and more individualistic than what you'll find in chains today. One of the malls I used to go to was the Encino Town and Country, more of a shopping courtyard than a mall, but it was filled with  unique shops, not a lot of chains. But every time I went there, it seemed people concentrated mostly on the movie theater and The Nutty Choclatier (entertainment and candy, I can't wait to hear the comments). T&C was remodeled a few years later with large stores like Strouds (linens) and Super Crown (Crown Books' attempt to fight off the new, super-sized Bookstar), and then it seemed to pull in bigger crowds. Disappointing, because they closed the smaller places, which were really kind of neat. (Although in defense of all the people who went to The Nutty Choclatier, that was a great chocolate shop.)

All the sense memories are coming back (the bus stop on Ventura Blvd, Licorice Pizza [an excellent record shop, not a pizzeria], Heaven, with its logo with two retro-'50s faces...). I remember faithfully saving my allowance every month so I could go to LP and buy a record or a bunch of singles.

by lychee on Sun Mar 25th, 2007 at 11:30:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah yes.  The Galleria.  I remember when it was the brand-new hippest place to shop in the entire Valley.  (Which tells you how old I am!  ;-)  Only went there a couple of times when visiting a friend - a shop till you drop kinda guy - who lived within walking distance.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sun Mar 25th, 2007 at 12:34:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, you have the shopping experience and now you see the negative parts about malls.  What would you change about them?  How would you make them into a sustainable, non-numbing place to shop?

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Sun Mar 25th, 2007 at 03:16:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You have the obnoxious habit of asking irritating but deeply fascinating questions.  ;-)  

Short answer:  Beats the hell outta me.

Land use patterns in the US dictates shopping is rigorously secluded from residental areas.  City transportation policies dictate the automobile is God and all must bow before it.  Construction of shopping malls has degraded such that the buildings are only expected to last for 20 years.  As the McMansions of suburbia expand ever further from the 'urb' the economic value of the underlying Real Estate declines.  

But the cost (valuation) of properties in the city itself have declined even further.  

So, does it make more sense to spend the money  re-invigorating the city?

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Mar 25th, 2007 at 03:43:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Moi?  I am convinced I have earned that right. ;)

Malls:  
get those _ flourescent lights off me,
put some windows in those walls so I can see what time of day it is,
stop herding me with your __ lines on the floor,
give me some real choice of qualities and materials and not the same 3? manufacturers with 300 different brand names,
call things by their real names,
turn down the musak,
do not ever make something beep at me,
....
and I won´t say what they can do with land use patterns and valuations ´cause I have manners.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Sun Mar 25th, 2007 at 04:04:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First step, in the US at least, stop spending the money required to drive the sprawl. For example, rolling over the dollar value of developments should be on a hectare by hectare basis above a certain value of development (say, $5m). Then instead of looking to roll over gains into every larger plots of low value land, developers that want to get the tax break have to find ways to persistently increase the underlying value per hectare of the property they are developing ... and doing that requires finding was to concentrate and cluster development.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Mar 25th, 2007 at 05:02:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not sure if I understand the same thing you do by "concentrate and cluster".  To me it means communities that combine housing and basic shopping at a pedestrian level, i.e., non-suburbia.  Once you separate the sleeping areas and the shopping areas, you´re stuck in a car.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 05:10:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure if I entirely agree with the premise of your question here, in that I really have trouble imagining the situation being a whole lot better.

I like flourescent lighting.  I realize I may be the only person on Earth to say that, but it's true.  Incandescents are dim and annoying.  You can't see colors properly because they are usually too dim, they glare in the wrong ways, and they're hot.  Flourescents are also MUCH more energy efficient.  Of course, natural lighting is quite nice.  One of my favorite features about the Galleria, and a couple other malls in the Valley, was that the main galleries were naturally lit via atrium windows in the roof.  The Northridge Fashion Plaza even had trees and fountains.  Sadly, even in LA, natural lighting is not always available . . . for example, at night.

I never shop at anything BUT big department stores, or the occasional chain store, because the smaller the store, the more expensive the merchandise, and the less likely it is that they will have something that fits me.  Independent stores can't survive on a low-margin volume sale strategy, and I've never been in a position to afford much that's not sold on such a strategy.

My clothing purchases are routinely made from two or three brands, anyway.  The periodically cheap brands which are not terribly low-quality.  For some items I am willing to pay for better quality/fit.  I used to but custom-made shirts from Lands End, because I could never get dress shirts to fit me right.  I lost some weight recently, though, so no that's not a problem.  In stores, finding actual high-quality, built to last merchandise is almost impossible, because in my experience almost nobody is willing to pay for it.  There are a few items for which I am a real stickler on this point (shoes being the main example), yet nobody I know ever wants to listen to my advice because it would inevitably mean that they pay more.  They'd rather buy 5 pairs of crappy shoes rather than one nice one.  The culture of disposability is such that there is only a marginal, remnant market for anything that's not-disposable, it seems.  And so, chain stores carry goods with varying levels of disposability, because when presented with a choice, that's what most people buy.

It would be really, really nice if malls were better integrated into "community" settings, with walkable streets, nearby housing, etc.  There was actually a fair bit of housing next door to or across the street from the Galleria . . . low-rent apartment buildings.  A friend of mine lived in one.  We walked to the Galleria from his place a few times.  The thing you come to understand by doing that even once is just how utterly and completely pedestrian hostile the entire built environment is today.  Everything in the Valley was built with the car in mind.  The streets are car-sized (2-4 lanes each direction), the stores are surrounded by parking (5 minute walk to cross from the sidewalk, usually), the crosswalks are a quarter to a half mile separated from each other, etc.

Fixing that would require almost complete demolition and reconstruction.  Maybe if I was global overlord and had UNLIMITED POWER (MUAHAHAHAHAHA!) it could be accomplished (through the unceasing toil of my faithful minions!  MUAHAHAHAHA!).  The problem is that you would have to re-build on a truly massive scale,  with multi-year integrated plans costing in the billions.  To make them really viable, you'd have to link such re-constructed areas together with rail.  

For the record, nowadays I make almost all of my clothing purchases online, because I live in Japan and nobody reall stocks much of anything my size.  I'm tall.

by Zwackus on Sun Mar 25th, 2007 at 07:23:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It would be really, really nice if malls were better integrated into "community" settings, with walkable streets, nearby housing, etc.  There was actually a fair bit of housing next door to or across the street from the Galleria . . . low-rent apartment buildings.  A friend of mine lived in one.  We walked to the Galleria from his place a few times.  The thing you come to understand by doing that even once is just how utterly and completely pedestrian hostile the entire built environment is today.  Everything in the Valley was built with the car in mind.  The streets are car-sized (2-4 lanes each direction), the stores are surrounded by parking (5 minute walk to cross from the sidewalk, usually), the crosswalks are a quarter to a half mile separated from each other, etc.

Yet the lights were rather long. I never had trouble getting around on foot in the Ventura Blvd area.

But you bring up something interesting. As much of a testament to consumerism as they were, malls like the Galleria, Northridge Fashion Center, and this big one out in Century City (can't remember the official name) were actually well-situated. All of them were surrounded by lots of housing and on major bus lines. There were often other shopping areas nearby, including "necessary" shopping such as grocery stores (Ventura, for example; it was ridiculously easy as a carless teenager for me to get from Tarzana to Studio City, either by foot or by bus [for those who've never been to LA, this is about 10 miles or 16 km]).

Compare that to the shopping centers built in newer developments, and you often can't just walk a few blocks to get to it (at least in SoCal) -- even if you live nearby, you have to walk out of the housing development (condo complex, planned community, whatever), onto a manicured street that holds nothing but views of the sides of housing and maybe a noise-reduction wall, stay on it for a loooong time, and then go around the housing development and into the massive parking lot. All to reach a grocery store that you could see two blocks from your small patio. The distance may still be manageable, but you feel completely cut off.

But to get back to Metavision's question, "fixing" the whole mall experience may involve a regression. Used to be that you could go into a store, chain or not (and I agree with you, chains are mostly where I shop too, for the same reasons), and the people who worked there knew their product. Not just as salespeople; as an example, I used to work in a bookstore that was part of a chain. Dress code was "nothing ripped," and we were considered by the managers to be co-workers there to earn money for rent or school (in other words, like people). It wasn't unusual for the district manager to come in and chat with everyone for a couple of hours about general stuff. When we were done stocking the shelves, we could sit behind the counter and read if there were no customers. This meant that we knew what books might suit which customers looking for recommendations, and our customers would freely tell us which books they had liked or disliked and we could pass that on to other customers.

A few years later, the chain changed its policies. We could no longer read behind the counter; we had to look busy, sweeping the floor, cleaning counters, straightening shelves. Conversations were more of a "stockroom" occurrence, and suddenly we were representatives of the company. Much more impersonal, and our fun place to work summer after summer became just another retail hell job. And it showed in how the customers treated us.

My point is that we were taken away from the "neighborhood store" concept and placed in this Muzak-drenched (yes, we had Muzak) "experience." This seems to have happened at most stores I go to. I think being a "regular" somewhere attracts a lot of people, and the relationship that forms between them and the workers can really change stores for the better. There's more communication about what works (in retail, you'll always have jackass customers and bored employees, but you can at least try to have less of both), and that in turn can improve the quality of the products. The customers are more wiling to speak up, and the stores more willing to listen.

And by the way, Land's End clothing is really good.

And if any of you need a book to read: The Eight, by Katharine Neville. We recommended this one so many times that after a few years, people would tell us we'd already recommended it to them and they needed another one. ^-^

by lychee on Sun Mar 25th, 2007 at 09:32:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Reminds me of a relative. 'X' used to work in a record store, then rose into management, then when the company was ruined a few years after the regime change, had to return behind the counter -- but X was conent with it, having a great knowledge of classical music and available records and faithful customers remembering X after years. A few years later, the store was remodeled, and X was relocated into the classical music section of another music store in a mall. (X can be considered working poor, lives in a plattenbau.)

Early this year, the owner started a new project: a record store next to a cinema in another mall. So X's store was to be closed with almost all workers fired, and only those to be kept who take on mixed shifts: some days music store by day, some days cinema until after midnight. X is retirement age, this would have been hell.

However, then an article appeared in a literature weekly, bemoaning the closure of the music store in the first mall, in particular the classical music section, and named X by name, as someone who can guess what kind of record a customer is looking for the moment s/he enters the shop. Probably as effect of this, a few days later X got a new, personalised offer, that not only no more demanded work in the cinema, but the same pay for 6 instead of 8 hours work a day!

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 10:11:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, Land's End really is wonderful.  Of late, I've become particularly fond of their Clearance/Outlet section, where I can find sometimes rather bizarre looking sport coats or shirst for next to nothing.  A solid lambswool blazer for $60?  Sure, it's something like sky blue, with a strange reddish/browninsh plaid pattern.  Who cares.  I'm in Japan, where everything goes and pretty much any Western style, no matter how tacky or outdated, is new and interesting.

And, their clothes really are wonderfully made.

by Zwackus on Mon Mar 26th, 2007 at 10:49:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I´m also a Land´s End believer, plus LLBean, Gaiam and many other ´buy green´/´buy blue´ places for home and garden.  Now there are starting to be more choices in ´natural´ cotton and hemp (rawganique?)clothing, too.  

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Tue Mar 27th, 2007 at 07:54:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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