How many of you remember going to the mall?
That magical place where young people went to hang out and socialize more than buy things. The local mall was a place to see and been seen. It was like cruising main street on a Friday night, but you were instead walking around a horribly decorated box with ugly carpet and populated with a lot of stores you never even noticed.
It was a magical place.
The first shopping mall was built in the 1950s, but they started coming into their own in the 1970s, before becoming the center of popular culture during the 80s. Going to the mall was a big deal for everyone, but especially teenagers.
I remember when my small town got its first mall, Southgate Mall, back in 1973. It was pretty dinky by mall standards, but to us it was an incredible place to hang out, buy a record, have a Coke and waste hours on end.
The mall was a few miles from my house. It was on “the mesa” and I lived in “the valley.” But if I rode my bike on the irrigation canal banks from my neighborhood south to 24th Street, then east up the hill to Avenue A, where I would take a right, head south a few more blocks and then dodge through the neighborhood for about a mile, I would eventually reach Southgate Mall, in all of its 1970s glory.
There were many weekends where my friends and I would ride our bikes up to Southgate – this was the era where our parents, lounging with a cigarette after a long work week, just waved us off when we said we were going to the mall – to pick up a record and try to juggle it as we rode home that evening.
I loved the mall. And I have been going to malls in different parts of the country for decades.
But malls are dying, and quickly. Southgate Mall started dying in the 1990s and was torn down in 2014 after years of being a shell full of mostly empty stores.
Have you been to CherryVale Mall in Rockford recently? It is losing anchor stores quickly. Sears is no more. Bergner’s is closed. The furniture store that replace Bergner’s is closing. And it was recently reported that Macy’s is also closing many of its stores across the county – including the one in Rockford.
Don’t forget that store closings mean job loses, something that should be a big concern. In many cases, these are full-time jobs with benefits, like health insurance. I have written about the gig economy before, where people are basically independent contractors making little money and enjoying zero benefits. That is the future for many of those losing jobs.
With more and more people ordering everything from electronics to furniture to clothes online, we will see more local retail closures in the future. Malls will be something that our grandkids will read about in books, but probably won’t have much experience with.
Sure, I am sad to see the slow death of malls. They were an important place for people for decades, and many of us grew up in malls. They were a great social and retail hub for many communities.
Losing them means losing a little piece of what a community is supposed to be. Instead of being out and about, we can just order what we need on our phones and not have to deal with other people at all.
I wonder what that will mean for society in 30 years? Not sure I want to know.