Monday, March 2, 2009

Country Mouse In The Big Mall


While in Philadelphia on birthday business last weekend, we took a trip to the King of Prussia Mall. Now, back in Vermont as March roars in like a lion, I can't get the mall out of my head. You know you are a country mouse when a few hours in a mall reverberate in your mind for days.

It's not as if Vermont doesn't have malls. There is one in Rutland, the second largest city in the state, 45 minutes from where we live. But it's a miniature mall, anchored by a Sears and a K-mart. If the Rutland Mall is the moon, the King of Prussia Mall is the sun.

The King of Prussia Mall has so many stores, levels, plazas and parking lots that the management has posted a uniformed staff person by each directory to point people to where they want to go. There are stores upon stores, restrooms, restaurants, and those funny little businesses that park themselves in the middle of the corridors, selling watches, sunglasses, neon-colored drinks, and belly-button jewelry.

A couple of stalls offered eyebrow plucking by Indian ladies in saris, who, scorning regular tweezers, yanked out hairs by manipulating a couple of strings. I would have looked closer but was embarrassed for the pluckees, though they themselves didn't seem to mind the attention. Neither did a man who was being shaved in the window of a store selling luxury men's toiletries. The next time I'm in a mall, I wondered, will people be getting wax jobs in public?

By the time I'd been in the mall five minutes, I'd seen more mass-produced goods than I see in Vermont in five months. Where did all this stuff come from? Not Pennsylvania, for sure. I didn't see a single “buy local” sign in the entire mall. It all came from every corner of the earth, as if by teleportation.

Ours being a child-centered excursion, we went to the Lego Store, which was cunningly designed with child-height portholes through which you could glimpse a pixillated world teeming with butterflies, earth-moving equipment, and square-shouldered workers. There was even a replica of the Taj Mahal.

Next we went to the Walt Disney Store, in search of a pair of fairy wings. Although this was a small store, it had not one but two TV sets—one giant—playing and replaying bits of animated movies with square-jawed princes and their fawn-like loves smirking and batting their eyelashes at each other. I loved Disney as a child, but now he makes me shudder.

We had a good lunch at a restaurant named for a far-away state. As we waited for our food, I looked around and realized that there was not a single gray-headed woman in the place. There were lots of women with past-their-prime faces, but they all sat under evenly-colored caps of pale gold, copper, or coal-black hair.

We had plenty of time to digest our lunch as we walked back to the parking lot. For a moment we stood before the ocean of cars and wondered if we'd ever find our own. But we spotted it in a second, our shabby gray Subaru, sitting there in its coat of mud and salt, waiting to take us home.

7 comments :

  1. odd places, aren't they? and no clocks. you can get lost there for hours. When you come here to minnesota i'll take you to the mall of america, which i have been to precisely twice--once before it had opened, for a story, and once when a friend was in town.

    it's only about ten miles from my house, but i can never think of a good reason to go there. it's huuuuge.

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  2. My husband visited the Mall of America last year when he was in St. Paul for a conference. He said that it was very near the airport and people flew in from all over the country just to shop there, then they headed back to the airport and flew home. It boggles my mind.

    I don't like Disney much, myself now that I'm older. The movies and the shows are so sexist, something I never gave a thought to as a child but that really gets under my skin these days.

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  3. Funny--I'm a city mouse myself, but malls still overwhelm and underwhelm me. "Buy local" is a city gimmick as well as a Vermont one--and malls, you're right, have none of that. There are several malls within a half hour or so of my house (only one in the city limits, and it's half empty with no theater, even...), and they are all the same. The same stores, the same ads, directories, staff, everything is the same. I venture into them with gift cards Mike's relatives give me for Christmas (sigh) and walk out with a book or something, but frazzled.

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  4. Hi Lali! I was thinking about a short mall post myself, so I am going to refrain from a real comment here, just in case... Great post, though.

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  5. Sounds like none of us is a fan of malls (though I was one, in my youth). I'm wondering what their future is, especially in this economy. When we were at King of Prussia, it was practically empty--except for the Lego Store--from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. What is going on?

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  6. I have to confess: I have spent a considerable amount of time at the mall this winter. It is small, miniscule compared to anything you'd find in the city, and until a year or two ago it was pretty rundown and half empty. They must have changed their marketing strategy or mission statement.

    They filled in the big fountain that used to be in the center and put a little coffee shop/cafe where it used to be. With the open space, the huge windows overhead and the large planters of tropical foliage surrounding the tables, it's almost like an outdoor cafe and it is a busy, bustling little place teeming with all sorts of people chatting and socializing.

    They added a toddler playground (the draw for me on cold winter afternoons) that is always filled with happy, shreiking children. There are always several groups of women in exercise gear powerwalking back and forth.

    Only a few stores remain empty now and there are actually a few non-chain, locally-owned shops. It has become a warm and friendly kind of community gathering place. Maybe that is the future of malls.

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  7. Joya, your story reminds me of a mall in a suburb of Baltimore that I discovered when we moved to Maryland in the 70's. It was in a then-Jewish section of town, and groups of very elderly people with heavy accents would gather there to pass the time. It was like walking into a village square somewhere in the middle of Europe. I also remember that the sales ladies were not shy about offering advice on what did and didn't suit me. I loved it.

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