It seems I’m not the only person who likes to consume media about abandoned spaces. It’s not just the eerie aspect of photos of abandoned amusement parks, to me, there’s something poignant and lovely about the decay of formerly bustling spaces. I poke around on web pages with urban explorers’ musty shots of cracked asylum corridors and images of swimming pools in the process of being reclaimed by the forest. I relate to those swimming pools, I suppose.

When I found myself binge-watching a show on Vice that featured abandoned shopping malls, it was perfectly natural that I’d stick there and soak it all in. The U.S. has hundreds of these places, I learned.

I grew up near a “shopping plaza” that slapped on a roof and called itself a “shopping mall,” and I’d bet a couple of sneakers that it’s taken the roof back off and become a “shopping avenue,” like so many other fake main streets.

The dying mall seems both sad and fair to me. The malls helped kill the main streets and now the main streets are possessing the malls or springing up again elsewhere. It’s enough to make a person want to reinvent something just to make a buck.

Yerdad and I were in North Myrtle Beach with time to kill and decided to kill some time at the mall. I was pretty stoked, as other people’s kids used to say, because the mall had a prominent sign welcoming mall walkers. To openly court old people who just want to get some steps away from the heat seemed desperate enough to advertise one of those dying malls. I could do some urban exploration, in the air conditioning!

We passed the movie theater and started in at the huge pro shop. It seemed like an anchor store, and I was puzzled for a minute that it might be the only anchor store. It was the sort of mall that might have had a Sears on one end last year, but Sears is no more.

Outside the pro shop, we came immediately upon a very unexpected sight: a massive train garden. Train gardens are a common enough thing around Baltimore, but I believe it is a regional notion that it’s fun to fill spaces with tiny model trains. It was a rare treat to see the way the club members laid out all those tiny bridges and tunnels. There were miniature landscapes complete with tiny piles of coal and cliff faces with tumbling tiny rocks. Working crossings dinged while tiny cows did not acknowledge them.

note the plane crash that caused this mini emergency

We moved on to a no-frills rug store. It had an exceptionally spartan arrangement of goods, in that they were just random piles of rugs. The store made up for this by having a wonderful spicy rug smell that immediately transported me to childhood rug stores, which is not the worst place to blast off to, mentally.

The next store was just opening up, and at first glance it made no sense to me. They seemed to be renting very sturdy rocking horses. Maybe it was some kind of Build-a-Horse. I couldn’t say. It reminded me of the first time I encountered a person yelling and walking who was not only bonkers, but having a Bluetooth argument. It was just a teeny bit weird.

A bank of massage chairs beckoned and we popped a couple bucks into them and reclined. The chair got very fresh in a hurry and I regretted the whole operation. It was not relaxing, particularly when it grabbed your calves to keep you prisoner for its probing.

Next, I was charmed to find an arcade. Again, it was a memory burst that was not the worst sort. The place was filled with blinky, old school machines that would take as many lives and quarters as you might let them. Do kids today have nostalgia for things they can’t possibly remember? They must. It’s how time works now.

Yerdad spent a while in the piano showroom while I browsed the bookstore long enough to confirm that they had no humor shelf. A trainee tried to help me find it, because she felt it must be there and she had to know where it was, but it was a unicorn, that humor shelf. Their magazine section was disappointing as well. Too many brides and zero humor is no way to run a book store.

The piano man explained to yerdad that he is thrilled to have his space. It was so much larger than the usual showroom, it would be more accurate to call it a piano palace. He ships pianos all around the area, and having such a reasonable rent to keep all his instruments safely on display suits him marvelously.

For its most typical feature, the mall had a food court, although it was more of a food nook. A cafe, some pizza and a Yogurt Mountain is really all a shopping person needs anyway. It had gift shops and shoes and vitamins too, but there was a serene sense about the place that I couldn’t quite describe.

As I puzzled over the sign for an improv class and stage show space, a mom and five-year-old whizzed past me on a stuffed tiger and I understood the Build-a-Horse place; they were renting out plushy rental scooters.

“It’s like an Experience Mall!” I gushed to yerdad.

They have the right idea, I think. They could have shambling improv zombies for Halloween, and maybe a tasteful pole dancing classroom. They could tuck a nice gym in there and include a ninja playground, and maybe even have a service where the ninjas follow people to the food court and slap pizza out of their hands.

You can do anything in the air conditioning, even without a Sears.


Further reading:

Further, further reading:


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