The Mall of America: One Big Bust


Perhaps more than anywhere else, a mall will always be my comfort zone. Not so much for enjoyment or pleasure these days but more as a way of life I’ve known since I was a toddler teetering around Buster Brown. In the 90’s, I was all about the mall. I worked in one (during summers) and played in many. There was a sense of safety and comfort in so much retail packed into one stretch of space. Some malls came and went rather sadly (the Amsterdam Mall in my hometown, for example – a poorly-planned and sorely-executed disaster that served only to divide the city and now stands mostly filled with random medical offices) while some thrived and expanded at a terrifying pace (Crossgates, which more than doubled in size from where it began). Others expired completely (Latham Circle) while some almost-expired before rebounding miraculously (Colonie Center). The point is, I know my way around the mall.

Every week, before rehearsal for the Empire State Youth Orchestra, my Mom and I would spend a couple of hours at Crossgates, shopping and eating in the food court. I’d usually begin in the bookstore (back when every mall actually had a bookstore), devouring Entertainment Weekly and People and Us and getting my weekly dose of pop culture. Then I’d meander through the department stores, studying the mannequins, looking over the newest displays, possibly sniffing a cologne or two. We exhausted the expanse of the space after a few weeks, and there was just so much of ‘Things Remembered’ that a person can take without wanting to forget, but when the Mall of America made its splashy announcement that it would house hundreds of stores, an amusement park, and an aquarium, I was as impressed as a cynical teenager could be.

I remember the story playing on the news, and one day I felt certain I would walk its hallowed halls and At one point, I actually had a tentative plan to drive all the way to Minneapolis and spend a couple of days taking my time exploring every mile of it. (That sort of solo adventure was not unprecedented – I’d driven to Florida and back by myself on one of my tours – what was a few thousand more miles West?) While that never planned out, when a deal for Minneapolis showed up on Expedia, I decided to check the Mall of America off my bucket list.

The first thing I felt upon walking into the space was… disappointment.  It looked like, well, a mall. I’d forgotten how depressing malls had become in recent years, and how I rarely frequented them for anything more than a conduit to the movie theater. I’d also failed to realize that my taste in fragrance had progressed beyond Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret – both of which seemed to populate vast expanses with their overpowering aromas of fetid sweetness.

I sought out the anchor department stores first, the best of which was Nordstrom, but they did not have any Tom Ford Private Blends (even Las Vegas had an extensive selection!) so the cologne pushers lined up the garishly-packaged Bond series – overloaded with their obnoxious NYC logo. Despite such resistance, I enjoyed what I was sniffing, but not enough to make a purchase. (If I thought random Minneapolis strangers on the street were overly friendly, a fragrance seller is just psychotic.)

There was a small stretch – marked by hanging decorations of crystals to signify its fanciness I suppose – of higher-end stores, like Burberry, which is where I found the only Moods of Norway retail shop outside of New York and Los Angeles – but it was only fit for browsing. I’m guessing they don’t do much business with the locals. Other than that, and a few interesting stores on the first floor, there was little all that different or exciting about it, even with the screams emanating from the central amusement park.

After all these years, I went to the Mall of America and ended up buying absolutely nothing. Not a single thing. No souvenir, no keepsake, no cologne, not even a cookie. And it made sense. The dreams I had of the Mall were from a different time, and the dreams of a child shouldn’t always come true.

Back to Blog
Back to Blog