The Rise and Fall of the Shopping Mall

It was the day of the big sale. Rumors of the large discounts (and some advertising) were the reason for the long line that formed in front of the business an hour before its opening.  A small man pushed his way to the front of the line, only to be shoved back, amid loud and colourful curses. On the fella’s second attempt, he was punched square in the jaw, and knocked around a bit, and then thrown to the end of the line again. As he got up the second time, he said to the customer at the end of the line – “That does it! If they hit me one more time, I won’t open the store!”

It has been said that if capitalism is America’s religion, then the malls are its churches. Yet the truth be told, the shopping mall was originally designed by a socialist.  Here’s what happened:

In 1948, a Vienna-born architect, named Victor Gruen, had a connecting flight in America cancelled due to a winter storm.  Informed that it might be a couple of days before he’d be able to depart, Gruen decided to take a taxi and go to a hotel.  While being slowly driven from the outlying airport into the  city, he got his first real look at American suburbia (the moving of people from the downtown out to the suburbs).  What caught his attention was the disparate homes without a central meeting place.  It was then that he came up with the idea which we know today as the mall.

But the mall Victor Gruen had in mind was very much different from our current shopping one.  In his concept, retail space would only be a minor part.  Instead, the gigantic climate-controlled structure (remember the winter storm) was to  primarily serve as a community meeting place, akin to the ancient Greek agoras or town centres. Here would be walkways, gardens, fountains, benches, etc. leading to-and-from galleries, libraries, cafes, theatres, spas, and the like.  Victor especially hated cars, and so the parking lot would be as far away from the mall as possible.  He decided to return to the town and after a few years of talking with elected officials and business people, Gruen was hired to draw up the designs for the world’s first mall, which would then open in Edina, Minnesota, in the year 1956 (about fifty years ago).  The architect would go on to design about fifty more such malls, but grew increasingly disenchanted that his socialist community centres were more and more being turned into capitalist shopping malls, with just about nothing but stores.  He came to hate being known as “the father of the modern shopping mall” and spent the latter years of his life leading local protests across the country against their construction.  But now, Victor Gruen may get his way after all.  In North America, there are 1,250 malls (defined as enclosed shopping facilities with at least two large anchor stores).  Because of the rise of on-line purchasing and the populace return to the cities, it is forecast that in the next twenty years, half of these facilities will cease to exist as shopping malls and be turned into community centres.

And what of Gruen’s first mall?  Today, it is called the Mall of America, the largest shopping one in the U.S.  And the mall is adding another one million sq. ft.  So sorry Vic, but your mall appears to be one of those places Americans will continue to shop until they drop.

Facts And Figures

● The Mall Of America is owned by Canadians. The Ghermezians, a family of Persian Jews, moved to Canada from Iran in 1964.  They made their fortune in selling Persian rugs.

● The Mall Of America in size is  5,600,000 square feet
(129 acres) in which you could fit 10 Yankee Stadiums.  There are four levels, with each one 1.2 miles in circumference.  It has 20,000 parking spaces.

● The Mall Of America has 520 stores with over 4 miles of store fronts, employing 11,000 people.  If you were to visit every store in the mall for ten minutes, it would take you 86 hours (about 3½ days).

● The Mall Of America, on average, has 42,000,000 (forty-two million) visitors per year, with about half of those visitors as tourists (outside the local area).  The average person per visit spends $162 in U.S. funds.

● The Mall Of America has its own wedding facility.  Called the Chapel Of Love, in the last twenty-five years, 7,000 couples have been married there.  It costs $249.00 for the service to be performed.

● The Mall Of America has no central heating.  The 70 degree temperature is maintained year-round with passive solar energy from 1.2 miles of skylights, heat from store lighting and body heat from all the shoppers.

● The Mall Of America has its own small high school,  counter-terrorism unit and postal code.  It even has its own curfew (Fri./Sat. after 4 p.m., any shopper under age 16 must be accompanied by an adult 21 or older).