Longform.org's Guide to the Mall: Great stories about how malls revolutionized the way Americans shop, snack, and flirt.

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
July 9 2011 7:52 AM

The Longform.org Guide to the Mall

Five great stories about how malls revolutionized the way Americans shop, snack, and flirt.

1_123125_2295583_headline_longformorg

Every weekend, Longform.org shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For a daily selection of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform.org or follow @longformorg on Twitter.

A crowd in the mall. Click to expand image.

Every weekend, Longform.org shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform.org or follow @longformorg on Twitter. When the country's first enclosed mall opened in 1956, an initial report described the $20 million structure as a "pleasure dome." While that feeling may have faded—"pleasure" is not an adjective I've ever considered attaching to my local shopping center—the idea behind that first building has endured, and the goal remains the same: to get as many customers to look at as many stores as possible. Here are five great pieces about malls, from those idealistic first years to today's world of "immersive retail" and pop-up casinos. The Terrazzo Jungle Malcolm Gladwell • The New Yorker • March 2004

On the visionary architects who, along with an extremely helpful tax break, gave birth to the American mall:

Southdale Mall still exists. It is situated off I-494, south of downtown Minneapolis and west of the airport—a big concrete box in a sea of parking. The anchor tenants are now J. C. Penney and Marshall Field's, and there is an Ann Taylor and a Sunglass Hut and a Foot Locker and just about every other chain store that you've ever seen in a mall. It does not seem like a historic building, which is precisely why it is one. Fifty years ago, Victor Gruen designed a fully enclosed, introverted, multitiered, double-anchor-tenant shopping complex with a garden court under a skylight—and today virtually every regional shopping center in America is a fully enclosed, introverted, multitiered, double-anchor-tenant complex with a garden court under a skylight. Victor Gruen didn't design a building; he designed an archetype.

The Mall of America Ian Frazier • Atlantic • July 2002

A writer tries to make sense of a national landmark:

At the Mall of America, stores come and go with regularity; when a new one opens, sometimes it's hard to remember what was there before. In that respect the Mall is like television—you know what you're watching when you're watching it, but it slips from your mind when new images appear. At malls, as on TV, history becomes feeble. If I were alone in the Mall, I might drift in an endless present tense, as I do in front of the TV in my hotel room at night, watching whatever's on.

Advertisement

The Casino Next Door Felix Gillette • Businessweek • April 2011

Over the last five years, so-called "sweepstakes cafes," known in Las Vegas and elsewhere as "casinos," have opened in malls from Florida to Massachusetts. On the law-bending rise of a $10 billion industry:

The sweepstakes parlor sits in the middle of the Bear Lake Village Shopping Center alongside such businesses as a Burger King, a pharmacy, and a bank specializing in payday loans. Next door is a large gym. Last year the owners of the gym sued the owners of the shopping mall, alleging that the 'unsavory clientele' at Allied Veterans' 'thinly veiled gambling operations' was scaring away the gym's customers. The suit is ongoing.

Inside the game room, bright lights illuminate fields of industrial carpet. A beefy security guard sits by the front door. At the back of the cavernous room, a handful of customers stand in line to buy more 'Internet time.' There a young man in a red polo shirt takes their cash and hands out the complimentary snacks. For $20, customers can get 100 minutes of Internet time and 2,000 sweepstakes entries. In a nod to a "no-purchase necessary" rule in state sweepstakes promotions, first-time patrons are given an extra 100 free sweepstakes entries.

Scenes From a Mall Katy Vine • Texas Monthly • September 2002

The soap opera of an off-brand mall in West Houston:

The kids have come here to cruise the strip, strolling in groups as big as ten or as small as two. They check their cell phones, stop for ice cream at Maggie Moo's, pump tokens into the video games at Jillian's, and duck into the theater to catch films like Halloween: Resurrection. Boys sporting do-rags and oversized basketball jerseys introduce themselves to groups of girls dressed in low-riding baggy jeans. A pair of spindly limbed, baby-skinned brunettes flash their braces at a boy wearing XXXL clothes and a puka shell choker. Some kids dress like athletes, some like hard-core punkers. Clusters of both genders discuss their sexual exploits. A punk store-clerk recalled overhearing one twelve-year-old girl tell another twelve-year-old girl, "You think he's cute? I had sex with him; he's cool. You should do him."

Sweatpants in Paradise Molly Young • The Believer • September 2010

How Hollister employs the dark art of "immersive retail" to bring the allure of the mall to its flagship store in New York:

"Topless men and girls without pants stand at the entrance, some wearing zinc oxide smeared across noses. The employees are selected for their insane good looks and friendliness, which creates the disorienting customer experience of receiving attention from people way out of your league over and over again. You can't avoid having a sexual experience at Hollister, even if it's just to stare at a greeter's bullet-hard nipples. Hollister's strategy may not be subtle, but it is clever. By literalizing the mall's sexual promise in actual naked flesh, the brand makes it unnecessary for shoppers to wander elsewhere. Rather than provide the neutral spaces of food courts and lobbies for promenading, the store offers a prefab (and make-believe) environment of sexual opportunity. It's the whole mall in one store!"

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @ longformorg. For more great business stories, check out Longform.org's complete archive.

Max Linsky is a founding editor of Longform.org.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.