Consumerism is bad, but I truly loved the mall as a kid.

Consumerism is bad, but I truly loved the mall as a kid.
Architectural drawing of South Coast Plaza by Victor Gruen and Associates, 1970s, courtesy of South Coast Plaza

I am in Southern California for the month of July. I grew up here. It’s lovely and horrifying to be back home, for all the reasons homecomings have always been lovely and horrifying. When Odysseus came home, he raged against the developments of greed and lovingly traced the outlines of familiar doors. A funny part of a Southern California homecoming is that sometimes that happens all at once. Like when I take my girls into the Southern California malls that are more familiar in my memory than any of the many, many rentals I lived in growing up. Malls are kind of capitalist monstrosities, but they’re also loving memories. My front door was always changing, but the mall doors were always the same, you know? 

Today, we’re going to South Coast Plaza. It’s the mall I’d drive 40 minutes to as a teen when I wanted to feel…well…fancy. We’re going to get dumplings, but I imagine I’ll also make them listen to a mom monologue that is equal parts anti-consumer culture and pro-90s mall strolling. It won’t make any ideological sense. But then when has that stopped me before. 

Growing up, my favorite store in the mall changed from age to age. When I was very little, it was The Disney Store with its cafe. A little bit older and I loved The Franklin Mint Store with its shelves of certainly precious, definitely not horrifyingly kitschy ahem, collectibles. Older still and then I loved wandering The Sharper Image. I think I really liked stores that were closed systems, worlds with their own logic. In the Disney Store, grown ups believed in magic. In The Franklin Mint Store, a child could buy an artifact worthy of museum quality display. In the Sharper Image, technology could combine a blender and CD player to make something useful and new. None of it was true of course. But I wasn't looking for truth. You didn’t go to the mall for truth! That kind of store doesn’t really seem to exist anymore. All stores seem to operate with the same logic now - the appearance of appearance. 

It’s so…barren.

I did get to buy things from The Disney Store very occasionally. I still have a Snow White dress from when I was a kid. But I never saved up enough money to get that museum quality replica of a revolutionary era doll from The Franklin Mint. And The Sharper Image was always wildly out of my price and age range.