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A recent report on the television news about the parlous state of shopping malls excited me. It seems shoppers are deserting them in favour of on-line shopping or maybe just spending time doing things that don't generate economic activity. Like socializing. The report was accompanied by endless footage of empty hallways, abandoned store fronts, and lamentations on the looming death of what had once been a staple of civic commerce.
Along with the report came a prescription of how malls had to re-think themselves. To try new approaches that would draw in cash (sorry, credit-card) carrying customers. But this would be a lengthy process, one that would take years, and in the meantime, like T-Rex or the Dodo bird, malls were spiraling into extinction.
So why my excitement? Well, feeling an acquisitive urge and recognizing that bad news can have an upside, I sped to the nearest mall, salivating at the thought of parking right next to the escalator, of walking unimpeded past the few remaining retail stalwarts, of having desperate merchants lure me with ever-lower prices, of being feted as that rarest of specimens: a paying customer.
But what was this? The parking lot was full. I had to drive to its farthest reaches, finally finding a spot that I was sure had never before had to hold a vehicle. I had to ask, if the mall was empty, what were all these cars doing here?
I hiked an aerobic distance to the escalator and rode up, not to an oasis of calm and vacant serenity, but to a bedlam of bodies. Crowds clashing for the few empty spaces. People pushing their way through a tide of other people. To try to move against the flow or even to outpace it was futile. Trapped like a piece of flotsam in a current, I had to ask, if the mall was empty, what were all these people doing here?
I made my way past stores, some with queues, others with people gathered around sales counters clutching purses and wallets. I had to ask, if the mall was empty, why were all these people lining up to buy things?
It struck me that if malls were collapsing, nobody with a smidgen of sanity would want to pay good money for a space in them. So I searched for abandoned store fronts, the cancerous cankers of decay. There were none. Every spot was occupied by a retailer. I had to ask, if malls were dying, why were sellers so anxious to rent space in them?
I went to the food fair for a coffee and a snack. There were eleven people ahead of me. When I was able to find a vacant table, I had to ask, if the malls were in trouble, why was it such a struggle to get a cup of coffee?
As I sat pondering these questions, it struck me that I was asking the wrong ones. The right question was, do television news staff have to take courses in obfuscation, or is it a natural talent?