I went to stop by the mall the other day. I’ve never really been a mall guy – I’d just go when I need to. Sometimes, my friends would invite for some dinner, sometimes a movie – but I find myself just arriving right on time for the appointment. Family would also want to go and eat in a new place, which happened to be inside a mall, too. There are a few good barber shops that have opened in new malls recently, and some new barbershops in old malls – I like the way these look. They make the traditional time for some straight to the point grooming an actual experience you would want to look forward to. I enjoy these time times when I need to go for a cut – albeit the higher prices they charge that are about five to eight times more on average. I’d go on special occasions, or when I find myself already in the area and needing a cut anyway – but haven’t really felt like I needed to make the specific trip for the specific store. I’m lucky with our family barber. I feel pampered and groomed enough when I need to be.
Anyway, back to the feeling of being inside the mall. I actually grew to abhor going – pardon my French, and extra apologies to those guys who actually like going to the mall as a leisurely experience. Pre-pandemic, I just found the traffic so bad, the parking even worse. I never imagined a life when parking would be full in the mall. Here, that became a normal thing – or it became normal to have a hard time finding parking. Growing up, the buildings were just huge to me – they still are – and having no more space to place your car was unfathomable.
I also didn’t like the rush. Our number one supermall here, along our number one highway, always had people in the droves. This was on a normal day, and it would swell to unthinkable proportions on days when there were sales and other promotional gimmicks. I just found it unbearable. I’d catch myself in the mall on those days and consider it the most tiring day of my week.
It’s not like I’m missing the traffic or the crowds of people living up the consumeristic lifestyle to the full. But there’s something about the new mall near my place that I visited a few days back that really got to me. This mall is one of the new ones, as mentioned – not a box with five floors like the old supermalls here – but a vast expanse of land that was really designed quite tastefully. I’d usually find myself here at night, because there are a lot of new wave restaurants that my friends and even family like to try out – and the grounds are lit beautifully with lights that contrast perfectly against the dark night sky. It always felt so festive no matter what time of the year it was here.
But a few days ago, my visit was lined with dismalness and longing. Half of the shops, and I find that this half is mostly the more independent labels and restaurants – those that don’t have chains and franchises all over the country and even the world – are the ones that are closed.
Walking along the garden that was usually adorned with lights – well there was no more adornment this time around. It was dark and cheerless – as if it were the Holy Week when most of the town was traveling abroad or outside the city, or staying at home for their religious rituals. This sight of a somewhat ghost town was sad – but what was even sadder was talking to the store associates and asking them how things have been during quarantine. Some stores were okay – they at least still had a sale a day – but big stores that had both the brands and about a hundred square meters of space in their name – would sometimes have zero sales for the whole day.
I honestly don’t know what to feel. Although I was pretty lukewarm about the whole mall culture, and actually having a lot of air between myself and the next customer, with no lines, lots of parking, and less traffic than usual was a relief – I still feel for both the small and big brands with employees to remunerate, taxes to pay, and inventory to get rid of. There’s a lot of conflicting emotions in me. I wish we could all figure this out soon enough.