Nov 20 2012
I visited the Spotsylvania Town Center, known colloquially as the Spotsy Mall, on November 16th at about 9:30 AM. My first stop was Starbucks, and the absolute first thing I noticed was the mall walkers, ladies who were speed-walking the inner corridors of the mall for exercise in a safe, air-conditioned environment. Made me wish I’d worn my workout gear! I grabbed some breakfast and spent a good while just observing Starbucks; at the early hour, most shops were closed except for food service locations like Wendy’s and the aforementioned coffee hub. The customers in the shop were mostly women with small children (and a few males, but mostly mothers) and older couples who looked to be about retiree age. There were almost no people my age or of middle-age, as it was a school and work day (Friday). There was a mix of races and genders that seemed about appropriate; there were a few more women than men, but I’m not surprised—women are more infamous for shopping, and childcare, so I expected to see a number of stay-at-home moms out for a day with their kids at the stores, and that’s actually sort of what was reflected in the mall itself. In fact, the mall seemed to have that same theory in mind, and there were a number of child friendly areas, such as a bank of electric ride toys, a playground type area, and a Santa photo op. The weather was pretty chilly, less than 50 degrees as far as I could tell, so it’s interesting to think that maybe parents bring their kids to the mall to grab a bite and play instead of taking them out where it might be colder and more uncomfortable on a playground. Also, mall security and cameras might contribute to a feeling of safety for parents of young children. Anyways, the mall is accessible to these parents and all customers by means of driving—clearly popular, due to the massive and extensive parking lots that ringed the entire complex—and the Fredericksburg bus system, or the Fred. You can also take a cab, but walking is pretty much out because the shopping complex is on that main road. I’m sure that some manage it, but I wouldn’t risk it myself. As far as I could tell, retail goods were delivered by truck on those same roads, and employees travelled in the same manner as customers. I am curious, however, as to whether or not they get separate parking.
One thing I noticed about the stores I visited, whether they were aimed at teens (like Hot Topic) or adults, like Costco, is that all of the stores in the mall were set up similarly. Clearance racks were shoved all the way in the back, whereas the window displays or fronts of the storefronts were filled with beautiful, attractive goods. Everywhere, sales signs shimmered, making it seem like the world could be yours for a low, low cost. However, once you saw the initial sales, you got drawn into the store, towards more and more expensive items. This was particularly noticeable in a dress shop that I didn’t catch the name of; I was drawn in by dresses promised to be under ten dollars—not ordinary dresses, but beautiful prom-like gowns. As I perused them, I moved further and further into the store until suddenly the price tags were showing not 10 dollars anymore, but 50, 100, and then 450 dollars. They really got me, and it only occurred to me to notice because I was trying to notice stuff like that; if I were just a regular customer, I don’t think I would have noticed the advertising technique and selling pattern at work there. Another consistency was that in all of the shops—no matter how cheap, like the little kiosks selling toys or games or expensive, like the diamond jewelry stores—whenever you passed by or entered, you were immediately greeted or welcomed by one or two clerks. A great deal of personal attention was paid to the consumer, making them feel special and taken care of. Interaction with the consumers seemed to be highly encouraged; I remember from a brief summer stint working in a mall restaurant, we were always, always told to wave and smile at and greet customers walking by, because you never knew when you could snag a sale.
I’d never visited this mall before, but I’ve been to Costco multiple times with my dad, and it really shocked me how identical the locations are. Malls, and Costcos too, are built around the cookie-cutter premise; find something that works and then repeat ad infinitum in every location possible, never mind what kind of small business you have to shove out of the way. It’s a real shame.
By the way, all stores have this thing where they play Christmas music in November. It’s actually pretty horrible. I have to say, I hate malls; the competing stores with their fragrances and colors, sights and sounds, the music and the smell of food, children running and crying, people on cell phones pushing and shoving… the atmosphere is always far too stimulating to me, and has too many variables that set me on edge. I never feel comfortable in that kind of atmosphere, because it’s built on this big, wide, open floor plan to maximize space for customers. However, it feels very cramped, because every square inch is stuffed with either goods for sale, ads and sales for those products, or the people buying them. It’s way overstimulating and I always end up feeling claustrophobic.
That’s a reminder that the mall, though it purports to be a public space, really isn’t meant for everyone. It’s meant for people who are there to buy, and people who are trying to sell—whether that means shoving samples in your face, or calling to you from every side like it’s some kind of street fair. And yet, the mall has the authority as a private collection of shops; if they want to kick you out, they can, and it’s not like a public park where you have a right to just hang out there. It’s not a casual atmosphere, no matter what the little lounge areas try to pretend. It’s a market—a harsh and fast-paced one. After this class, I’ll definitely never forget that when I enter the local town center.