Nov 16 2014

Fieldwork: The Mall!

Published by at 10:08 pm under Uncategorized

It was cold and sunny at 11 on Friday when I visited the mall (Spotsylvania Towne Centre) to observe. This mall is sprawling, with a Costco attached to one jutting end, a relatively new outdoor shopping center off another and other businesses located throughout the parking lot, such as restaurants, hotels and a movie theater-bowling alley-bar complex. Almost all merchandise arrives here by commercial delivery truck. Customers as well as employees arrive by vehicle, either personal or public. I parked around back and entered through one of the many main mall entrances. The façade sports a faux-natural look, with stamped concrete in neutral colors and “stone” pillars. Inside, this particular corner of the mall is relatively dark and uninhabited when compared to the rest of the mall. Lens Crafters and the eye doctor next door offer the only sign of life. They are surrounded by more “shops” that seem similarly out of place: a closed “Sheriff’s Sub Station” (is it a Sheriff’s office? Or a sub shop?), a hole-in-the-wall post office, and an H&R Block. Two entire corner shops (that used to be fast food paces) are boarded up with signage directing you to the new food court, while across the hall another entire shop sits empty. The entrance to JC Penny’s introduces busier spaces, many of which are already decorated for Christmas. (All of the department stores and the mall itself are decorated for the holidays, while most of the individual stores are not just yet.) That said, “busy” is a very relative term in the mall – it takes hundreds of people to make any area of the mall seem busy, due to the sheer size of the space. A large area of comfortable seating arranged on a sectional rug can be found in front of each department store entrance, as well as throughout the main corridor of the mall. The seating area by JC Penny’s was populated by several senior men, and a lone senior woman, all presumably waiting on shoppers. JC Penny shoppers included several senior white couples, a few young white couples with small children, a few older white couples that appeared to be grandparents with children, an Indian family of several women and man and a child, a white couple that appeared to be boyfriend and girlfriend and a black couple of males that appeared to be father and son. Most shoppers (a term I use loosely at the mall) present at this time were white but there was also a large variety of other ethnicities. As far as I could tell, every last person I saw was somewhere in the middle class. There may have been a slight spectrum, but for the most part, nobody appeared to be extremely poor or extremely rich. Of course, these classes may have been present and it may not have been evident to me. I walked through JC Penny’s which was brightly lit and fully decorated for Christmas with white lights and a strict color scheme of red, white and silver. Through a short walk, I saw two stations clearly labeled “Customer Service”, both manned by two employees, each busy with a customer. I left through another door which brought me out by Buzzy’s Play Park, which I believe is the busiest place in the entire mall. A free indoor play park is not the worst idea for rainy days, if you are a stay-at-home mom, but they tend to gross me out. It was packed. Just down the hall is a little platform of “rides” that kids can play on for fifty cents to a dollar. It was less busy, with just one mom willing to fork out the quarters at that moment, and her son had the run of the place. These little play areas are located by many of the children’s shops, such as Build-A-Bear Workshop and Kids’ Footlocker. Kids Footlocker was extremely sparse and clean looking, with brightly colored sneakers lining the walls and two employees wearing their trademark referee shirts, but no customers. There are a lot of shoe and jewelry stores at the mall, most of which were empty when I passed by. Down the hall from Kid’s Footlocker was an entire store selling nothing but Crocs, and another shoe store called Journeys, both empty. The (adult) Footlocker was staffed with three employees and had two separate groups of shoppers. A young black man browsed while a young white couple rang up a transaction at the register. The vast majority of people I saw at the mall were loitering, sitting, waiting, and walking. Those I did see “shopping” were usually browsing and may or may not have actually made purchases. I did note another purchase being finalized, at a kiosk of Christmas trinkets, to a woman holding a screaming baby. It was kind of uncomfortable. In Macy’s I observed similar Christmas decorations and shoppers as JC Penny’s. I noted couple of ladies who may have been Amish (I’m not sure if it’s worse to be vague or wrong here) shopping, as well as a Muslim lady and more grandparents with kids and single people of varying backgrounds.

Overall, the mall is full of non-shopping, middle-class people. Given how little money appears to actually be going around, I’m surprised that it is possible to man and power and heat and cool and clean that massive building and all the stores in it and still provide anyone a profit.

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