Thursday, February 5, 2009

Change of Plans

Today, I was out of school for training. I had planned to blog on that subject because: hello! eating out on a school day is a Big Deal for a teacher

But a bigger deal? Getting out of the workshop a little early. Because that never happens. Ask any teacher who has been to training. Your substitute is being paid for by the district, and they want every second of the allotted training time. You can set your watch by what time the workshop is over. So, early release? This shift in the universe changed some things. I was given a free hour.

So, I'm changing the subject of the blog.

I am nothing if not versatile.

With my extra hour, I decided to check out the mall for a dress. I have three friends who all have daughters getting married in the next three months. I need a multi-purpose/change-with-a-few-accessories dress because many of the same people will be at all three weddings.

Since the training was in a part of town I am rarely in, I decided to try out the mall in that area. It is Austin's original mall opened in the early 70s. I remember the theme song the summer it opened: "The heat's off at Highland Mall." An air conditioned indoor shopping center? Who ever heard of such a thing?

We quickly adapted to this new-fangled way of shopping in 1971. I was in junior high and spent every Friday night for years at the mall with friends. I bought my first albums there (young readers: they were like large DVDs in basic black), had my ears pierced, and my first make-over at Merle Norman. (Loved that green eyeshadow.) I bought my first heels and prom dresses, and years later my wedding dress there. One stop shopping under the big top.

The mall was a thriving place full of shoppers rushing home with their treasures. After a stop at the Food Court, of course. I remember baked spuds, double doozie cookies and pizza by the slice.

So, it was a total surprise today to find out how much this particular mall had changed. Dramatically. Drastically, even. I looked around the first two floors of Dillard's for my dress, thinking if I didn't find what I wanted, I had two more floors to shop. Imagine my surprise to see the escalator on the second floor blocked. Apparently, two floors are no longer open at this four- story Dillard's. And, gentle reader, what was available looked more like a garage sale. Most clothes are 70% off, and judging by the style, some clothes looked like they had come out of storage. Like from 1971 when the store was Joske's, then Foley's before it became Dillard's. There was a quiet desperation in this store with many areas of empty floor and shelf space.

I decided I needed to see what was going on inside the mall. Not such a good idea if you like to keep sweet dreams and precious memories intact. I made it down about 25 yards and just turned back around. Only about 1 in 3 stores is still open. Many that are open hold Mom and Pop operations--not national chains. All vying for the 10 shoppers milling about in the cavernous empty spaces.

The years have not been kind to my old friend, this mall. No one had told me this sad news. And as I've mentioned this to a few friends, they've been as surprised as I was. Apparently none of us have visited in years. We inadvertently had been part of the problem. Because no shoppers equals no sales equals bye-bye favorite Petite Sophisticate store.

What happens to old malls that are no longer viable and vibrant? Of the three anchor stores, one is shuttered and two are little more than unintentional clearance outlets. I think in this economy, our mall has reached its tipping point. And that makes me a little sad. I don't like change very much. Does anyone?

Well. Maybe just those teachers in training who were sprung early.

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