The Mother of All Malls


Perhaps it is fitting that even as we settle into the austere and frugal 1990s, we still have monuments to the excesses of the 1980s popping up. They serve as cautionary reminders of those wild times that seem increasingly distant and surreal.

Our first case in point: the Mall of America. Aptly named to underscore the grandiose vision of its backers, the mother of all malls opened yesterday outside Minneapolis. Mega-malls pale when compared to this one. Inside its glass and steel superstructure, Mall of America boasts 327 stores, three miles of corridors, an amusement park, a miniature golf course, nightclubs, movie theaters and the largest number of indoor plantings achieved anywhere. Its scope leaves us breathless. We can only wonder about the stamina required of consumers who choose to spend time there.

Despite numerous studies showing that shoppers are increasingly shying away from malls in search of off-price outlets and discount stores, Mall of America developer Melvin Simon & Associates of Indianapolis is banking on 40 million visitors a year by 1996. That's more than the annual attendance at Disneyland and Disney World combined.

Numerous analysts have stepped forward to question Mall of America's potential during a recession. Others argue that the answer to this sluggishness is simply to up the ante by giving consumers something bigger and more spectacular.

Which brings us to the second case in point. Nike Town -- that's right; not mall, not shopping center, not store, but town -- has opened in Chicago. Five stories high, with its own basketball court, 1,000-gallon tropical fish tank and video theater, Nike Town is nothing less than a shrine to athletic shoes -- which are apparently walking out of the town at a respectable clip.

It may be that the youthful spirit of Americans will always be drawn to eye-popping glitz and the ever-bigger spectacle. Or, as our society ages, such brazen pandering will be greeted with the yawn it deserves.

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