There is hardly a place more depressing than a dying mall. The vastness of the decay. The long-ago cheer. A space requiring fullness, vacuumed out.
Only in an emergency would I end up in one. But when I landed in Atlanta, I found that a packing error had rendered me sports jacket-less.
With the city booked up, I was stuck in a hotel in the ‘burbs, and it happened to be directly across the street from Northlake Mall. Snow is in the forecast, and I walked over to it in the cold under a cement-gray sky that matched the color of the mall quite well.
No doubt, it used to be just like the malls I loved running amok in, circa age 13 — the Instagram of the 1980s, the place to be noticed, teen heaven. Sbarro pizza, then a Friday night movie, then a quiet spot near the parking garage where I could make out with my date until the parents arrived for pick-up.
Now, the hallway’s main occupants seem to be the ghosts of shoppers of holiday seasons past, any sounds of the living echoing hollowly off the walls.
Now, there’s “Mr. Tobacco & Vape,” “J & W Expert” (jewelry and watch repair), “Diamond Bazaar,” “News Stand,” and “Hakky” (a tailor).
There’s still a Bath & Body Works and a Foot Locker. And a J.C. Penney, which is where I found my replacement jacket — at 50% off.
And there is still a Things Remembered, obviously. That store hangs on till the bitter end, the fan still there in the bottom of the ninth of Game 162 with the team 30 games out of first place.
The mall — I realized as I walked past the store, not glancing inside — was itself a Thing Remembered, even as it clung to life.
They still splashed some red around the J.C. Penney, still played carols over the sound system, still stocked holiday gift cards by the check-out counter.
As I bought the jacket, the pleasant cashier both improved the mood and added to the gloom — a reminder that there would soon be a human toll.
“Do you have a J.C. Penney rewards card?”
“Okay. Thank you.”