For many of us, our first contact with Boulder was the Pearl Street Mall. Whether we were in town to visit a friend or sibling at the University of Colorado, or maybe the school itself, the mall was the ultimate Boulder tourist attraction. And it still is -- 35 years later. (Boulder's mall predates Denver's, which celebrates its thirtieth birthday today, by five years.)
On your first visit, the Pearl Street Mall emanates small-town charm -- smiling strangers, happy kids, couples blissfully strolling -- and in many ways, a first dreamy encounter with the mall remains an accurate impression of what life is like there. As uncool as it may sound, some of my early memories of falling in love with Boulder are tied to the mall -- and when I look back on the five years I lived there, the mall plays a starring role.
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When you're in college, you likely regard the mall in a blurry vision of football rallies and drinking binges, flavored with gyro stands and spilled Tzatziki sauce. It's where you go when you venture off the Hill. Post-college, the mall can represent anything from your walk to work to the stench of the Sundowner after the famous (yet still under the radar) Monday night $1 "mystery can" nights. Post-post college, if you're getting to the point where you wonder if you're ever going to leave Boulder, you frequent the mall less, snubbing Pearl Street in favor of walks down the less bustling (yet no less quaint) Spruce or Pine streets.
I followed this very timeline in my relationship with the Pearl Street Mall. I loved it, and couldn't imagine not being with it. It was my home -- equally welcoming for a lazy stroll in the summer heat or on one of those magical snowy nights in the winter. It was the place to be on that first day of warm weather in the spring, when hordes of girls would prematurely don those favorite summer dresses, even though there would be snow again the next day. It was a must-stop for drinking and making friends with all the other imbibers who would emerge like clockwork from the bar doors at 2 a.m.
But then I became one of the snubbers. The mall was too tourist-laden. It had nothing new to offer me. It was even...boring. And when I made the move to Denver, I didn't even think to worry about missing it.
A few weeks ago, I went to Boulder to see a friend. As I walk down the mall, it hits me. The energy in the fall when the students come back is infectious, even if you're 25 and can't remember the last time you held a textbook. The air is crisp, the leaves are turning, and somehow the perfectly manicured flowers still look immaculate. People are drinking afternoon beers on the patio outside The Pub -- in fact, people are drinking on patios everywhere. And I'm not sure that anything could beat that view of the Flatirons.
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It's happening again. I can feel it -- those same feelings fluttering in my stomach, the charm of it all trying to pull me back. Maybe I still have feelings for you, Pearl Street Mall. And maybe it's true when they say you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.