"I'm at Colorado and I-25, and it should only be a ten-minute drive to Cinderella City."
An unnamed narrator shares the above thought in a video I recently found on YouTube, a seven-minute account of one man's quest to sell caricatures to Christmas shoppers at Cinderella City Mall, already long past its heyday in the holiday shopping season of 1991.
This statement is both funny and sad to me -- funny because in 2013, there is no way to get across town in ten minutes. And sad because as a dead mall enthusiast myself, I feel a little internal whimper whenever someone mentions a mall like Cinderella City that I used to know and love.
The official opening of a new Forever 21 store last week at Colorado Mills got me thinking a lot about my strange attachment to the shopping mall, a once-booming epicenter of a suburban culture. I personally am not a fan of Colorado Mills: it lacks the ambiance of a true mall, feeling more like an exaggerated strip mall turned outside in. It doesn't even smell or feel like a mall, but in 2013, I suppose it's trying.
In some malls, Forever 21s have replaced the anchors -- which used to be a massive department stores meant to draw customers to a mall in the first place -- and as a result, malls have lost the biggest component to their ecosystem.
From 1996 to January of 2013, I was a part of that ecosystem, working in many now-deceased stores, including anchor store, Foley's (which was swallowed up by Macy's), and of course, at Shirt Folding Store, all housed in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center.
This mall has gone to exhaustive lengths to remain current-looking -- a major downfall of most suburban malls was their inability to part ways with indoor fountains, ancient lighting fixtures and benches with built-in ashtrays -- and will probably outlast most other retail centers. Nestled right in the city, consistently updating its internal and external façades and leasing space to an elite cadre of stores, it has the potential to live forever.
Which should make a mall dreamer like me happy -- but it is still missing something.
I have a long and winding romance with department stores that I am quickly realizing makes me part of a past that will soon no longer exist. I took many trips to Cinderella City as a child to get my hair done in the basement of Joslin's -- back when it used to have a hair salon inside the store. I remember doing loads of Christmas shopping with my mother at Buckingham Square and later, going to that mall as a teenager for the sole purpose of being able to smoke cigarettes indoors.
Thanks to the Internet, this sad cult of forgotten mall culture has a place to commiserate with itself. As I look through photographs of ghost malls that have been shuttered, I realize why a mall like Cherry Creek or Colorado Mills will never fill the place in my heart left vacant and labelscarred by the deaths of old malls: they are too new.
Part of being a dead-mall lover is reveling in the time capsule aspect of what has survived in the form of abandoned structures and photographs. It's like people who find serial killers fascinating -- as much as I wish I could still walk into Cinderella City as it looked in 1985, I find equal joy in looking at images of the broken-down, derelict structure as it was before it was demolished and turned into the CityCenter Englewood.
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It is just nostalgia for an aesthetic and atmosphere of the past that can never be reclaimed that keeps me searching for dead mall artifacts -- but that's the problem with the past. It can never be reclaimed. So I'll do my dead-mall gazing on the Internet and my shopping elsewhere.