Why we'll miss the Westminster Mall

Eating lunch at Olive Garden (and I will say only that my regrettable choice to dine at the Olive Garden was both predicated heavily on free breadsticks and not worth it) after a trip to Toys 'R' Us to get a remote-control helicopter and some LEGOs on Saturday, I was struck by the contrast between the surprisingly bustling restaurant and the serious deadness everywhere surrounding its Westminster location. Next door sits the abandoned Steak and Ale, its empty parking lot slowly being overtaken by weeds; adjacent lurks the lonesome hull of the Westminster Mall, its beleaguered heart still faintly beating after all these years. But it won't be for much longer. Not as it is now, anyway.

After declaring the mall "blighted" last summer over the strenuous objections of Westminster Mall Co., owner of the property, the City of Westminster approved a deal on Monday to acquire the property at a cost of $22 million, in order to develop a downtown of sorts for the city -- similar to what the City of Lakewood did with the old Villa Italia, another hulking old wreck of a mall, when it turned that area into the bustling center of pedestrian-friendly commerce that is Belmar. Much, in fact, like what happened to the old Southglenn mall in Centennial, or Cinderella City in Englewood, or the Town Center at Aurora, which used to be home to the Aurora Mall.

It's been part of a pervasive trend since the late '90s in the migration patterns of white people: Where once white people fled to the suburbs to escape minorities, they are now less afraid of minorities and sick of the boring suburbs, so they're going back to the cities, somewhat perversely pushing minorities out to the suburbs in their stead. And where there are no affluent white people with large amounts of disposable income, there is no need for malls.

Or, in this case, if they are not moving back to the actual cities, they want their suburbs to seem more like cities: White people are now into things like walkability, shopping locally and community environments. We can see evidence of this trend in areas like Stapleton, a technical part of Denver proper that is a de facto suburb but is nevertheless composed as an approximation of an urban neighborhood. And we can also see it in the places white people like to spend money, which are no longer indoor hubs cut off from the world by expansive parking lots, but are now outdoor and town-like, with fewer expansive parking lots, and also stores you can drive right up to.

It's the end of an era, and the Westminster Mall's impending closure is a stark reminder of that.

But for those of us who grew up with parents who dropped us off at the mall and left us there with little to no money to spend for large swaths of the weekend, it's not just a symbolic rejection of the late-twentieth-century suburban aesthetic; it's also the loss of sort of a major part of our adolescence. You cannot be a mall rat in Belmar. A scene like this is coming closer to extinction:

It's not really that I've ever been a huge fan of malls -- they're huge eye-stores devoid of any cultural value and devoted almost exclusively to the activity of buying shit you don't need, and even in high school, I was only there because there was nothing else to do. But at least malls were conceptually honest: It's a bunch of stores in one place. That's it. There's no "community," no "neighborhood."

Westminster intends to raze the mall sometime this summer to make way for the new development, and I have to admit, I'll kind of miss it when it's gone, and maybe for reasons that have nothing to do with what a mall is supposed to be. I actually kind of grew to enjoy wandering around in there, all quiet and empty. It's relaxing, in a semi-creepy way. And if nothing else, I'll kind of miss those stupid hot air balloons.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte