Shopping in The Land of the Lost

by Tim McMahan

 

Somehow I keep ending up at Crossroads Mall and its vast, lonely emptiness.

Maybe it’s the memory of its once grand elegance that draws me in, a reminder that all things, no matter how wonderful, eventually come to an end. Crossroads seemed like perfect fodder for a column. But as I passed the fluorescent-bright nail salon oozing with the smell of ground skin and epoxy, I realized it probably wasn’t. No one cares about a small, dying mall that eventually will be torn down and replaced by a brand new “shopping experience” that reflects the tastes of modern day consumers rather than the Cold War baby boom era that spawned the original Crossroads, the one before the tit tents and the food court, a Crossroads that consisted of a long, bleak hallway with a magazine rack in the middle and a cool arcade in the basement where kids could waste time playing video games and smoking while skipping classes at UNO.

My last trip to Crossroads involved a search for a new sports watch, something I could wear to the gym. Nothing fancy. A plastic Timex would do. Target used to have a nice selection of just such watches, but that was before they started remodeling last month. Now squarely in the middle of its remodel, you can't find anything, and neither could anyone else. Watching people shop at Target mid-remodel was like watching a tiny island of boat people dropped from the sky to forage for food on a deserted island. There was panic in their eyes when they turned the corner and discovered that the frozen food aisle was gone, replaced with the shoe aisle. It was both disorienting and frightening. Where were the light bulbs now?

We left the madness behind and entered what is left of the mall. It is post apocalypse America. Standing alongside the strange one-off hobby stores are fully stocked national chain stores like Barnes & Noble and Victoria’s Secret, operating like a pair of healthy kidneys in a body ravaged by lung disease.

Across from the still healthy GNC is the expansive American Fashion store, home to a thousand different variations of modern ethnic clothing – how else would you describe racks upon racks of big-lapel dress shirts and oversized blue jeans with weird gothic lettering screen printed all over them, or the odd selection of mini-dresses that looked like costumes from a Midwestern production of West Side Story?

Across the hall, the darkened windows of the dead Old Navy store, now filled with mountains of empty fixtures. Across from that, the LensCrafters where I once bought my glasses, also now empty, just a few feet from a once lively Chili’s where I once ordered baby-back ribs.

But as soul-crushingly depressing as it sounds, Crossroads isn’t all dust and memories. Down the hall from the pink-and-yellow glow of Bath and Body Works is the perkily named Digital Attitude; a small store that sells Japanese anime collectables. I looked around the bookcases filled with strange cartoonish paperbacks and action figures while Teresa purchased a “Soul Eater” keychain, not because she’s a fan of the manga (which apparently revolves around an academy of weapons experts who collect souls), but because she thought it was cute. I asked stupid questions about Dragonball Z and Cowboy Bebop in an attempt to sound “with it” to the patient guy behind the counter.

Next was Stella’s, the kind of gift shop that sells Austrian crystal and Cubic Zirconium jewelry alongside blow guns, ceremonial swords and throwing stars. Looking for a two-foot-high figurine of a wizard standing next to a wolf? Stella’s is your place.

As you walk through Crossroads you’ll discover surprises such as a 6-foot-tall bunny costume free-standing like a ghost in the darkened window of an abandoned earring shop, surrounded by plastic pastel Easter eggs. I suppose the mall’s new management thought it would be a great idea to let the folks who run Fairytail Costumes “spruce up” some of the vacant store windows with what can only be described as children’s nightmares.

Fairytail Costumes turned out to be the ultimate find at Crossroads. I assumed it would be filled with kitschy polyester Halloween costumes (which it was), but after you get past the rack of bawdy green St. Patrick’s Day headwear and tables of used shoes you’ll find a hipster’s paradise – racks upon racks of vintage clothing as far as the eye can see. We’re talking authentic second-hand apparel from the likes of fine tailors like Chess King, well-worn leather jackets and used wedding dresses, racks of military hats and marching band costumes. One minute you could be standing next to a wall of cheerleader uniforms, the next a selection of full-length animal costumes. Little treasures are everywhere. Under a rack of ‘70s polyester Nik Nik shirts hid a cardboard box that said SKULLS $10.

I ended up finding my watch at Sears, a store whose interior hasn’t changed since 1975. I’ve read that it, along with Target, will be the only stores that will survive the wrecking ball if the mall’s redevelopment plans are true (or if the new owners can find the financing).

The clerks at Sears didn’t know what was going to happen to Crossroads, or at least they weren’t saying. But the shop owners knew. They said their leases would continue for at least another year. The mall’s new developers were now focusing on revitalizing the Gretna outlet mall before their gaze would turn to Crossroads.

When the bulldozers finally arrive and all the little below-the-radar hobby shops are driven away, where will I find my magna, Austrian crystal, steam punk attire and blow darts? Maybe, if we’re lucky, they’ll all end up in Benson.

Beyond Lazy-i is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on arts, culture, society and the media. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@thereader.com

posted at 09:00 am
on Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

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