8 Fabulous Facts About Shopping Malls

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iStock

Few places encapsulate American consumer culture as well as the shopping mall. The “shop 'til you drop” craze may have reached its peak in the 1980s, but enclosed malls have been a part of the country’s landscape for more than 60 years. In the latest title in Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series, author Matthew Newton covers the storied history of the mall, from its birth in 1950s suburbia to its modern appeal for urban explorers. In honor of the release of Shopping Mall, we’ve selected some fascinating facts from the book that will put you in touch with your inner mallrat.

1. THE ORIGINAL MALL WAS INSPIRED BY EUROPEAN MARKETS.

When visionary architect Victor Gruen was first commissioned to design a shopping center in Edina, Minnesota in 1952, he looked to his home city of Vienna for inspiration. According to Shopping Mall, Southdale Center was America’s first example of a large-scale indoor mall, with nearly 75 shops filling two levels of retail space. At the center of it all Gruen built his version of a European piazza: an indoor court complete with fountains, goldfish ponds, sculptures, and plant life. That addition helped sell Southdale as a place not only to shop but to relax and socialize. The idea of a mall of as a social hub gained popularity when Gruen’s design was used as the model for more malls across the country. You can watch footage of Southdale from the year it opened above.

2. FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT HATED THE FIRST ONE.

Southdale was met with mostly glowing reviews when it opened in October 1956, but it had one notable critic. After visiting the site in November of that year, famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright expressed his distaste to the Star Tribune. “You’ve got a garden court that has all the evils of the village street and none of its charm,” he said. “Who wants to sit in that desolate-looking spot?”

3. THE DESIGNER DISOWNED HIS CREATION.

Victor Gruen lived long enough to see the shopping mall transform American culture in the late 1970s, and what he saw deeply disturbed him. The spirit of architectural innovation and community he built into Southdale had been sanitized from the facsimiles that popped up around the nation, Newton writes in Shopping Mall. Instead, developers chose whatever design maximized profit, and once open the mall functioned as a “gigantic shopping machine,” as Gruen put it. Dismayed by the phenomenon he had helped father, he announced in a 1978 speech, “I refuse to pay alimony for those bastard developments.”

4. THE MALL OF AMERICA CONTAINS AN AMUSEMENT PARK, AN AQUARIUM, AND FLIGHT SIMULATORS.

Tim Bartel, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Since it opened in Bloomington, Minnesota in 1992, the Mall of America has held the title of largest shopping mall on earth. The sprawling complex comprises 530 stores spread out over 4.9 million square feet, according to Shopping Mall. In addition to the attractions listed above, the mall is also home to a comedy club, a children’s museum, a mirror maze, and a mini golf course.

5. THEY INSPIRED GEORGE A. ROMERO.

Shopping malls have provided the settings for a handful of horror movies, including Chopping Mall (1986), Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge (1989), and Eight-Legged Freaks (2002). But the first director to highlight the creepy atmosphere of an empty shopping mall was horror auteur George A. Romero. After directing the classic zombie film Night of the Living Dead (1968), Romero headed to the shopping mall for his sequel Dawn of the Dead (1978). As he told the BBC in 1997, the choice to set a zombie movie there was very intentional. “Right then it was just really the beginning of that mall culture where you went there and you hung out all day. My impression of walking through there, going through this sort of ritualistic, unnatural, consuming experience, was that we really do become zombies in here.”

6. THERE’S A NAME FOR THAT HYPNOTIC EFFECT MALLS HAVE.

Have you ever lost your sense of time and geography while wandering around a shopping mall, only to realize it didn’t seem to bother you? That feeling of pleasant disorientation is what’s known as the “Gruen Transfer,” a phenomenon named for the original mall’s creator. Like casinos, malls are laid out in a way that invites consumers to consume endlessly without offering them a clear way out. As Newton explains, this can corrode a shopper’s self-control—after walking around the windowless maze of stores for a while, they forget what they’re looking for and give in to impulse buys more easily.

7. THEY PAY THEIR SANTAS HANDSOMELY.

Santa Claus is a major draw for shoppers with kids around the holidays, and malls make sure to pay their most famous employee what he’s worth. As Mental Floss has previously revealed, being a mall Santa is a salaried position, and those who pursue it can take home a generous five-figure paycheck for six weeks of work. That's somewhat less surprising when you consider that many Santas earn a degree from Santa University before taking the gig.

8. AMERICA IS HOME TO HUNDREDS OF “DEAD” MALLS.

Ashley Diener, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The shopping mall was one of the many industries disrupted by the rise of the internet. Hundreds of malls have shuttered in the past few decades, and hundreds more are expected to close in the next five years. While some “dead malls” have been reinvented into spaces such as churches, indoor farms, and apartment complexes, others sit abandoned, only to be visited by the occasional urban explorer. There’s even an entire website, deadmalls.com, dedicated to documenting these modern ruins. For his book Autopsy of America, photographer Seph Lawless chose dead malls as some of his primary subjects. You can check out highlights from his work here.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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10 Great Gifts for Teens

Fjallraven/Polaroid
Fjallraven/Polaroid

If it’s been a few years since you were a teenager, you might be feeling at a loss when it comes to finding the perfect gift for the teen in your life. But you don’t have to worry—we’ve culled the internet to figure out what’s cool these days, and we found 10 items to suit any teen (and any price point).

1. Fjällräven Kånken Mini Classic Backpack for Everyday; $70

Fjällräven/Amazon

Fjällräven’s Kånken backpack was originally introduced in 1978 as an affordable and comfortable bag for Swedish schoolchildren, but it recently took off as a trend among American high schoolers and college students. With 43 different color options, chances are you’ll be able to find the perfect trendy backpack for the teen in your life.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Hydro Flask Standard-Mouth Water Bottle; $30–$35

Hydro Flask/Amazon

Hydro Flasks aren’t only trendy, they’re sturdy and environmentally friendly. Plus, they keep hot drinks warm and icy drinks cool for an absurdly long amount of time. The standard-mouth water bottle is currently available on Amazon in 17 different colors, but the brand also offers tumbler cups and coffee mugs depending on your niece/nephew/cousin/friend/child’s preference.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Polaroid Originals OneStep+ Bluetooth-Connected Instant Film Camera; $140

Polaroid Originals/Amazon

Teens can kick it back old school with this Polaroid camera that hides some surprisingly contemporary features. Using a special app, users can fine-tune their camera settings to suit their personal tastes. Plus, this camera makes it possible to capture two scenes in a single frame, so it's that much easier to create uniquely artsy Polaroid pics.

Buy it: Amazon

4. 4th-Generation Echo Dot with Clock; $60

Amazon

Tech-wise, the fourth-generation Echo Dot is almost identical to its third-generation predecessor. But the updated spherical design seems poised to make the Echo Dot a worthy contender for traditional alarm clocks—the speaker face shows the time and it even includes a tap-to-snooze function for drowsy sleepers.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Bubble Tea Kit; $38

Uncommon Goods

Part of the reason bubble tea is so popular is that it’s customizable—and what could be more customizable than making it yourself? This kit, made by an Atlanta-based couple, comes with two reusable straws and enough supplies to make up to eight servings.

Buy it: Uncommon Goods

6. Mixtape Card Game; $20

Uncommon Goods

This party game challenges players to find the perfect songs to suit specific prompts. Some cards might prompt players to use Spotify or Youtube to search for the songs with the best guitar solos, while other cards call for participants to play their “favorite slow dance love jam from junior high.” This game is sure to be a hit at any high school sleepover or house party—or, in true 2020 style, at any digital hangout or Zoom meeting.

Buy it: Uncommon Goods

7. Giant Flour Tortilla Throw Blanket; $18-$35

Mermaker/Amazon

This goofy double-sided blanket turns any human into a giant-size burrito, and it comes in four different sizes to suit any height. One reviewer even went so far as to say that “once you wrap yourself in it, you will be convinced that you are a burrito.”

Buy it: Amazon

8. The Cup of Destiny; $22

Shelter Harbor Press/Amazon

Here’s a prediction: Your hunt for the perfect gift is almost over. This kit is ideal for the teenager who is fascinated by the supernatural and loves exploring new ideas. Included, you’ll find a 96-page illustrated instruction book along with a cup and a saucer marked with patterns and symbols.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Wreck This Journal: Now in Color; $9

Penguin Books/Amazon

This journal is not intended to be pretty. It’s made for messiness and exploration and a little bit of chaos. Artistic-minded teens will love filling out pages that prompt them to catalog various stains or poke holes through the paper. Reviewers say it’s not only a source of creative inspiration, though—it’s also a stress reliever. And considering that the middle-school and high-school years aren’t exactly known for being relaxing, this journal could be a welcome reprieve from the daily pressure of managing homework and a social life.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Therapy Dough; $15

Uncommon Goods

Some teens focus better and relax more easily when they have something to fidget with. If the teen in your life fits that description, this therapy dough may be the perfect gift for them. Each 4.5-ounce container is infused with essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus, orange, or pine, making relaxation smell delicious (and all natural!).

Buy it: Uncommon Goods

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