Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy holidays? (unedited)

I'm not a big fan of the holiday shopping crowds, but there's something I dislike even more during the holiday season, an empty mall.

For the second consecutive season I made a cameo at Knollwood Mall in the days before Christmas. It's in the Twin Cities suburb of St. Louis Park, and it's home to the most bizarre mall around.

The good folks at have a page dedicated to Knollwood, even though the mall ain't dead yet. What I learned from the contributions at the site is that Knollwood was once a normal mall, with anchor stores, a four-screen movie theater and a thriving food court. It was big enough to have a McDonald's in the food court, evidently, and McDonald's doesn't open franchises on a whim, so there had to be good traffic in this mall once upon a time.

I have driven by this mall for more than a decade. It doesn't look like a mall, it looks like a glorified strip mall, but indeed, it is a mall.

Except that over the years a portion of the mall has been walled off to create stand alone stores that have no connection to other stores nearby.

There's still one major anchor store at one end of what's left of the mall. There's a Kohl's department store that indeed opens into a mall. I was never there back in the days of the food court and movie theater, but I've seen it worse than it is today. Although it's not as bad off as it once was, it's still empty.

There are chain stores in the mall, independent businesses and a few atypical mall businesses. There's a swim school in a portion of the mall, which means there's a swimming pool in the mall, and there's an Army recruiting office. There's also a decent size furniture store in the mall, which is surprising because you don't typically see furniture stores in malls.

Despite numerous businesses in the mall, there are signs that it isn't what it use to be. There are empty storefronts in the mall, which is not highly unusual in a mall, but there are several at Knollwood, and it's most obvious where there use to be lower level stores. There are escalators in the mall that go to a lower level, but there's a barricade in front of them. It's hard to tell how many storefronts are down there, but it doesn't seem to be many. Nonetheless, it's quite clear that several retail spaces have been abandoned.

Knollwood has tried to adapt to changing times. Reading the anecdotes, however, suggests its demise is a result of its own missteps.

Despite it all, you'd think Knollwood would draw a fair amount of shoppers during the holiday season, right? You'd be wrong.

Once again Knollwood has opened its hallways to crafts and merchandise vendors during the holidays. There are numerous vendors selling all sorts of things, from handmade goods to clothing, Beanie Babies to cheap jewelry. There are a couple dozen people hawking goods, and they're not confined to a tiny kiosk, they have big tables and displays for their goods. Despite it all, it's still eerily quiet in that mall.

What I can't figure out is how these people find it worth their time to spend hours a day at the mall for what has to be a small return. I don't care if the mall gives the space away to these vendors, if they're standing around doing nothing a few nights before Christmas, they're not making enough money to make it worth their trouble. I must be wrong, they have plenty of retail vagabonds filling the hallways again this year.

You'd think a quiet mall would be a blessing during the holiday season. But you'd be wrong. It's creepy.

No comments: