They got it, but you don’t need it

The first time I ever set foot inside the polished, litter-free hallways of the Mall of America, I was sick — literally. That should have been a good indicator of how I feel about the place now, having lived in Minnesota for two years.
Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not snubbing the great entrepreneurism of the state’s economy. I just think it’s a shame it has to be so tacky.
Depending on how you look at it, the Megamall is either a shopper’s Mecca or a sickening example of tacky consumerism. Either way, you either love it or love to hate it.
I fall into the latter category, though I still find myself roaming the mallways once every few months to do a little shopping.
My first visit to the Mall of America was two years ago, when my mom and I visited the University while I was deciding to which school I should transfer, after an unpleasant first year of college. When we arrived in Minneapolis, the first thing my mom said was, “Let’s go to that biggest mall in America or whatever that is. Isn’t that near here?”
Well, both of us ended up coming down with the flu that night, but we went to the mall anyway, despite our delirium. I remember my mom and I walked around the near-empty mall in the middle of the day. We were lost the entire time and cranky as we argued about where we were while examining our hand-held maps.
We finally gave up and decided we were doomed for lost. We left empty-handed and didn’t buy anything but a bowl of minestrone soup at some restaurant. But, hey, we said we had at least seen the biggest mall in the country. My mom vowed to come back for Christmas, when we felt better.
So, I don’t know if it was the circumstances of my first visit, but I still get queasy every time I walk through the vacuum-suctioned doors of the Megamall.
What is it about the Mall of America that makes me tired after 10 minutes of being there? The noise alone makes my body lethargic. The faint rumble of the roller coaster, the little screams of Camp Snoopy kids and the dream-like passing conversations of shoppers edging past me provide distracting background noise.
Neon lights and oversized effigies of everything from teddy bears to tennis shoes whiz past my eyes, as if I’m moving too fast to really absorb and understand everything my pupils are taking in. Was that a giant cheese curd I just saw? I think I’m dizzy.
My nose is confused, too. For a brief moment I smell the warm churning of a candy store’s caramel corn machine. Then, it is freshly ground coffee. I turn my head and I’m bombarded with artificial fruity smells. It’s one of those lotion stores. There’s passion fruit, mango, apple and cool mint, in every possible ointment I could put on my body. Help! Help!
And where are these smells coming from? Freshly baked cinnamon rolls, covered with icing, arouse my nose and call my name. But I don’t know if the Cinnabon store is 30 feet to the left or 30 feet above me.
The Megamall also functions as a sort of supermarket taste tester. I gobbled down smoked cheddar cheese from a man wearing a cheese hat at a Wisconsin cheese store. Next door, they served me a garlic pretzel sample.
With all these sensory displays grabbing for my attention, and thus my pocketbook, it’s no wonder I struggle to keep a conversation going every time I shop there with a friend. I feel numbed.
Others feel numbed, too. Do you ever look around at the other shoppers in the mall? They walk around in a half-stupor, not really knowing where they’re going. They’re not even looking straight ahead. I find myself walking in weird, wavy patterns around strollers, walkers and packs of teenagers.
I remind myself that the best part about the Mall of America is that they sell everything there. I could buy a car and I could buy a coat for my dog. Hell, I could get married there.
The availability is hard to beat. There are two or three Victoria’s Secrets and a few Gap stores, too. Actually, I can’t really confirm that because maybe I’m just lost and seeing the same stores over and over.
In any case, there’s also a wide range of quality. I can buy a pair of socks at the $1 store or a pair of socks from Anne Taylor for $15. And don’t forget the specialty stores. There’s a store that only sells chocolate, a store that sells only cheese and a store dedicated to meeting our needs for refrigerator magnets. What more could I ask for?
They even think of things I didn’t even know I needed. For example, I can buy myself a vacation to Mexico on the way to the Holiday Station Store, where I can pick up a bottle or two of window washer fluid. Is there a need that hasn’t been met?
I have an idea for Minnesota developers to really cash in on the Mall of America: If we built an enormous high rise of apartments above Camp Snoopy, we’d never need to leave the comfort of the enclave.
We could live, breathe, eat, work, shop, clean and entertain ourselves in one big hub. It could be like Biosphere2, in which humans lived in a man-made environment and never left the enclosure. Their only means of communicating with those on the outside was talking to relatives and schoolchildren via two-way video.
The mall would need a couple more stores of course. A Cub Foods grocery store would be necessary and probably a Lund’s for the upscale shoppers. Maybe we’d need a big greenhouse space too.
In our increasingly consumer-driven culture, I don’t see why this wouldn’t happen. But really, who would want it?
The Mall of America offers everything you or I could ever want, but it’s an impractical and unpleasant experience. One of the first things people told me about shopping there is: Don’t go there if you’re looking for something specific. You’re sure to find something if you’re not looking for anything.
The Megamall is overkill consumerism. It’s a clue that Americans love to consume, but they can’t possibly consume it all at once. It’s too much to swallow.
I’ll admit that occasionally I’m in the mood to browse its many stores, knowing I’ll blow money I don’t have. After all, I still subscribe to the idea that we should have choices in everything we purchase. But I don’t want to give in to the mall’s tacky overtures to buy for the sake of buying every time I’m there. That isn’t shopping, it’s just annoying.
Sara Goo’s column appears Tuesdays in the Daily. She welcomes comments via e-mail at [email protected]
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