Like a lot of places in America, our part of Western Massachusetts has given way from small local shops to large malls – although several towns in the area cunningly maintain their sense of local pride by banning big-box stores, secure in the knowledge that they will all set up shop at the mall in Hadley anyway. We end up doing quite a bit of our shopping there, for the same reason most people shop at malls; it’s convenient. But the Hadley mall (malls, technically – two groups of shops separated by a pedestrian-hostile road) is pretty bland compared to the real scale of malls in America; collectively it’s no larger than any of the Christchurch malls, and a lot less crowded most of the time.
The real mall in the area is the Holyoke Mall. We’d never been, out of laziness rather than anything else – it’s about a forty-minute drive away – but last weekend we decided to mount an expedition and check the place out. And ‘expedition’ turned out to be much more accurate than I was expecting.
The Holyoke Mall is in a town that’s part of the larger Springfield metropolitan area and in large part shares Springfield’s dubious reputation, especially when compared to the Northampton/Amherst area. But you don’t actually have to go near Holyoke proper to go to the Holyoke Mall; it sits just off the interstate, surrounded by several hectares of carparks. (“Several hectares” is not metaphorical, either.) It’s a pretty unattractive building from the outside, with a few scruffy pine trees breaking up the concrete, but then again: the outside is not the attraction.
The Holyoke Mall made me understand exactly why zombie movies (and that one Terry Pratchett book) are set in malls.It’s designed to pull you in and not let you out again; entrances are poorly marked, signs pointing to shops are everywhere. It has anything you could possibly want, as long as, say, eighty percent of what you want is shoes and clothing. (I didn’t see a bookshop. I don’t think there was one.) After an hour in there, what I really regretted not bringing was some tramping boots and a large bottle of water. (I staggered up to the juice shop in the food court and felt intensely grateful they were selling cold water for a reasonable price.)
The place is two full stories for most of its length and three at one point; it feels like miles (and if you go up and down each side of each floor, is, literally, miles) of shops, all selling variations of the same product. It’s one of the times America has produced exactly what I expected of it. Miles of shops selling things I either don’t want or don’t need, all of them apparently having sales, and no signs to the exits. Or sunlight.
It did have its dangers, mostly in the form of a Williams-Sonoma, which is one of those kitchen shops that sells all the things you didn’t know they made separate tools for. Mike and I had a conversation which went roughly like this:
Me: Let’s go in there, I’ve heard about it. It might be interesting.
Him: Really? Sure, why not.
Him, after five minutes: I WANT EVERYTHING.
Me: Even the, uh, what the hell is this…burger pattie press?
Him: Especially that.
Me: …this was a tactical error.
We escaped with only a spice rack, which I’m going to call a victory for the moment.
All that being said, the Holyoke Mall is probably a pretty logical destination in future if we have a) a specific list of stuff we need that they sell, b) time, c) sturdy shoes, and d) water. If it was a town centre and had a couple of attractive cafes, I’d be quite fond of it. It’s the package – a building designed to keep you wandering in circles until you die of thirst or run out of money – that concerns me. (I know I’m harping on about the water thing, but there were also an awful lot of pretzel shops, by which I mean more than one.)
(Also, if I’d stayed any longer, I might have started to agree with Mike about the burger pattie press.)