Ohmigod!! Like, my Saturday afternoon was, like, totally awesome! That’s because, like, I got to go to the mall! Yes! That’s why I’m, like, squealing like a girl! It’s because I got to check out some bitchin’ clothes, have a drink from Orange Julius, and…
*ahem* Okay, that’s enough of my Valley Girl impression. But it’s true, I had to do some errands on Saturday afternoon. And part of it involved heading into the unsettling, discouraging, and in certain spots, grody-to-the-max atmosphere that is… the shopping mall, circa 2021.
Saturday was only the second time (not counting outlier stores) since the still-ongoing pandemic shut things down last March that I ventured to West Towne Mall, which is located a mile from where I live. The first time during the pandemic that I went to West Towne was back in December, when I picked up a safely-placed-online greeting card order from the Hallmark store. Saturday, I headed back to Hallmark for that same reason. Let’s just say that just Valentine’s Day cards for nieces, unlike fruits, don’t grow on trees. (Well, they do, in a sense, but you get the idea.)
One thing that struck me about West Towne on Saturday was that it was… pretty busy for a winter Wisconsin Saturday during the pandemic. At least compared to the very quick, in-and-out weeknight trip I made last December, when the relative dearth of customers during the holiday shopping season, though understandable, felt startling.
Saturday, however, almost felt as if it were just another weekend day. Well, it’s hard to call it “just another day” considering what is any important part of any mall — the stores, both those that have left and others who have had to help fill the void.
So, fully masked and scarved (protecting me from both disease and winter’s chill), I braved into the great unknown that is West Towne mall. Here is some of what West Towne’s online directory may not entirely show, but what I was able to notice with my own
two four eyes on Saturday:
Shopping capacity is limited. Not the whole mall, mind you, but some stores. Take Eddie Bauer, who like many of the stores had a sign out front strongly encouraging keeping six feet apart. Theirs also indicated a capacity limit. American Eagle Outfitters took their own capacity seriously enough to add a gatekeeper that kept limits enforced. Think of it as the velvet rope at the newest, hottest Manhattan dance club Stefan would’ve loved to party in.
Doors were shut. That is, the main entrances to the mall itself. I recall back in December, mall staff blocked at least some of the entrances open, the belief being that full circulation of air keeps helps reduce the spread of the virus indoors. Perhaps it was due to the frigid temperatures Madison is experiencing this weekend and into the coming week that the entrance doors were shut when not in use on Saturday. Sure hope the mall’s ventilation system is up to snuff.
Everyone wore masks. Which is still required here in public places here in Dane County, no matter how Wisconsin’s legislature and governor may argue over the issue statewide. Signs reminding everyone of mask requirements were everywhere, and give shoppers and employees credit for heeding to the mandate. The one singular exception to the rule I noticed was two people sitting and eating at…
What’s left of the food court. Oh, fer shure… er, uh, for sure, Sbarro and Subway were still there. But a couple of other restaurants are still sitting idle, with empty cooking lines waiting for the time when safety and economics will allow them to open for business again. And a couple of others appeared closed for good, most notably the once intimate, now completely barren space occupied by Potbelly Sandwich Works. Side note: Many of the tables were either removed or cordoned off; West Towne management is taking concerns about virus spread seriously.
Very few kiosks. You know what I’m talking about, the little desks/platforms/whatever that sold pillows or curling irons or promoted new windows for your home. Face it, kiosks aren’t built for making purchases with six feet or at least a plexiglass barrier between customer and sales clerk. Oh, speaking of which…
Plexiglass. It’s not just for hockey rinks anymore. The Hallmark where I picked up my order, as well as a mini-mart where I had to make a separate in-person purchase, both had see-through barriers at the checkout spots. Wise decisions by both, especially at the mini-mart, where who knows who could be walking in without a mask, even with “masks required” signs in place.
There’s still a lot of empty space. Uh, let’s see… Gap and Gap Kids closed before the pandemic hit. Justice, Yankee Candle, and the Regis Salon closed as well. So did Bare Minerals. And the old locations of Payless, Charming Charlie, and New York & Company are still barren. (*deep sigh*)
But at least there’s some effort to fill them. And I’m not just talking about the new Von Maur that’s slowly being built where Boston Store once stood. The fancy dress shop Tiger Lily and a UW Badger shirt-and-souvenir place relocated from smaller to larger spots within the mall. A locally-owned handbag shop is in the spot Aldo Shoes once occupied. And sometime in the spring, the last remnants of the old Sears will be occupied by… let’s just say it’s a craft place that’s closed on Sundays and leave it at that.
And Forever 21 is… still open! Yeah, remember when I talked about how their West Towne location was slated for closure? Well, hold the phone on that, because Forever 21 is still occupying that very same spot. No, I didn’t get too much of a notice as to how much items they have and how spread out it is. But to this semi-fashionable person’s heart, it’s good to see they’re still around.
Still, though, it was a bummer seeing how much West Towne has declined. Yes, there are longstanding and more recent reasons such as economics and internet commerce and safety and other circumstances both within and outside of mall management’s control. But it’s not as if anyone is just throwing up their hands and rezoning the mall property into another office building or a hotel, as State Street and Downtown Madison is seeing.
Hopefully, there will be a brighter future for at least West Towne by the time, or even before, the Von Maur is open and people’s worries about that godawful virus diminish somewhat. Then, fingers tightly crossed, at least one mall in Madison will once again be — like, totally, to the max — a place worth checking out.