Shopping malls experience final frontier

As shopping culture changes, local malls are experiencing vacant storefronts. Older generations are fondly looking back on the times, during their youth, that they spent at the mall.


Arrowhead photo by Dimitri Cwynar

Shop and stop…Enjoying a few minutes of rest, juniors Amanda Do (left) and Emma Bolado take a pit stop after an hour of shopping for the holidays at the Montgomery Mall in North Wales, Pa.

Due to a lack of funds, the Montgomery Mall owned by Simon Property Group was foreclosed for $118.78 million, dragging along mall store owners for another year of uncertainty.
“Usually there is nobody in this mall,” Hollister Manager Ameilia Maughan said.
Maughan is someone who grew up with the Montgomery Mall and now works there.
“When I came here as a kid, or even as a teenager it was always packed, or even busier,” Maughan said.
Though her childhood years lasted through the 2010s, the state of patrons at malls has been on a downward slope since long before then.
English teacher Clint Johnston said he enjoyed the mall when he went as a child in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
As a kid, he loved going to the pet store in the mall to see all the animals.
College student Geneva Bilford, another once mall-goer who grew up in the area, remembered going to Uncanny, the mall’s comic shop. “In 2015 or 2016 on my birthday I had a bunch of my friends plus my brother all get together and we played Dungeons and Dragons for the first time,” Bilford said. “After that I started going there regularly every Thursday for D&D [Dungeons and Dragons].”
He emphasised the found community in his experience.
According to Montgomery County resident Theresa Pearre, a member of the silent generation, her daughter was of the generation beginning to see malls growing up.
“Teenagers would go and just spend the day at the mall socializing,” Pearre said.
She herself did not grow up with malls, but became accustomed to them as she got older and they started appearing more.
“I remember going to the Coventry Mall in Pottstown. It was just a wonderful experience where you could spend half a day or a whole day going from store to store,” Pearre said.
Maughan agreed that the culture of malls has changed a lot since then. Some say they miss it; others do not.
Johnston said he does not miss it.
“It’s just a whole lot of walking and us being bored,” Johnston said.
In contrast, Bilford said, “I do, I miss the sense of community in those little malls.”
He said that with the rise of online delivery, it “annihilated” the smaller local market. Besides the effects of COVID-19, online shopping vastly dominates brick and mortar shopping in today’s world.
When it comes to the next evolution in the shopping mall, Pearre said she believes the next step for malls are places like the Promenade in Center Valley or Philadelphia Premium Outlets in Pottstown where they are outdoors and, according to her, people enjoy more.