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  1. Greetings, everyone. I just wanted to tell you a few interesting stories I have dug up about retail history. I've done some work in the field, but only in the past year have I begun to understand what a simple store can reveal about a community, and the stories it can tell--even after it's gone. Take shopping malls, for example. When I was growing up we went to Maplewood Mall, a vibrant and healthy shopping center that's still going strong. Back then I thought malls were these big, unstoppable superstores that would never go away. But now I know better. (Made by me on Youtube:) Since the 1970s, and especially the 90s and 2000s, malls have been closing down all over the U.S. Many lose their anchor stores (like Sears or Dillard's) and starve from lack of business. Others can't compete with other malls that are newer, bigger or more conveniently located. Some lose all their traffic because of rising crime rates and their communities changing around them (the famous Dixie Square Mall in IL and the subject of my video). And still others just never should have been built (Forest Fair Mall in Cincinnati). On top of all that, there is the growing shadow of Internet merchants and big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Costco that have sprung up all over the country and cut into their profits. Public shopping centers go as far back as ancient Rome with Trajan's Forum. The first enclosed mall ever built in the U.S. was Rhode Island's Westminster Arcade in 1828, but they did not become common here until the 1950s and 60s, thanks to the visions of Austrian-born architect Victor Gruen. Gruen originally wanted malls to be not only shopping centers, but community centers complete with residential areas, medical facilities, and schools. He believed they would centralize towns and cities and change civilization for the better. In fact, his most celebrated creation was built here in Minnesota: the Southdale Center in Edina. It was the first mall to be fully enclosed and climate-controlled, and thousands of similar malls were soon constructed all over the nation. "Fifty years ago," wrote Malcolm Gladwell in a 2004 article for The New Yorker, "Victor Gruen designed a fully enclosed, introverted, multitiered, double-anchor-tenant shopping complex with a garden court under a skylight—and today virtually every regional shopping center in America is a fully enclosed, introverted, multitiered, double-anchor-tenant complex with a garden court under a skylight. Victor Gruen didn’t design a building; he designed an archetype." However, the grandest elements of Gruen's vision were never to be. "He didn’t appreciate that it made a lot more sense, for his client, to save civilization at a hundred and fifty thousand square feet than at six hundred thousand square feet. The lesson of America was that the grandest of visions could be derailed by the most banal of details, like the size of the retail footprint, or whether Congress set the depreciation allowance at forty years or twenty years. When, late in life, Gruen came to realize this, it was a powerfully disillusioning experience. He revisited one of his old shopping centers, and saw all the sprawling development around it, and pronounced himself in “severe emotional shock.” Malls, he said, had been disfigured by “the ugliness and discomfort of the land-wasting seas of parking” around them. Developers were interested only in profit. “I refuse to pay alimony for those bastard developments,” he said in a speech in London, in 1978." The Southdale Center still stands today, but as the retail climate changed in the 21st century, many of its successors have not been so lucky. Some malls have quietly died and been revamped as libraries, schools or storehouses. Others have sat empty and abandoned for years, like Dixie Square, or been quickly demolished as smaller strip malls and open-air shopping centers take their place. But they all have a story to tell, and I believe these stories are worth remembering. You can read them at by people who shopped there and grew up in the region. In some places, malls were criticized as invaders, profit machines bereft of culture that were an eyesore in their cities and choked the life out of the downtown areas. But in the long run, these places were just another stage of the country's economic development. Now the malls themselves are slowly but surely being phased out. Today I look at the nasty urban sprawl that is taking their place, jump-started by national chain stores racing to keep up with 'white flight' and the country's unstable demographics. They have fled the shopping centers and instead are camping out all over the highways and the outskirts of our cities--"smearing their logo feces all over the landscape," as George Carlin once said. Today I see that sorry display and wonder, "Is this any better? Maybe it's worse." Thanks for reading. And any TL;DR comments will be deleted with extreme prejudice. Cheers!