A few columns ago, I wrote about the horrifying movie “I Am Legend.”
The best thing about that movie was the scenes of an abandoned New York City, with wild animals wandering through streets devoid of moving cars, with grass growing on the pavement. No people, except for Will Smith.
I had a comparable experience earlier this week (without Will Smith). We had to be in Toledo, and had about an hour to spend before picking up my son. My husband suggested we go to Southwyck Mall. I Google-mapped it, and found it was close to the location where we had to be. So we went there.
We almost drove by without stopping, because the parking lot was quite empty. But there were a few cars, and so we decided to stick with our plan.
Upon entering Southwyck Mall, it was like being in the movie “I Am Legend.” The mall was there, the storefronts were there, and yet it was deserted. No wild animals wandering (yet), but it was empty and eerie.
Many store fronts had the names of the stores removed, but some names were still above the entrances. Iron gates covered the doors, the display windows were empty, and upon closer inspection, the stores were empty, too.
I had a sudden craving for a pretzel and pop, but the pretzel place was long closed.
A restaurant claimed to serve “global food,” but it, too, was empty. Closed long ago. There was an abandoned movie theater.
The odd thing was, some things were still operational. The fountains in the middle of the aisles of the mall were still happily squirting water. The mall was heated (a welcome relief from the cold outside), and it was well lit. A carousel in the middle of the mall had brightly-painted horses, and someone was in a ticket booth that charged $1 per ride, but there were no riders, the ticket seller had no business, and the merry-go-round stood completely still.
Some scattered stores were still in operation. I don’t know what this says about our society, but the stores that still operated were Victoria’s Secret, several shoe stores, a Bath and Body store, and two places that did women’s nails. And a place that puts air-brush messages on T-shirts.
Aside from my husband and myself, there were some other people — we knew there would be, because of the cars parked outside. Some of the people in the mall were the employees and customers of the few open stores. Most, though, were serious walkers, making their rounds inside the mall, walking close to the edges to make the most of their exercise time in the warmth of the empty hallways.
When I knew I was going to write about this experience, I Googled Southwyck Mall and the first entry to appear was a Web site titled “Deadmalls.com.” A writer at this Web site, in 2005, had described Southwyck Mall as “not exactly a completely dead mall, but not exactly a completely living mall, either.” The writer praised it as a “nice, peaceful and quiet place to study for my classes at the University of Toledo.”
Apparently, this mall lost some of its anchor stores, and it went downhill from there. But it’s still in operation, it’s located in a nice neighborhood, and there are some of the usual restaurants nearby that cluster around malls — Olive Garden and Steak and Shake, for example.
It was an odd experience — a mall that was not a mall. What do you call a mall that looks like a mall but lacks stores and crowds of people? I don’t like crowds, but this mall was too eerie for me.