The Mall

Yesterday, I walked inside Hickory Point Mall, better known simply as, “the mall.” I had intended to only shop at Hobby Lobby and then skip over to TJ Maxx, but I was curious to how the actual mall of the mall was doing. It’s not doing good.  

I don’t even remember the last time I walked through the mall.  It’s probably been 5 years or longer, so it was a shock to see how empty it was.  There wasn’t even Christmas decorations hanging from the ceiling that I remembered from years past, and the floor looked like it hadn’t been vacuumed in months.  My guess is that the mall about 70% vacant.  What a contrast to what I remember.

The mall opened in the late 1970s.  I can still remember being inside JC Penney and looking out into the then unfinished mall through the glass doors.  I was probably 8 or 9 years old.  Workmen were still painting and doing all the finishing touches to the main gallery of the mall.  

Of course, “the mall” was a major sore point in the history of Decatur for many years.  The city council had voted it down because council members, many of whom owned small businesses downtown, didn’t want the mall to come.  Decatur could have annexed the land that the mall was to be built on, but voted against it.  Whatever the deal, the city lost out on millions in property and sales taxes, as well as the prosperity and growth that Forsyth would later enjoy.  

It would go down as one of the dumbest things that our city council would ever do.  It currently ranks up there (or down there) with the decision to tear down the city’s Carnegie Library for a parking lot.  Well, sometimes we do dumb things.  

This was a time in history when the downtowns of American cities were declining rapidly as malls became the popular thing. Naturally, there was pushback against it.  

Looking back, there wasn’t any stopping it.  

Now, 40+ years later, the mall is barely alive, and Decatur’s downtown is a story of resilience.  Our downtown isn’t what it used to be, and I sure wish there were more things to do there, but most of us have learned to treasure it.  We also realize it will always be there, because it’s the heart of the city.     

One of the few stores remaining at Hickory Point Mall

A flood of memories came back as I walked through the mall.  I felt like I shouldn’t have lived long enough to have seen it in such a sad state.  It felt like walking in a grave.  I’ve always wondered what ancient Romans would think, if they could see the ruins of their once great empire today.  Would they be impressed that anything still remained, or would they feel sorrow?  

The mall isn’t exactly the Colosseum in Rome, but I, and others of my generation, particularly, have strong memories of it.   It was a major social affair to go to “the mall” when I was a kid.  

Going to the mall had implications, and for most awkward teenagers like myself, brought out a lot of insecurities. You went to the mall, not to shop, but to be evaluated by your peers.  As fun as that sounds, it left scars.  

My friends and I were unique.  We didn’t fit into any category.  We weren’t smart enough to be nerds, not rich enough to be preps, and not good-looking enough to be popular.  We were kind of like Pluto in the grand scheme of things.  We were part of the solar system, technically, floating around the sun like everyone else, but in the social hierarchy of junior high, we didn’t make planet status. We were more like that tool bag that’s now orbiting the earth, after astronauts recently dropped it while working on the space station.  

Regardless of our lowly standing, we had our fun.  I particularly remember Garcia’s Pizza, which provided the perfect perch for overlooking the crowd.  Nearby, was the arcade where we usually got kicked out of, given enough time.  

Today, most malls have banned groups of teenagers, but the trouble we got into was much more comical than criminal.  Our life of crime was short-lived, and we almost always got caught.  

I remember one time when my friend was given the assignment from his mother to purchase her a pair of pantyhose, since he was going to be there anyway.  Why she thought this was a good idea, I don’t know.  Maybe she just didn’t like him. 

She had given him money, but he ended up shoplifting them from Kohl’s.  At the time, I didn’t know why he didn’t just buy them, but now I understand.  Buying pantyhose for your mother?  And not just any pantyhose, but nude pantyhose?  When you’re a teenage boy?  Yeah, I would have shoplifted them too before showing my face at a register.  

We spent the afternoon on the run, sure that mall security had our number.  Sitting behind rubber plants, looking over our shoulders, and watching the minutes go by like hours until our ride came was torture.  We didn’t get caught, but we paid the price for our crime.  

I hadn’t thought of that escapade in years!

The mall sure isn’t what it used to be, and in many ways, it felt like I had opened a time capsule, that was mostly empty, except for the memories.  

I don’t know what will become of the mall.  I can’t imagine it coming back.  It’s a space that’s going to have to be completely rethought and repurposed, or eventually demolished.  Times change, and you just have to roll with them.