Navigating through Malls

4 Oct

Although the homogeneity of most regional malls takes most of the spontaneity out of shopping (regional malls are those large enclosed malls with a couple of department stores on the ends that are connected by one or two hundred of the same stores seen in every mall), they add a comforting predictability — like the predictability that, no matter where you are in the world, you can say “McChicken, fries and Coke” and receive some familiar food, even when you don’t know the local language.

Here are some predictable components:

Department stores “Anchor” the mall and are therefore placed at the ends. The selection of department stores is likely to include a Sears or a Penney’s (if you can’t find a Sears or Penney’s, the mall probably focuses on one extreme of income or another, like Atlanta’s Lenox Square – Phipps’ Plaza complex, which caters towards the highest of high end customers).

Some malls no longer have anchors and either converted the space to something else (typical in Canadian malls) or left the space vacant (which is just downright creepy).

Food court Is usually located in a corner on the upper level, in a location where you’re forced to walk by every other store in the mall. The menu is likely to include (at a minimum) McDonald’s, Burger King or Wendy’s, Sbarro (or some other Italian food vendor), an ice cream or yogurt shop, an Asian food place (Chinese or Japanese) and a coffee place (more likely to be Coffee Beanery or Gloria Jean’s than Starbuck’s). If there’s a direct entrance to the parking lot, the entrance is at the point that’s least accessible to any of the main roads nearby.
Full-service restaurants (Almost always a chain, such as Cheesecake Factory and P. F. Chang’s, one of the more popular mall restaurants (same owner—even though operated separately), as well as local chains that aspire to national recognition like Legal Seafoods) are usually located near the mall entrance that’s most visible from, and accessible to, the main roads nearby.
Rest rooms Can be found in the following places: a dark, dingy corridor near the food court. They’re also available in the back of the outerwear departments and credit offices (or what used to be the credit offices) in department stores, in the back of full-service restaurants, and unavailable in all specialty stores (though most big box retailers provide them).
Most-likely-to-be-there specialty stores Include the Gap (though less so since their financial troubles began in 2005), the Limited, Structure, Aldo, and Claire’s. Otherwise, you can tell whom the mall wants to attract by the stores that locate there:

  • Malls that cater to upper-income households almost always include the following line-up of home stores: Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn to attract middle to upper-middle income customers; Crate & Barrel and Restoration Hardware to attract upper-middle and high-end customers. Clothing stores likely include Banana Republic, J Crew, and Pea in the Pod, designer emporia like Kenneth Cole, Ralph Lauren, and Armani Exchange, department stores like Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nieman Marcos, and specialty stores like Papyrus (cards) and Brookstone.
  • Malls that cater to households with more modest incomes usually include clothing stores like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and Burlington Coat Factory (who occasionally locate stores in regional malls), as well as Hit or Miss and Wilson’s Leather. Specialty stores likely include a Hallmark Shop and Things Remembered.
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