Thursday, September 25, 2008

Barton Creek Square: Mall Behavior

Tuesday, September 16, 2008, 8:00 – 9:00 PM

I enter the mall at Entrance B by the AMC 14 Theater which a Spencer’s novelty gift shop, a Cinnabon cinnamon bun café, and a Sushi Boba bubble tea place flanks. A man and woman with a little girl in between them exits as I step in and see that the mall is having a slow week night.

Another similar grouping passes by Toy Zone, a cart selling little robotic animals, and the toddler in the stroller seems interested while the adults continue pushing forwards toward Old Navy. I pass by the cart, too, and there are two others on both sides of it; one called Season Max (candles) and the other named Body Shack (body jewelry). The trio of carts looks identical in form, just different in content. Their signs, plain and simple with black text, hang vertically on a post.

About ten yards away is another formation of three carts, a healthy distance away from the seating area in front of JCPenney. These three are called Wind Spinners, Cellphone Accessories, and His –N– Hers, and they sell wind chimes, phone accessories, and jewelry respectively. From a distance, they look like the other set with their drab signs. The carts appear open for business with their lights on, but the only salesperson in the area puts his head down at Cellphone Accessories, resting it on his arms as if he wants to take a nap. A man carrying an infant girl walks by, taking a look at the merchandise and then at the salesperson who then perks up just in case the man wants to buy something. The man doesn’t.

I continue to the seating area, and the lack of shoppers makes the space feel open and almost serene. It’s not a battle or a traffic jam to get from point A to point B. I pass by the little carts competing with brand name stores again and wonder how much they must lose from shoplifting on crowded days since they have all open sides. It feels like it would be too easy to swipe a pair of sunglasses from one side of the cart as a salesgirl assists an interested customer. Then again, it might be easy to do it tonight since many of the salespeople seem MIA or too absorbed with watching YouTube on their laptops by the register. Riding the escalator up, it’s even easier to notice the abundance of space and the emptiness of life in the little court below. I’m the only one using the escalator, and it feels a little bit surreal to not have a cluster of people in front of and behind me like on a busy day. On the second level, I can look down to monitor the space below; better yet, I can see many more sad carts and spaced out salespeople waiting for closing time.

Spa-like treatment spots in the mall are strange, though. If I wanted to, I could go get a back rub or a foot massage right in front of Dillard’s on the first floor out in the open. That might not be a bad idea if I just wanted to stay in one spot to observe. But the massage chairs are already full with men getting foot rubs and back rubs while little children chase each other around in the empty space in front of Dillard’s. There’s even a teeth whitening station; anyone can walk by, stop, and watch you receive the procedure. The woman manning the post there has the expression on her face that makes it look like she doesn’t want to whiten your teeth; she appears more interested in reading her gossip magazine. Those personal kinds of spots really make Barton Square seem like it has everything you might need to feel more relaxed and beautiful, even if it means that others get to witness your transformation on the spot.

The department stores, like Macy’s and JCPenney, have the larger group of seating areas on both levels. Women’s stores also have seating in front of them, like Victoria’s Secret that sells lingerie, the Limited, and Chico’s – both of which sell women’s clothes. These smaller stores only have the wooden benches, though, not lush sofas and pillows set on top of rugs. I near Dillard’s but pause by Aeropostale, a teen clothing store, right after Sephora. The strong scents of cologne and perfume waft out of the store and disperse, and the inside is brightly lit with white flooring and shelves, sort of like the Mac store of perfume and cosmetics. Looking at Aeropostale, I try to hide a smile – Nancy Hedrick, the mall manager, did not lying when she said people sit on plants all the time. A man with a young boy on his lap sits on the ledge of a giant pot of a plant, perching really, as he waits for somebody in the store. At his feet lay many shopping bags. While I turn away to document the scene, a security guard passes me and heads straight for the man and his son – they stand too far away for me to hear the words exchange.

When I look back, the man nods and slides off the plant pot’s edge, ushering the little boy off his lap, and the security guard leaves. Irate, he yells a female name that sounds Spanish and sends the little boy in to make the woman or girl inside hurry. I don’t think he wanted to sit on the plant, though – he just didn’t have a bench to use. Seeing the vacant space by Dillard’s, I decide to turn away to see the other wing of the mall where Nordstrom awaits; this time, I easily take notice of another man and boy in front of Sephora on my way. They’re leaning against the railing, unfortunate to not have a big potted plant nearby. The pair doesn’t have to wait very long, though, because two teenaged girls exit the bright store and rejoin the man and boy; they head off towards Aeropostale.

My awareness for people waiting outside of a store increases as I approach Victoria’s Secret. There is a single bench in front of the lingerie store, but there is already a couple sitting on it. That forces two unrelated men to wait against the steely comfort of the handrails overlooking the first floor. Perhaps they feel awkward to be in the vicinity of young women and racy underwear, or they simply have no desire to be at the mall in the first place. They do look bored, eyes vacant; the older man out of two suddenly comes to life as a woman exits the store without a bag and takes his arm. She seemingly hauls him towards another store in the direction of Dillard’s. I wonder what happens when the mall is actually bustling and if a few more benches will appear by the time the holidays roll around. At least right now, it’s a Tuesday night, close to closing.

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