Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Signs of Barton Creek Mall

The Barton Creek Mall is a large edifice that sits on a sea of concrete asphalt. The entire area is completely engulfed by a two-way road. Between the road and the building is an expansive parking lot, which is essentially a painted white grid. Most of the rows of parking spaces are one way, indicated by large arrows on the ends pointing in or out. The outer road has a few connecting roads that allow drivers to get to an inner road that circulates the main building at a much closer radius. It is 11 am on a weekday and the lot is empty with the exception of small clusters of cars near the main entrances. The cars that are arriving rarely use the connecting roads and don’t drive through the parking lot in an organized fashion. A white van makes a beeline from the outer road to the closest spot that is available. Soon after, a blue car pulls out of his space next to a handicapped spot and drives against the intended direction of the row as he exits the vicinity. Along the inner road in front of one of the main entrances, a black car is stopped against the curb and a man is taking a computer box out. In front of the black car, a white utility van is parked and there is nobody inside. Driving along the road, a small silver car swerves around the parked cars.

    Along the outer walls of the mall, there are large signs that are readable from a distance. Some entrances have signs with “Barton Creek Square Mall” above them. Dillard’s, JCPenney, Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Sears each have signs above their respective entrances with their respective names. On an outer wall, near one of the general entryways, there is a sign for California Pizza Kitchen, just above a patio with tables and chairs. There are four people eating at one of the tables. The main entrance next to it has a tall brown rectangular sign with mall’s name inscribed on it. The sign is high above a covered walkway that leads from the inner road to a group of glass doors. Alongside the walkway there is a fountain that spills over stacked stones behind plants that sit in a low concrete wall. There are four young boys and two young girls sitting along the edge of the concrete wall as a woman paces in front of them on her cell phone. Moments after, a black SUV drives up and the woman directs the small children into the car. A man with a suit walks from the parking lot and crosses the road. The black SUV drives off after the man completely reaches the sidewalk. Before the man in the suit goes into the mall, he holds the door for a woman with pink bags. The woman thanks him just before marching through the walkway to the parking lot. The people sitting on the patio are still there but are joined by a couple of older women.

         The inside of the mall is basically two planes of open space that are stacked together and walled in by a variety of stores, restaurants, and service shops. Stairs, escalators, and an elevator create movement between the two levels. On the upper level, there are railed in areas that give a view to the lower level. The building and the core walking area are shaped in a cross where the center is defined by a large opening with escalators going up and down. The second level has an information desk with staff and a mall directory with a map. There is a security guard pacing the area with a straight face. From the central escalator there are four directions that can be taken. There are also four signs hanging from the ceiling on both levels around the escalators, indicating the department store that is visibly at the end of each hallway. An older woman stands in front of the mall directory for a long time, steps away, and looks around. She comes back to the directory and then turns around to look behind her. She wanders off down the direction leading to Sears. Like all the department stores, Sears occupies both levels of space and on each it has a sign outside of its entrance. The sign for Sears on the first level says “Sears” but on the upper level it says “ears”. There are men walking in front of Sears with a large letter “S” containing the same blue double lined form as the ”Sears” logo. The old woman that was standing at the mall directory is walking away from “ears” mumbling and shaking her head.  

         The hub area surrounding the escalators, information booth, and mall directory have a clear view into stores that are on or near the corner of the crossing walkways. Going up the escalators, the first store that appears on the second level has walls of glass and an entryway framed by a brown stone textured material. The metal sign on top of the entrance says “Aveda” in clean simple shapes. On the right side of the Aveda storefront there is a view of the shelves inside, organized with lines of products. The left side has nothing against the window but large color coordinated advertisements with close-up images of plants, water, and people, are stretched across the back walls, above tables of more merchandise. An earthy scent that is very subtle from outside the entry to Aveda gets only a bit stronger when entering. There are two women inside with black-buttoned shirts and khaki pants. One of them offers tea to a short woman walking in and the other is speaking to an older woman about a bottle that she is holding. To the left there are sturdy dark wood stools sitting at a table, which has a row of dark brown glass bottles and small squares of thick white paper sitting on top. Beyond the table are two registers sitting behind a tall wooden stand. In the corner furthest from the front, there is a sink and a mirror with a shelf full of spray bottles labeled “tester.” One of the women in black and khaki walks behind the register while the older woman carries two bottles to the counter in front of the register. The shelves that are pushed against one of the windows are just as organized from the inside as they are from the outside. There are signs below each row of merchandise indicating different scents of perfume, flavors of tea and types of lotion. The older woman is now carrying a bag out while being thanked by both of the black shirted women.

         On either side of Aveda there are two stores with advertisements stretching across almost the entire glass window. The store to the right has a glass wall facing the walkway with a thin flat black framing. Thick white letters spelling “bebe” are followed by thinner red letters spelling “sport” and illuminated on the frame over the entryway in all caps. On either side of the entrance, behind the glass, two images of the same woman are displayed five times bigger than the average human scale. She is wearing sportswear that hugs her figure and is posed in a seductive way. The store inside consists of white floors, walls, and hanging racks that are all illuminated by bright white lights. The merchandise is organized on racks and shelves around the perimeter of the area and there is a wide space from the entryway to a bright white register stand. The store to the left of Aveda has two walls of glass window that stretch into the food court. Across the largest window of the store hangs an expansive image of a slender girl sitting in a field, dressed in tight jeans and tank top . Directly above the entrance, a metallic sign has tall sharp letters that say “AIX Armani Exchange” in black. The store is four times the size of Aveda and three times the size of Bebe Sport. The only person inside is a young man folding jeans in a back corner. A woman walks in and the young man doesn’t say anything to her. The woman walks out.

          Exiting the building the sun's heat is a drastic change to the cool interior environment and the open air contrasts greatly with the dull rumble of activity that is constantly reverberating through the air in the mall. A security guard is smoking under the shade created by the entrance’s covered walkway. An older man and toddler boy walk across the inner street hand in hand. The security guard puts out her cigarette, holds the door for the pair and follows in after them.


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