In a recent Star Tribune article about the troubles facing the Burnsville mall, a commentator noted that some investors are considering a novel idea to bring back the malls: Charge $20 to get in.
What? you say. Don't worry! It turns into a gift card when you walk inside. This is quite smart, and let's try some other versions of the idea.
The Star Trib is automatically delivered to everyone, you are billed weekly, and if you want to opt out you have to come downtown, climb 12 floors to the office, and submit your request by arranging toothpicks to form the words "Cancel my subscription."
At the State Fair, everyone who comes through the gate is struck hard on the left foot with a mallet, but this entitles you to sit at any bench you wish when walking becomes difficult.
Movie theaters, anxious to lure back skittish patrons, will spray adhesive on the floors, but will sell you little silicone-coated booties for $9.
Cemeteries have entrance fees for people visiting graves, but you can pick up whatever flowers you find on the way out.
You can imagine the thinking process behind this idea: People pay money to shop at Costco, so why not at the mall? Because Costco has deli platters to serve 48 people and industrial-sized drums of mayo, as well as alcoholic substances, tires and books. Malls, at present, have pants. And they don't have your size.
OK, that's not entirely fair. They will see if another store has your size. This is why I like the mall: The last time I bought pants — being a man, this was in 2017 — the clerk moved heaven and/or Earth to get my pants from a store on the other side of the metro, and I got to try them on to see if they fit. You order pants online that don't fit, and you have a mental picture of yourself printing off a bar code and going to the UPS store, which is like being served a restaurant meal you don't like and having to return the steak to the slaughterhouse.
Malls are social places. Or at least they were. Once upon a time, I walked into the Apple Store, checked out the new products and then put them back. I looked at things I had not intended to purchase. Children played at the pacification centers set up to keep them amused while the parent did some business. But the last time I went, the store was reduced to a few booths, like tellers' windows. You picked up the thing you had bought online — which felt archaic, a sop tossed to the old-school shoppers. We could have brought it to your house, dude, why do you need to come here?
I don't know. Change of scenery, human interaction? Same reason I don't say good night to my wife on a Zoom call?
I know I should have all the answers because I am a newspaper columnist, and we are uniquely qualified to judge everything and offer obvious solutions that those morons in charge can't see. But I don't know the answer to the Great Mall Decline, except "whatever Rosedale is doing, do that."
Some malls are doomed, and that's a loss.
But we'll get over it. I miss shaking hands, too, but I'll get over that, too. Say, there's an idea: The mall is free, but the greeter will shake your hand for a sawbuck. Might be enough to keep them afloat.
firstname.lastname@example.org • Twitter: @Lileks