Something I’ve wanted to do since we got back to Phoenix two and a half years ago was pay a visit Metrocenter mall to see how it’s changed over the past thirty-five years, but it seemed there were always more important tasks to attend to when we were in the area and I never seemed to get around to it.
Once upon a time this was the happening place in the (then) northwest valley. It opened my sophomore year in high school and I was immediately entranced by it’s futuristic, foward-looking architecture. Over the years it became one of my favorite hangouts, suppling clothing, music, sundries, and even an occasional fleeting lascivious encounter. I worked at two stores there: Diamonds (later to become Dillards) and Broadway Southwest. I bought Village People’s Macho Man and Michael Zager’s Life’s a Party at Musicland there the day they came out. My friend and great unrequited love Steve Golden worked at the Jox store. Needless to say, the mall holds many memories, so it was very sad indeed today when I finally had the time to stop see what had become of the place that played such a big part of my early adult life.
I knew that the mall was dying, but was unprepared for just how far gone the place was. Of the original 1970s anchors (Sears, Rhodes, Broadway Southwest, Diamonds and Goldwaters), only Sears and Diamonds/Dillards remained open. Broadway Southwest was demolished during the last two years to make way for a Walmart; the other stores (having long since changed corporate hands and branding several times) are now completely boarded up.
Vast stretches of the smaller stores are closed completely. When I was there at 10:30 am today, the few remaining stores that were still in business were all closed until noon. There were at most 50 people in the mall and four of those were extremely bored-looking security guards who couldn’t even be bothered to enforce the “no photography” edict I was so blatantly violating. Maybe it gets more traffic after 12 pm, but considering the number of stores that are outright out of business, I doubt it.
I made my way to the Food Court, a place that was once so vibrant you could be assured of waiting in line no matter which vendor you chose. When the mall first opened, the court overlooked a lower-level ice rink, and sported a bar that was built inside (or at least resembled) an aircraft fuselage that hung over the edge of the upper level and looked down on the ice rink. The ice rink and the bar were removed in early 90s, so I wasn’t surprised to see them gone. But I was a little surprised to see just how vacant the rest of the food court had become.
So another part of my young adulthood has died. This seems to be more and more common the older I get, and I suspect—is the same for every other person on the planet.
What surprises me the most about this (and the fact that Paradise Valley Mall seems to be suffering the same fate) is twofold. Firstly, the stores and restaurants on the ring surrounding the mall are booming. Secondly, “mall death” doesn’t seem to be the case in Denver. Denver malls are still alive and vibrant community gathering places. So what’s happening in Phoenix that the malls are rotting from the inside out?