If you told me at seventeen that I�d be sentimental for a mall, I�d have biffed you in the nose.
Kate and I both grew up in the same part of the country — Whitford, Pennsylvania, about thirty miles west of Philadelphia in the Great Valley. We both remember trips to the Exton Mall as kids, where there was the old-style Gap with the rope-and-creosote Western theme, the “Baker’s Garden” restaurant with enormous exotic wicker egg chairs, and large fiberglass sculptures of abstract, brightly colored seals (Kate thinks they were dinosaurs) in the kid’s court for sliding on. It was a pretty cool mall at the time, and it’s since undergone a renovation to tear out all the dark brown seventies brick facing and put in blond wood and glass.
It’s a decent mall now, but it’s not near the top of the suburban mall pecking order. The King of Prussia mall has all the shiny stores: Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Nordstrom’s. Plymouth Meeting has all the outlets: Ikea, DKNY, and several running storefront-miles of others. The Exton mall is left with Things Remembered, selling cheaply engraved metal decanter hangtags, and Spencer Gifts, selling Fundies (“Underwear for two!”) and a small cardboard box marked “Mexican Horny Toad”, whose contents I’ll leave to your imagination (You’d be right.) Spencer’s is also where you go to get resin statues of bearded wizards holding crystal balls, every concievable variety of black light fixture, and the “Haulin’ Ass” poster. When I was ten, Spencer Gifts was like the older brother I never had, there to tell me lies about the Secret Mysteries of Adulthood.
So, while the Exton mall doesn’t have the best stuff, it’s the sentimental favorite. The local operators haven’t been priced out of the market in Exton. On weekends, you can see hot-rod kids from Coatesville at a rolling booth selling bright red car stereo speakers and SUV breather snorkels. And the life hasn’t been polished out of the store staff: the kids behind the counter at the Allied Hobby Shop have bright green hair and lip rings, and you better know how to tell a Gundam from the other kind of big-robot-fighting-thingy when you go in there. I don’t go in there, but I’m glad that their turf is sacred to big fighting robots, not to big Tiffany dollars.