What the American mall has taught me about change


MikeKalasnik/Wikimedia Commons

The Monmouth Mall (pictured above), is expected to have portions of it redeveloped into an apartment complex.

Michael LaRocca, Opinion Editor

Since the beginning of COVID-19 and as I enrolled here at Quinnipiac University, I’ve learned how to be grateful for the person I am and the circumstances under which I have lived.

I have begun to notice that many places and activities that made my childhood so distinct and iconic are evolving, specifically the American mall. It would be stubborn of me to believe that nothing should change, but I cannot help but observe how different things are now.

Whether it be the decline of dining in at fast food restaurants in favor of delivery or my inability to relate to the children’s programming of today like I used to, I’m finally feeling the effects of my childhood fading away.

While those are two of the many changes I have endured, I can live with them. However, the one change I cannot live with is the decline of the American shopping mall. I understand that accepting change is a good thing, but why shouldn’t we be allowed to keep one thing we like the same? Even if the mall is not appreciated by the people of today, I reserve the right to hang on to it as hard as I can.

When one hears about malls in 2023, all that’s discussed is how they’re in rapid decline and they’re doomed shopping venues in the age of online shopping. Business Insider even estimated that there may be as few as 150 still standing nationwide by the year 2032.

With all this negativity surrounding the mall, I concluded that I grew up at the end of an era. I idolized it. I saw it as this huge utopia that my little brain could barely fathom.

The two malls I have frequented throughout my life are the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, New Jersey, and the Freehold Raceway Mall in Freehold, New Jersey.

I’ve lived through many unforgettable moments at these places. I remember eating Johnny Rockets at the Monmouth Mall with my grandparents, as well as seeing “Black Panther” with my friends there in high school. I went on my first-ever date at the Freehold Raceway Mall, and the merry-go-round in its food court will forever be a monument of my childhood.

Why would I want to let go of these places when they’ve given me so much?

As a youngster, going to these places used to be a treat, keeping the magic alive. As I got older, however, I was able to drive to these places more often, allowing me to fully analyze the state they are in and better understand them.

The Freehold Raceway Mall, miraculously, is still in pretty good shape. Whenever I take my 40-minute trek out there, I’m always pleased by how clean it is, how people are still visiting it and how there are still stores filling its outlets.

To me, it represents the final flicker of light coming from the candle that is the American Dream.

On the other hand, the Monmouth Mall is in  shambles. The aforementioned Johnny Rockets has been closed for years now and many of the storefronts I grew up visiting now lay vacant. To make things worse, crime spiked in the area surrounding the mall, causing the movie theater to be cut off from the mall for security reasons.

The state of the malls I grew up with puts me in a place I’ve never seen before. I can see the things I love simultaneously thriving and falling apart. One shows me why I’m still hanging on and the other shows me why I should let go.

Yet, I still visit both. I visit Freehold Raceway because of how timeless it is and I visit Monmouth despite how terrible it has become. They are two sides of the same coin, and I still plan on paying.

For me, the magic is still alive. Win or lose, I will still go to the mall. I understand that everything is changing. We live in a completely different world in 2023 than we did back in 2012.

I have never been the most receptive to change throughout my life, but I’m trying to get better. However, this is what I am hanging on to. I’m hanging onto the memories of my childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

Why would I ask someone to give away all the DVDs they grew up watching or take down all the posters in their childhood bedroom? That’s how I feel about these beautiful, nostalgic, abhorrently large buildings.

I don’t want to see these monuments of American capitalism fall, but if they do, I will stand with them until the very end.