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Books | Texas History

Shopping Mall

By Matthew Newton

(New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017)
Object Lessons Series. Paperback,
Pages 176. $14.95.
ISBN: 978-1-5013-1482-7.


Review by Dr. Kirk Bane

October 1, 2018
I grew up in the 1970s and early 1980s as a mallrat, spending countless hours in such shopping centers as Hulen Mall in Fort Worth, Town East Mall in Mesquite, Lake Air Mall in Waco, Highland Mall in Austin, Manor East Mall in Bryan, and Post Oak Mall in College Station. I have fond memories of hanging out with family and friends and frequenting my favorite stores, including B. Dalton Bookseller, Orange Julius, Karmelkorn, Waldenbooks, and Musicland, where each week I excitedly purchased the latest 45 rpm singles.

As a lover of shopping centers, I enthusiastically read Matthew Newton's Shopping Mall, a recent addition to Bloomsbury Academic's terrific Object Lessons Series. An Associate Editor at Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Newton has produced a perceptive, thought provoking rumination on the mall and its place in American culture. Along the way, he discusses the importance of Monroeville Mall, a suburban Pittsburgh shopping center, in his life. Readers interested in history, economics, pop culture, and memoirs will enjoy Newton's engaging volume.

Shopping malls initially appeared in this country during the mid-1950s, and their popularity peaked in the late 1980s. Today, of course, malls are struggling to survive, and many, known as ghost malls, have been shuttered. Online shopping and other factors have taken a heavy toll. "No mall," Newton poignantly observes, "is forever; their lifespan, like our own, is finite." The author populates his study with many intriguing individuals, including Victor Gruen, "forefather of the American shopping mall"; filmmaker George A. Romero, who skewered "the nation's burgeoning shop-till-you-drop culture" in his 1978 zombie picture Dawn of the Dead; and teen singing sensation Tiffany, known for her popular "The Beautiful You: Celebrating The Good Life Shopping Mall Tour '87." The mall, Newton contends, is an important "symbol-for better or worse-of America's optimism, and American excess too."

The author has done his research. Among the books he references are Victor Gruen and Larry Smith, Shopping Towns USA: The Planning of Shopping Centers (1960); William Severini Kowinski, The Malling of America: An Inside Look at the Great Consumer Paradise (1985); and Mall Maker: Victor Gruen, Architect of an American Dream (2004), by M. Jeffrey Hardwick.

"Attention all shoppers/it's cancellation day/yes the big adios/is just a few hours away/it's last call/to do your shopping/at the last mall." - Steely Dan, "The Last Mall" (2003)


Dr. Kirk Bane,
Book Review Editor,
Central Texas Studies
More
Reviews by Dr. Kirk Bane

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