- Written by Victor Block Victor Block
Every member of the Taylor family found something of interest and entertainment. Bob tried his hand at the miniature golf course and checked his accuracy throwing an axe at a target.
His wife, Evelyn, searched for the bald eagles that like to hang out along the nearby lake, and then took in a show at the comedy club. Their son, Roger, preferred to speed around the Go-Kart track and do his best to avoid getting hit on the bumper car ride.
The fact the Taylors found all of these activities at one place was unusual. What made it even more different was they were spending time at a shopping mall.
For decades, malls have been primarily for shopping and perhaps enjoying a snack at a restaurant. Today, they have become destinations of their own, where customers may spend time having fun as they spend their money.
The growth of suburbs and rise of the automobile culture in the mid-20th century launched an explosion of shopping malls away from inner cities and into the residential neighborhoods that sprung up around them. In the 1990s, close to 150 malls sprung up each year.
Then came online shopping. Malls that had been go-to places suddenly seemed out of date.
Hundreds have closed their doors in recent years, and professor Mark Cohen, a retail business specialist at the University of Columbia, predicts that, of the approximately 1,000 malls still operating, half will be gone within five to six years.
Rather than accepting this outlook without a fight, some mall owners have been combating the trend by adding new attractions that can appeal to people of all ages and many interests. That includes the Taylors.
They were hanging out at Destiny USA (destinyusa.com), a massive shopping, entertainment, and dining venue near Syracuse, New York. It welcomes more than 26 million guests each year and has its own ZIP code and onsite hotel.
In addition to the activities that appeal to the Taylors, it offers a bowling alley, laser tag, a science and technology attraction, an escape room, an interactive mystery theater, and an antique carousel constructed in 1909.
In an effort to reduce the impact of such an active infrastructure on the environment, Destiny USA follows a number of practices earning it Gold Certification for Leadership and Environmental Design, the largest commercial retail building in the world to be so honored.
The Mall of America in Twin Cities, Minnesota (mallofamerica.com), is also known for efforts to reduce waste and follow sustainable practices. These include growing 30,000 plants and 400 trees for air purification, having over a mile of skylights for passive solar energy, and recycling tons of food waste for local hog farmers.
Entertainment there includes a 27-ride theme park, a 1.3-million-gallon aquarium containing 10,000 sea creatures, and a flight simulation tour of the United States. People entering the Escape Game are challenged with getting out of prison and stealing back a famous painting from the thief who had pilfered it.
An aquarium is also a feature at American Dream in New Jersey (americandream.com). Its “City under the Sea” includes an underwater tunnel featuring some of New York City’s most famous landmarks.
LEGO fans love the Legoland Discovery Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (legolanddiscoverycenter.com), a veritable indoor LEGO playground. Visitors can jump on the Imagination Express for an interactive tour of a world inhabited by larger-than-life LEGO characters or participate in activities at the Build Challenge Arena.
Some malls offer pursuits geared to folks seeking a bit of physical activity. That’s true at The Galleria in Houston, Texas (simon.com/mall/the-galleria). “Polar Ice” is a full-size ice-skating rink, which in 1970 was the first built inside a mall. Nearby are swimming pools and a jogging track that runs around the roof.
Even more energetic activities challenge participants during Fitness Fridays at The Outlet Collection mall in Seattle, Washington (outletcollectionseattle.com). They offer an energetic dance experience, combining fitness with fun.
But that’s just for starters at this grouping of discount stores. Among other activities are occasional blood donation drives, hazardous-waste disposal collections, and celebrations of events like World Kindness Day, as well as recent recognition of Native American Heritage Month featuring displays by the local Muckleshoot tribe.
Some malls are well worth a visit for their architecture alone, and that includes The Arcade in Cleveland, Ohio (theclevelandarcade.com). Once dubbed the Crystal Palace, it was considered to be an architectural tour de force when it opened in 1890.
Other centers double as gardens and art galleries. Palm Court in Miami, Florida, is a plaza that incorporates native species of palm trees from Florida and the Caribbean into its landscape. Located in the city’s Design District (miamidesigndistrict.net), it’s lined with a collection of public art. The focus is the iconic geodesic dome, designed by the renowned architect Buckminster Fuller.
These are just a few of the many sites around the United States that continue to give new meaning to the words “shopping mall.”
After gallivanting around the world, Victor Block still retains the travel bug. He believes that travel is the best possible education. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Victor loves to explore new destinations and cultures, and his stories about them have won a number of writing awards.