It's impossible for me to remember any of my childhood growing up in Briargate without including the Chapel Hills Mall. It was the hub around which the neighborhood rotated, and I with it for some 25 years, working and living near the mall the whole time. So when I was asked by my editors to spend a little time there this holiday season and see what was what, I was excited. After all, who doesn't love revisiting old haunts through new eyes? And how bad could it be hanging out with Orange Julius and Sbarro all day?
Well, those things are gone, and so is much of what made the mall a childhood favorite. There's still an energy to the place, but it doesn't feel essential anymore. It now seems like a place where people go to see the stuff in person that they want to go home and buy online. It's being able to touch your stuff first that's becoming the novelty, and all that means is you need a place to do it — any place.
You have to give the place credit for continuing to try. Free holiday concerts fill the calendar. It also recently placed a story with the Gazette, pitching hard on Nov. 24: "When shopping with kids, an indoor mall offers an ideal, climate-controlled environment for indoor play that helps break up the day."
I'm completely open to a new generation making the Chapel Hills Mall — with its empty storefronts and tiny food court — part of its lore. Honestly, I hope that they have. There are locals in that mall trying to make it just like everywhere else, and I would be delighted for them to succeed. But it doesn't look good.