Her husband loves walking at the mall, Anderson says. Hes met so many different types of people. You cant do this on a computer.
That is the general reaction from shoppers at the mall. They want to get out of the house, meet people, see something. Another of Sonia-Wallaces subjects has just come off a five-day silent retreat. She wanted some Dippin Dots [the self-styled ice cream of the future], he laughs.
Mall of Americas celebrations arent over yet but the team is already hard at work on Christmas. Planning for the holiday starts in February. The mall has sackfuls of Santas: theres a Santa who knows sign language, and a Santa by appointment for people who dont want to wait. We have to provide an experience that is worth getting out for. Attention to detail is everything, he says.
Theres a goofy, good natured naffness to the Mall of America. Its staff loves breaking Guinness records and the mall is planning the worlds largest gathering of people wearing conical (birthday) hats for August. The mall was host to a number of other record breakers, including the worlds largest handbell choir.
In a space this large, something needs to be happening. And those happenings keep people coming back, said Grap. The mall gets more than a million visitors each year from Chicago a 90-minute flight away. They can get anything you can get here in Chicago, except the experience, he says.
Mall of America is a lot of things to a lot of people. Its a glimpse of the future, a vision of the past, a safe space, a censorious enemy of free speech that took out restraining orders to censor protests by the Black Lives Matter movement. It is also one of the reasons that Americas malls are dying. A Wells Fargo study of dead malls found that competition from newer malls was the most common cause of closures.
With competition so fierce, retailers want to stick with the winners and will soon dump, or avoid, what looks like a failing mall.
Michael Sedlacek is the owner of Worker Bee, a group of beekeepers and artisanal skincare formulators started in a small space in downtown Minneapolis. Last year, they took the plunge and opened a store in the mall. The shop has a raw-honey-tasting bar with a golden rainbow of different styles. Theres firewood honey from Yukon, dandelion honey from Quebec, knotweed from Pennsylvania.
We could do this online but people respond differently here, he says. I had someone in recently who said: This honey reminds me of my childhood in Eastern China … Its a lot more personal.
But nor is it for the faint hearted. The store is in operation 12 hours a day all but three days of the year. Sedlacek declined to say what he pays in rent for his 600ft-store but does say he cant imagine doing it anywhere else. We need a lot of people to make a lot of small purchases to survive, he says.
You have to be realistic. The internet has changed business so much. Buyers are confused right now. Half of them want to sit on the couch and get everything delivered and the other half want to go out and taste some weird honey that tastes like marshmallow, something they have never tried before.
While confusion reigns, Sedlacek is probably best staying where he is. Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School and a former senior retail executive at Sears and the Gap, thinks the Mall of America will survive the great retail apocalypse but he still expects an epochal reshaping of the landscape.
Customers will always want to physically shop ; the internet is not going to eliminate brick and mortar by any means, he says. That said, most of Americas malls will close, he predicts.
When a specialty store goes bankrupt or closes in the Mall of America, the customer doesnt notice it because the mall is able to lease the space quickly. Smaller malls start to look increasingly like an empty restaurant and customers start to avoid them. They not only have less to offer; they also look effectively abandoned, he says.
Bigger malls have always cannibalized their lesser neighbors but the shift to internet shopping is fundamentally rewiring retail, he says. It has hollowed out these spaces in the same way that these spaces hollowed out downtown retailing in the 1960s, 70 and 80s. The cycle is running its course once again.
That shift is likely to have a profound impact on the US economy. The retail industry is the largest private employer in the US, according to a study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the National Retail Federation, supporting some 42m jobs directly and indirectly.
The death of Americas malls may not affect cities in the same way that their birth did, destroying many of the countrys downtowns. But the shift from brick-and-mortar stores is already reshaping the employment market. Just as Macys, Sears and co used to anchor US malls, retail employment has been a solid anchor for the jobs market, generating on average 200,000 jobs per year in the 2014-6 period. The retail industry has lost an average of 9,000 jobs a month this year, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, compared with average monthly job gains of 17,000 last year. In a recent report analysing the data for January to May, Robin Brooks, chief economist of the International Institute of Finance, said the sector was on course to lose 110,000 jobs on an annualized basis.
Coal mining, an industry championed by president Donald Trump, employs about 80,000 people. Perhaps he should be campaigning for mall workers.
America will probably never lose its appetite for shopping: There is no shortage of customers. Human beings have retained the gene that means that we need to acquire things we dont really need, says Cohen.
Years from now the Mall of America will still be standing, but the future of the malls of America looks far less certain.