I grew up going to the Oxford Valley Mall. It was a hangout spot for us middle-school kids, and we loitered there for hours without ever actually shopping. I dyed my hair with Manic Panic from Hot Topic in the ladies bathroom at the food court. I bought my first CD at The Wall there (Blind Melon, the one with the bee girl on the front). I bought my weight in ounces of Juniper Breeze and Cucumber Melon body lotion. I held hands with my loser boyfriend while we circled laps around the Gap and Limited Too. It was all very romantic. And now it’s a big steaming heap of crap.
We once had a Strawbridge & Clothier. Back when Strawbridge existed. (RIP, Strawbridge. I miss you still.) We had a reasonably good Macy’s. Now we have a crappy dollar store, a creepy “Oriental Therapy and Massage” place, a store called USA Blues and a vast boarded-up space that once was Strawbridge’s and then, for about 37 seconds, a Boscov’s. Now it’s empty. But, hey! Sometimes there are huge trampolines in front of the space where kids can strap themselves to big bungee cords and be hurled into the air!
I live about five minutes away from the Oxford Valley Mall. It’s where I go to grab my Clinique 3-step skincare routine. (Yes, this is a holdover from the days when I cut my own bangs and dyed my hair with Manic Panic at the mall. But it works, so I shall use it until my skin falls off.) And … that’s about it. I know where to park—right in front of the lower level of Macy’s, by the shoe department—so that I only have to dip my toe into the mall. I can be in and out in less than six minutes. I know this because sometimes I make my husband idle in the car in front of the entrance so that it’s more of a drive-by shop than an actual trip. We time it, and when I jump in the car I feel as if there must be zombies chasing me out the door. We’re at post-apocalyptic levels of abandonment here.
And why would I want to spend any more time there? It’s dirty. It’s depressing. I wonder if it’s always been this bad. Did I not realize I was hanging out in a cesspool for all those years? The quality of stores has gone down, way down, and I wonder how Coach—everyone’s favorite gateway to luxury—manages to exist there. Or even Banana Republic. The stores that remain need a facelift, too. Dressing rooms are in desperate need of a paint job, racks are horrifically disorganized, and everyone just looks like they want to go home. Even the clothes, which sag limply from hangers and hang off the arms of chipped mannequins that look like they’re from about 1987. But not the teenagers. They want to be there. They still walk around holding hands. I wonder if they still buy Juniper Breeze.
Sometimes I’ll drive out to the Willow Grove Mall. They’ve at least got a Bloomingdale’s. And the Banana Republic and Gap feel cleaner there, less like you’re shopping every other Gap’s castoffs. King of Prussia, though, that’s a day trip for me. And when I just need a bottle of Dramatically Different Moisturizer, well, Oxford Valley will just have to do. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t hope for better. But after even Boscov’s failed, I wonder what could possibly thrive there. Is it only a matter of time before we find the mall here? What really separates the Oxford Valley Mall from, say, a Target? Target has a great home section, a terrific card selection, and sometimes cute clothes. Hell, Target even has a mini food court. And a Starbucks that’s blissfully free of 13-year-olds ordering Chocolate Mocha Frappucinos with Extra Whipped Cream.
If only Target started carrying Clinique.