President Trump said last week that George Floyd was looking down from heaven and smiling over a rebounding economy. The self-described “cheerleader-in-chief” said the pandemic crisis is receding and our economy is set to take off like a rocket ship.
Well, I’m not so sure. I’m certainly not ready to knock back a cocktail of Clorox and hydroxychloroquine to celebrate. It seems to me Trump’s economic rocket ship blew up on the launching pad here in St. Louis last week.
First there was the news that the Crestwood Plaza mall site developer was throwing in the towel. A mountain of dirt will remain where once there was a 47-acre mall. St. Louis was further “mauled” by the bad news that the owner of four malls – two of them in our area – had defaulted on payments.
West County Center and South County Mall are in danger of going out of business. The pandemic has taken a toll on foot traffic and sale receipts. In a news business that has found more support from Main Street retailers than the malls, I suppose I should not shed too many tears. However, I get wistful and even weepy recalling fun times and fun stories out of these malls.
Crestwood’s favorite Santa Claus has always been one of my favorite interviews. No one has been rooting for a revival of the mall more than Santa Ted.
In 2016, Santa Ted told me: “It’s a bittersweet time to see the mall and the rubble. I was Santa at that mall for 13 years. I hope to be there again and ride in on a helicopter or motorcycle.”
Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane offered a cool interview in 2007 at the West County Center. She left me with two memorable observations:
— “I saw Cher with her butt hanging out on the aircraft carrier music video. She is able to pull it off. Most people can’t do that. Everybody has a mirror. Use it. If you’ve got a lot of cellulite and stuff flapping around, wear clothes.”
— “When we were young in the ’60s, we thought we were indestructible. We thought we could change the world with a lot of love and education. We didn’t reckon on how much fear is built into our DNA, and how that overcomes our brains.”
Sylvia Branzei, health educator and the author of the “Grossology” children’s book series, provided insights in 2004 on heartburn and acid reflux at South County Mall. My kids loved her books.
"How many of you have ever had a pukey burp?" the gross expert asked her South County audience. A scattering of hands went up with some hesitation.
"I know it's hard to admit," said Branzei. "I tried to handle it myself with anti-acid medications. I had them in my medicine cabinet, my purse, my office, even in my car's glove compartment. But you need to go to the doctor because it can lead to more serious conditions.”
The prospect of all these malls closing leaves me with some pukey burps. I am sure mall stores and mall owners all over the country are experiencing heartburn today.
Malls are important places to meet and to talk. It’s not just about shopping. I learned about malls as public forums in my media law classes at Mizzou J-School. Later, I imparted these lessons to my journalism students at Webster University.
I will miss discussing malls as meeting places as my college teaching comes to an end. In my media law classes, we discussed Supreme Court cases in which liberal justices ruled that First Amendment protest rights extend to mall galleries and colonnades.
The liberal justices argued that malls had replaced the town square for where America meets and airs its grievances. So, free speech in the mall had to be protected. Conservative justices came along and voided this judicial logic with the primacy of private property rights.
Property rights versus free speech rights? I see good arguments on both sides. It’s the kind of discussion I could see having on a bench some day with another retired senior in a revived Crestwood Plaza, after we both do some mall walking. That looks like a pipe dream right now. Is there a place to talk atop “Mount Crestwood,” where a mall once stood?