Livin the American Dream

I’d like to start this reflection with a scene I observed at the Spotsylvania Town Center Mall on Friday afternoon. A young father was walking through the mall with his four children: one little girl in a stroller, one older girl of about 7, and two older boys who were about 9. One of the older boys was pushing the stroller when this family caught my eye. The little girl stopped in her tracks when she became hypnotized by the explosion of pink and sequins in the Club Libby Lu window display. With her eyes as wide as dinner plates, she yelped “DADDY! Can we go in there?!” as she pointed to Libby Lu. The father hesitated, glanced at the store, sighed and said “Uh, okay”. The two brothers groaned a loud “UGH!” as they dragged their feet into the store, still pushing their younger sister in the stoller and rolling their eyes.

This was only one of the scenes I observed on my trip to the mall last Friday afternoon, October 10th, at about 2:15. It was a beautiful day outside, with a sunny high of 75 degrees. It made me a little sad that people chose to be inside the mall on a day as beautiful as Friday was. The environment inside the mall was very controlled, with a comfortable temperature and good lighting. Benches and couches provided abundant resting space, while potted plants and soft jazz music added to the relaxing ambiance of the mall.

The shoppers were an interesting collection of people. I observed mostly young mothers pushing strollers in groups. Women seemed to be in pairs, while men were either alone or with their wife or girlfriend. I also saw a handful of mothers and daughters. Shoppers were strolling the mall with Starbucks cups, sodas, or other snacks in their hands. It was also interesting to see how often people ran into other people they knew, such as neighbors or classmates. The mall is not only a center of shopping, but also a more central community gathering place where you can meet with people you know.

The stores of the Spotsylvania Town Center appeal to mostly middle-class shoppers. Clothing and shoe stores such as New York and Company, Footlocker, Hot Topic, Pac Sun, and American Eagle sell moderately priced goods that most middle-class families can afford. I also observed an abundance of jewelry stores, such as Shaw’s, Kay’s, Helzberg, and Zales. This may sound snobby, but even these jewelry stores sell jewelry that most people can afford on a “reasonable” splurge. Tiffany’s and Cartier have not set up shop in Spotsylvania. Specialty stores such as Teavana, Sunglass Hut, Guitar Center and Bath and Body Works provide shoppers with various gift ideas. Kiosks selling sunglasses, purses, and hair extensions are also scattered throughout the mall. Department stores such as JC Penny, Sears, Macy’s and Belk provide shoppers with dependable products from a name that they have been buying from for years. Also, there are various ways for shoppers to refuel during their afternoon of shopping. A food court, Starbucks, and other specialty stands selling cookies, pretzels, candy, cinnamon buns, and ice cream can be found in every direction.

I thought it was interesting to see how many of the gimmicks we discussed in class were used in the Spotsylvania Mall. A fashion show just like the one we saw in Hillsdale in 1957 was being set up for the holiday weekend. Also, a play park was situated in the middle of the mall, where tired parents can unleash their restless children and put up their feet for a few minutes. I also thought it was interesting to observe the democratic or exclusive feel a store was trying to portray, as discussed in Fiske’s article.  The more “democratic” stores such as JC Penny’s had wide entrances that invited everyone inside. The more “exclusive” stores such as American Eagle or Hollister had smaller doors that shoppers must have confidence to enter (and by confidence, I mean a fat wallet).

As a teenager, I used to go to the mall with my girlfriends all the time. Our parents would drop us off in their mini-vans and we’d hang out, spending our babysitting money, for the entire afternoon. When you are 14, you don’t have many options of where to spend your time or money, which is why the mall is so flooded with teenagers. The mall is a controlled, generally safe environment that people can feel safe in. Also, with so many options for food, clothing, and other activities, you can spend hours strolling around! As a broke college student, I don’t hang out at the mall too much these days. I’ve tried to cut back my spending as much as possible, and the purpose of going to the mall is to spend money. Also, shopping has become a more social event more me. If I really need something, I will run out and get it as quickly as possible. But if my friend calls me up and we have nothing better to do, we will stroll around Tyson’s or another outdoor town center just to pass the time. It is interesting to see how shopping doesn’t always have to do with getting what you truly need. After my Friday trip, I have concluded that the Spotsylvania Town Center is not only a center of consumption, but a community center as well. People come to pass the time, run into people they know, eat food, but above all, spend their money.


20 Responses to “Fieldwork at Spotsylvania Town Center”

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