The New Mall Culture (And Tips for Surviving It)

Changing fashion trends and the rise of online retailers has changed malls from the malls we grew up seeing depicted in 90s teen movies. Despite major rebranding efforts from wildly popular malls from the 90s and 00s, stores like Delia’s and Abercrombie & Fitch seem to have missed the mark with teens today. This year, Delia’s closed all its stores and Gap announced its plans to reduce their number of stores by 175. It seems teens would rather shop at thrift stores and Forever 21 than buy a shirt branded with the Gap or Abercrombie & Fitch logo. American retailers appear to be struggling to maintain steady business as fashion trends and methods of shopping drastically change.

As an employee of the same mall on the border of New Hampshire and Massachusetts for the past four years, I have seen the decline in foot traffic. Even with the allure of no sales tax just over the New Hampshire border, malls seem to have transformed from suburban gathering places on weekends to now being the destination for sporadic trips at best. I have gone from working in a children’s clothing store where it seemed like my main job was to keep kids under control to now working in a high end women’s clothing store, where a pair of pants cost more than what I make in a day, and my main job is to entertain bored housewives with small talk.

Tips for surviving retail employment:

  • Make friends with employees at the other stores. It can lead to discounts and insider scoop on upcoming sales.
  • Similarly, befriend the employees of food stands and food court restaurants in order to receive discounts. (For me, I know becoming friendly with the people at the pretzel place has worked in my favor.)
  • Bring a book to make it through the lulls when no one in the store is intellectually stimulating.
  • Turn the bizarre coworker and customer encounters into inspiration to further creative projects.
  • If not inspiration for writing, at least let them become funny anecdotes to tell your friends.
  • Embrace the diversity of stores within the mall, as well as the diversity of the different employees that work at each store. It can lead to a very eclectic environment.
  • Learn all you can from working at a supposedly “dead end retail job,” because customer service skills look great on a resume. (Not sure how to do this? Check out my article about it here.)

American brand stores, such as Gap, J. Crew, and Abercrombie & Fitch, have reported slumping sales. Instead, consumers are spending their money at foreign-owned, fast-fashioned retailers, such as H&M and Zara. It seems American malls filled with American stores may be on the decline without a lot of hope to make a rebound. Only time will tell.

Even though working at a mall has had it ups and down, from the larger than usual paychecks after working long holiday hours to the irate customers who are more full of self-loathing than anger towards the store, I will always hold on to a bit of nostalgia towards the suburban American mall. After all, it provided me with employment throughout my teen years and bizarre inspiration for countless years to come.

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