I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time at the mall this Christmas season, and I’ve been amazed to see how many little knickknack stands, kiosks, and wagons there are in the main concourse these days. There seem to be at least five different cellphone booths (do they all make money?), several devoted to Beanie Babies, and various “put your smudgy digitized picture on a t-shirt/bib/necktie/cap” counters. More disturbing than this is the fact that now I regularly get accosted by these people who want to sell me mobile phone plans, back massage widgets, and flapping-wing airplanes. It’s as if our commercial culture has come full circle from the old noisy high street market to a quiet climate-controlled mall back to a noisy high street market.
It’s easy enough to see the economic incentive for the mall: that space is going to waste otherwise. Why not turn it into cash? I found a good article about this phenomenon in a Knoxville newspaper: Temporary retailers becoming holiday fixture. According to the article, rent for one of these wagons (in Tennessee) can run as high as $6000 per month (and if you want, I can set you up with a can’t-miss espresso cart for a bargain $12,999!).
From the mall’s point of view, it looks like a good deal. From my point of view, it feels like I’m applying lessons I’ve learned in the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Mexico: how do you avoid aggressive crap vendors without ruining your mood? I’m trying to think of it as a little tropical vacation in the middle of a New England winter.