An homage to Ohio's dying—and dead—malls

As a 13-year-old in suburban Dayton, Ohio, the Salem Mall was a universe of popular culture all under one roof. A typical Saturday afternoon in the early ’90s was spent strategically mapping my limited time there, zipping through the neon-lit plazas, up the escalators to the cavernous arcade adjacent the food court, or to Camelot Records to score the latest Prince cassingle. The Salem Mall was a shrine to consumerism and an adolescent social utopia.

Instead of saving my meager income as a paperboy, I drained it on Air Jordans from Foot Locker, copies of MAD Magazine at Waldenbooks, G.I. Joe characters in Kay Bee Toys and cheesesteaks from Charley’s. That haze of memories, most pointedly the decade between 1985 and 1995, though steeped in capitalist consumption and blatant commercialization, shaped how I interacted with the world at large. If I reach far enough into my psyche, I can still smell the hot pretzels at the Hills lunch counter and see my reflection in the obsidian facade of the Chess King. For better or for worse, I’m a child of the mall generation.

Sadly, the Salem Mall is no more, razed in 2006 to make way for, ironically, more shopping. Same goes for many of the celebrated landmarks of my youth. I’d pay good money to be transported back to a vintage ShowBiz Pizza Place, complete with a Rock-afire Explosion performance. Sure, the “mall” as a concept still lives in sprawling, open-air configurations, but they’re all designed with the same bland aesthetics and all stocked with the same big-box chains. They lack the personality and the indulgent signifiers that defined the biosphere-esque realms of Columbus’ City Center or Akron’s Rolling Acres Mall, the latter of which became an iconic symbol of a bygone era, shuttered and left to rot.

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