My Life as a Mall: The Day the Music Died [As Told To Ryan Dixon]

A bi-weekly blog featuring the recollections of a soon-to-be demolished super regional mall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as told to Ryan Dixon.

It’s quiet now. Allegheny Energy has pulled the plug, sending the lights blinking into blindness. The music, which had been going steady for nearly 30 years ends abruptly. “In the name of love. One night in the name of—

The ever diminishing sound of shoppers over the last few years hadn’t bothered me because there was always the music. Weekdays, weekends and during holiday season extended hours. I’m going to miss Christmas carols the most, I think.

Even in the quiet of those long closing hours, when I was often the only one to hear it, the music still played through the entirety of my three levels, 1,290,000 square feet of gross leasable retail space, 180 potential storefronts and five major anchor spaces. (Not to brag, but no Pittsburgh mall had space for five anchors. When I first opened, it was JCPenney, Sears, Kaufmann’s, Horne’s and Gimbles. Haven’t heard of the last three? That’s okay. They’ve been gone, and mostly forgotten, for a long time now.)

During the past few years, rumors swirled that DiBarlto Industries had decided to tear only a part of me down and construct some sort of multi-use development. Their concept, from what I could gather, was to fill my missing bits with an assortment of apartments, major retailers and restaurants — the Cheescake Factory and American Apparel were supposedly very interested — and a vast community garden that would hold something called a “farmers market” every weekend. While I had wanted to stay intact, I still prefered amputation to total oblivion. But then the music went away and my true fate became undeniably grave.

Now, the parking lot is a potter’s field of exhumed pavement and dirt. Sometimes, I can convince myself that the unmistakable rumbling of bulldozers closing in is just the early rush of cars that served as the overture for so many Black Fridays.  But on those deliriously windy, snowy, rainy, freezing final Fridays of November, the engines always sputtered out, doors would swing open and conversations became underscored by footsteps moving toward my many entrances.

Merry-Go-Round or Chess King for the Michael Jackson red leather jacket?

Should we get the E.T. VHS at NRM or Suncoast?

Does Waldenbooks or B. Dalton have a better deal on The Celestine Prophecy?

Of course, no Black Friday discussion ever topped the desperate, fanatical tones found in the voices of parents focused on attaining each season’s hot toy. Remember the Cabbage Patch Kid riot in November of 1983 that made the cover of Newsweek? That was in my Circus World. Two fathers, equally angry that their wives had sent them on this hopeless adoption mission, reached for Geneva Gena at the same time and…

Well, let’s just say that after twenty minutes of sustained chaos, the store was covered with disemboweled Care Bear stuffing, stampeded My Little Ponies and the mutilated remains of Geneva Gena, who had simply yearned for a loving home, but became an innocent victim of two men’s overzealous holiday spirit.

Over a dozen unsuspecting shoppers found themselves with injuries after the riot and five others (including the two fathers) had overnight stays at Jefferson hospital. Big Mike had to close my east wing for three hours. Circus World didn’t open for the rest of the weekend and the store missed its projected revenue.  When it  reopened on Monday, “Norm” from corporate had taken the newly-fired Circus World manager’s place for the rest of the holiday shopping season.

While the Cabbage Patch Kid riot had seemed like an apocalyptic crisis at the time, I might have enjoyed the sheer absurdity of the proceedings if I had only known what kind of real crisis lurked in the future. In terms of revenue and sales, Friday, November 27, 1992 was my most successful Black Friday ever. And Saturday, November 28, 1992 was the worst day of my life. Almost twenty years have passed, but if I’m honest with myself, I became a dead mall the morning the police entered Happy Time Pizza.

But let’s wait a little while before we get to that, shall we? After all, I was built to be comfortable and inviting. I don’t want to start this blog off on the wrong foot by filling your head with the dark and nasty stuff right away (don’t worry, it’ll come). Besides, we barely know each other. Though I do hope that changes during the time I have left, whether it’s a few more days or hours, as I have so many stories to tell.

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Featured image credit: Scott Beveridge