One of the most iconic lines of Mean Girls may not have happened, had the movie been written in the past decade instead of the early aughts. Regina George’s famous utterance, “Get in, loser—we’re going shopping,” might have prompted people to wonder, uh, where? Target? (To quote another cinematic teen shopaholic: As if!)
We’re talking about the shopping mall, the after-school hangout of tweens and teens everywhere, which has not-so-quietly dwindled from 2,500 sprawling clusters of stores nationwide in the ‘80s to less than 700 today. By some estimates, that number may drop to 150 by 2033. Headlines have been ringing the death knell for malls for nearly as long—The Atlantic cites a spate of articles, ranging from The Guardian to CNN, declaring the end of our Orange-Julius-sipping-and-Bath-and-Body-Works-candle-sniffing days since 2014. They cite all the familiar reasons: People are doing more shopping online than in-person, the department stores that once anchored these behemoths are going out of business, developers over-developed.
So, if all that is true, to loosely paraphrase Mariah Carey, why are you so obsessed with [malls]? Why haven’t we let them go gently into that good night over the past nine years?
If anything, we’ve gotten more nostalgic for its neon lights, commercial-grade carpeting and escalators galore. Pinterest searches for images of malls have steadily climbed over the past year, while Google searches for malls have held fairly steady since 2004 (with spikes around Christmas each year). Overall mall foot traffic was up in 2022, too, but that’s not all: A mall was the setting for Stranger Things’s third season, as well as Diesel’s fall/winter 2022 ad campaign. And what even was TikTok’s “Teenage Dirtbag” trend but an homage to the heavy-eyelinered days of the early aughts, where everyone dressed as if they lived somewhere between Hot Topic and Hollister?