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Its always wonderful to see ourselves and our lives through other perceptions-and this interesting piece in the The Guardian describes the experience of the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton Alberta. In much the same way that Howard Schultz thought that every urban street corner could do with a coffee shop and came up with Starbucks, the Ghermezian brothers came up with another big idea. In Edmonton a place that had  a heck of a lot of winter, and in the 80’s, when big hair, big shoulder pads, and consumerism was king the idea of a mall that covered 48 blocks, included a hotel, a wave pool, and a hockey rink that could be used by an NHL team was inspirational. It also sounded like it would work.

The first phase of the mall opened in 1981 and  at 1.14 million square feet was just slightly smaller than the Tsawwassen Mills Mega Mall (1.2 million square feet) . Two more phases were added on in the 1980’s bringing the mall to mighty mega size, over 5.2 million square feet with 800 stores and services employing 24,000 people.  Over 32 million visitors shop here annually. Price Tags has just described Xanadu Meadowlands in this article. Xanadu Meadowlands is also owned by the Edmonton Ghermezian brothers. They  also happen to own  the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota . One family-three mega malls.

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As The Guardian states:  “The North American enclosed mall emerged to make the onerous tasks of domestic hunting and gathering convenient and enjoyable. Since opening in 1981, Edmonton’s mall has strived to add “wondrous” to that list, landing somewhere between grand and garish.In an era when about a third of US malls are expected to close because of failing department stores and lapsing consumer interest, West Edmonton Mall appears to thrive”.

“The fact is, West Edmonton Mall fulfils a need in the city as a vast expanse of quasi-public space. It is, at certain times of the year, an easy access biosphere in inhospitable terrain. Apart from the rare treat of a visit to the water park, the kids and I rarely spend a penny on the attractions; there’s no need. Instead, we watch skaters glide across the Olympic-sized rink, visit forlorn-looking puppies at the pet store, eat cheap doughnuts. We merge in and out of a meandering crowd of shoppers, and participate as fully as one can in a community united only by big name brands and the bizarreness of the surroundings”.

The mall is the place for an individual to selflessly delve into consumerism without outside distraction. The success of huge vast malls is that they cut consumers off from the actual world, recreating what the West Edmonton Mall calls “an entertainment and retail city”. 

Is the mega mall a uniquely 20th century phenomenon? As consumer patterns go to online retailing and lifestyles change will malls  continue to dominate on the consumer front?

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