A View of Malls by a Person with Autism

When most people think about malls they think about shopping. Some younger people may think about going to hang out with friends and some may think about experiences they have had when they went during the Christmas season. These could include anything from the positive: Christmas music, decorated stores, and a jolly atmosphere, to the negative which would be large crowds. Some people don’t seem to know the different between malls and other shopping arrangements or at least they use the words interchangeably. This drives me crazy as there are differences between different them. Before going on I will describe the differences for reference.


A shopping mall is the enclosed building that contains stores. These structures have been around since before the 1980’s. They contain a few anchor stores which tend to be large popular chain department stores, a handful of smaller shops specializing in various different areas, and a few restaurants. Larger malls contain food courts. They can be single or multi-story. Malls were popular in the 1980s and early 1990s.


Shopping Centers on the other hand are an outside building where every store is reached from the outside. They can contain big box stores, but can also contain stores that would usually appear as anchor stores in malls. They contain some smaller stores but tend to be smaller than malls. Shopping Centers are cheaper for stores since the rent is lower.


A third arrangement is outlets and they can take the form of a mall or shopping center but are generally focused on discounted items. They can have some stores that would appear in either a mall or a shopping center.


A fourth arrangement is an Open Air Shopping Complex. These are replacing the malls as stores choose to move out. Several sites where malls have been in my area have become these. These are a big parcel of land with several buildings containing stores on the same property and the stores can only be entered by the outside. They do have extensive choices for restaurants and contain big box stores as well.


Now the question is why malls are changing into shopping complexes of other forms. People are changing the way they buy things. Also other options tend to be cheaper for the retailers. With the common use of stores on the internet, people started to buy stuff on line. In my case, I tend to buy stuff on line only if it’s something old that a regular store doesn’t have or if It can save a lot of money during my Christmas shopping, though I try to go to the actual stores first. Another important term in this shift from malls to other arrangements is called de-malling. This is simply where a mall is turned into a shopping center or an open air shopping complex. Good signs of de-malling is a lack of stores, anchor stores moving out, or a store like Wal-Mart or Burlington Coat Factory filling in the vacancies of anchor stores that have moved out.

Now you may wonder why am I talking about this. I have an attachment to malls from back from childhood. I was a kid in the eighties and early nineties. At this period of time malls were at their heyday. Besides the normal child-like interest of going to toy stores that I would have felt back at the time, two other things were also important. Firstly I enjoyed going to the soft pretzel shops and getting a pretzel and a soda. The pretzel shop of choice was Bavarian Pretzel (they are few and far between now in my area) and their choice of cola was Pepsi, which is my cola of choice. This is something that I would look forward to everytime we went. An example are the countless times we went to the mall in Hanover and after shopping, we would go to the Bavarian Pretzel and I would get a pretzel and a Pepsi and sit on a bench out where the mall split into several directions. One way went to K-mart, another J. C Penny and a third to a door to the outside. Also in this area was Brooks (with green lights) and Big Sky (with blue lights). We would sit on the bench by their fountains (yes they had fountains in the malls back in those days) and I would look at the store lights and also watch the water. Malls also introduced me to sky-lights which we eventually got some of in our current house when we moved in the fall of 1994.

As I hinted at, I also have a unique interest in malls. I like to go in and look at the store lights. I like the bright colors of their neon lights. I don’t know, but I just have enjoyed walking around inside and looking at the lights in their beautiful colors. When I was up in Johnstown (in 2001) I went to the mall there and in addition to going to a few stores (the music store and video game store) I enjoyed taking a slow leisurely walk around the mall and looking at the store lights. This is when I was going to the Common Wealth Technical Institute at the Hiram G. Andrews Center. The school was difficult for me as I felt I didn’t fit in, and I had only a few friends, besides the major issue of being away from home. The mall they had in the region though was a comfort for me and I would spend many evening their after classes were done.


Speaking of stores and store lights this leads me to a new project I would like to start. Due to having an interest in the malls in my area (especially the way they were in the 80’s and early 90’s) I have started to compile a list of all the stores I can remember from the ones that my family and I use to inhabit. I have a list started. There are some malls like Park City Center in Lancaster, and the old West Manchester Mall and York Malls in York and the Carlisle Plaza Mall, that I am still researching trying to find a list of stores from the 80s and early 90s. I am hoping someday to be able to complete this list or at least have a nice size list of stores from these places.


Now next time I will be talking about the day when I got my Autism diagnosis. It was a difficult day, but I got by. I hope you enjoyed this blog, and I will see you at Tom’s Tidbits with another entry in a few days. Remember to subscribe to get notified on the latest post!