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Let’s Hangout At The Mall

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC Riverside chapter.

A few weekends ago I went to the mall with my friend and as we walked around I mentioned how strange malls were. They have everything you need and even things you never thought of needing all in one place, from the food court to mall classics like Hot Topic. The epitome of consumerism and capitalism, malls, or at least their popularity, seemed to be waning. However, this may not be true, as there are those who say the mall is dying and those who say they actually are not. Personally, I hope they are not. In my recent trips to the mall I have come to truly appreciate them and what they offer for communities, especially as young people seem to have fewer and fewer places to socialize in the real world instead of online. 

The first malls were developed in the 1950s with most historians agreeing that the very first mall was constructed in Minneapolis in 1956. Malls were, as Smithsonian Magazine wrote, “the new town square” where people could socialize, eat, shop, people-watch and generally enjoy meandering around. This is one of my favorite aspects of the mall: the ability to aimlessly wander with no specific place in mind. Usually I walk around the mall and then something catches my eye, but the feeling of not having a predetermined destination contributes to the carefree, relaxed nature of malls. 

As mentioned earlier, it seems that the modern mall is not what it once was. When I envision a mall at the height of popularity and traditional aesthetics, I picture the mall in Stranger Things season 3. “Star Mall ” almost became its own character with its vibrant and colorful architecture. It attracted the community by being a fun, social place, almost like an amusement park. Due to this, it became a regular hangout spot for the characters. This is true in reality as well. Even though malls no longer seem to strive for the colorful storefronts of the 80s, they still attract youth. Interestingly enough, malls have been the epitome of a sociological finding dubbed the “third place” by sociologist Ray Oldenberg in 1989. According to Oldenberg, the third place is an essential place for humans as social creatures. Third places are “locations that facilitate social interaction outside of the people you live or work with and encourage public relaxation.” A critical component of third places is the in-person experience. This is a challenge as more and more of our lives move on to virtual platforms, especially in a post-pandemic world. As helpful as online platforms are with maintaining connection, they do not equate to the connection that in-person socializing facilitates. Studies have found that virtual communities do not match the positive impact that in-person interactions have on humans.  

When you think about it, most of us do not really have a third place. Your first place is your home, your second place is where you work or attend school, and your third place is? How many of us have a coffee shop, a park, a restaurant, a bookstore, or what have you that we visit regularly with our friends, and are able to sit down on a comfy couch and relax? A third place is not the coffee shop you go to in order to study in an isolated fashion—think Central Perk in Friends, or the cafe Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha go to talk in Sex and the City. The essential component of these places is the overt socialization between friends in a place they feel so comfortable in that it is considered “their spot.” 

I think malls can be a way for modern generations to find their third place. Their variety and constant foot traffic make them the perfect place to sit back and relax with friends without phones and social media. They harken back to a time where walking arm in arm with your besties was more important than interactions over the internet. So, next time you and your friends are figuring out what to do this weekend, maybe you should say “let’s go to the mall”. 

Emily Manus

UC Riverside '25

Emily is a third-year public policy major. She hopes to write about her passions and issues that are important to her as well as the UCR community. Emily's interests include the arts, media, and culture.