Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Day At The Mall

A Coca-Cola machine is backed up with miscarried beverages. The Mahogany cabinet surrounding it is incongruous to the pedestrian plastic device within. The second story rail serves as venue for waiting, resting, and observing. There is no surface on the rails on which to rest items. The wide rims of the plant pots are quite inviting seats. SEARS minus S reads EARS. The stairs are very narrow, much less convenient and inviting than the escalator. The elevator looks very boxy and squatty, and its short travel between the first and second floors is very anticlimactic and unimpressive. Some sort of hole in the ground is very tightly cordoned and sealed off with various brightly colored barriers. About half of the ceiling lights are off – they probably come on at night. The sports car featured at a sweepstakes display is not actually a prize in the sweepstakes. An advertisement states “Drive five supercars in a day for only $1495” in a seeming indication of a thrillseeking target customer with plenty of disposable income. The closer to Nordstrom, the more upscale the stores and environment appear

The Body Shop smells like gummy candy. The smells of cologne and perfume are overpowering, although some of them may be coming from the man behind me. The background noises of speech, music, and mechanical drones are loud. It is too loud to eavesdrop on conversations. It is almost too loud to even have conversations. Some sort of music is audible at just about every location in the mall. Sunlight through the roof gives an indication of the conditions outdoors, but the outdoors are not clearly visible from most locations. The sky can be seen in the Nordstrom wing – is this to make it a more attractive area?

A helmeted security guard rides a Segway. Another communicates by PDA. Neither of them makes me feel either intimidated or secure. A man briskly walks up the escalator, but casually rides it back down later. A girl wears a tank top in spite of the grisly scar on her shoulder. Many couples are holding hands, as if to display their close affiliation. Many men seem to be along for the ride, in tow behind women who appear to shop avidly. Several lone men wait outside stores that do not seem to cater to men’s needs. Libby Lu’s window is packed with elementary-aged girls in sparkly clothes striking poses. I hope I did not hurt their feelings by not waving back. Heavyset people comprise a significant proportion of the candy store population. A similar demographic appears in the market for cookie cakes. Many food court sitters are, in fact, not eating. Some are conversing, perhaps relieving their feet momentarily. One is studying, no mean feat amidst the din. A man carries a large cell phone on a lanyard around his neck as part of his fashionable ensemble. Nobody makes eye contact, probably in light of the huge amount of alternative visual information. This alternate fixation for the eyes alleviates the awkwardness of intersecting glances in a crowd, making navigation a somewhat less stressful experience. There is little to no thought for traffic taking the correct side of the “road.” People manage to disrupt the pedestrian flow by occasionally congregating in very busy places.

A computer monitor labeled “WORK COMPUTER NOT FOR FUN” is being used by a man who looks like he may be simultaneously doing work and having fun drawing the DC Comics logo. An entire cart is dedicated to Rosetta, a piece of translating software. It is packaged in boxes much larger than necessary to contain the CDs on which it is written. Sunglasses are tried on so frequently, one would think it compulsory. The guy tending a sunglasses cart is engrossed in a novel and does not seem to care when the cart is approached. One cart sells wigs and jewelry. Many of the vendor stands are redundant and sell the same things. It is difficult to travel too far in any direction without another cell phone service provider or, in some cases, the same one, trying to sell you its clearly critical wares. Verizon is charitable enough to offer a “Hurricane Special! All Activation Fees Waived!” Of the foreground objects in an Abercrombie and Fitch poster, clothing accounts for 4%. A nude male torso, 96%. The luggage store displays a suitcase with ornate chrome wheels – “rims” are not just for cars anymore. Paradise Pens carries an ornate metal tip that affixes to the top of a plain old pencil. Employees look askance at me when I enter a store with a backpack. The “Oriental” chair massage does a good job of appearing a relaxing respite. The urge to shop somehow grows after spending time in a mall.

Brookstone massage chairs seem to be test-driven more than they are actually bought. The man sitting on the bench next to me looks impatient and tired as he waits for his family to finish up in Brookstone. He absentmindedly taps his foot on the floor to the beat of some pervasive music, shaking the bench. In spite of my annoyance at this, I find myself tapping my foot, too. He finally gets up and joins his family in Brookstone. A salesman jumps on the opportunity to pitch a massage chair to this tired customer. The man smiles graciously.

Some of the booths and carts employ aggressive sales tactics, particularly those selling cell phones and cosmetics. The same T-Mobile salesman offers me their service twice within a span of a few minutes: “Sir, are you a T-Mobile customer yet?” I lie and tell him I am with a polite smile both times. I don’t think he caught on. Cosmetics salespeople don’t seem interested in peddling their product to me, no matter how close I walk.

64 percent of escalator riders ride with both of their feet on a single step. 23 percent ride with a staggered, two-step stance. 13 percent forgo the stationary approach altogether and walk the escalator as if it were stairs.

In spite of the even distribution of male and female customers claimed by Ms. Hedrick, I count a 67 percent female shopper population. For every male-specific store in the mall, nearly five are female-specific.

Mallgoers are somewhat evenly divided into four observable categories: families, couples, same-age groups (such as bunches of high schoolers), and lone shoppers. The largest group represented is families, with 29 percent of mallgoers shopping in the company of relatives. 24.5 percent of shoppers are couples, and the same proportion is same-age groups. Finally, 22 percent of shoppers take on the mall alone.

The Signs of Barton Creek Mall

The Barton Creek Mall is a large edifice that sits on a sea of concrete asphalt. The entire area is completely engulfed by a two-way road. Between the road and the building is an expansive parking lot, which is essentially a painted white grid. Most of the rows of parking spaces are one way, indicated by large arrows on the ends pointing in or out. The outer road has a few connecting roads that allow drivers to get to an inner road that circulates the main building at a much closer radius. It is 11 am on a weekday and the lot is empty with the exception of small clusters of cars near the main entrances. The cars that are arriving rarely use the connecting roads and don’t drive through the parking lot in an organized fashion. A white van makes a beeline from the outer road to the closest spot that is available. Soon after, a blue car pulls out of his space next to a handicapped spot and drives against the intended direction of the row as he exits the vicinity. Along the inner road in front of one of the main entrances, a black car is stopped against the curb and a man is taking a computer box out. In front of the black car, a white utility van is parked and there is nobody inside. Driving along the road, a small silver car swerves around the parked cars.

    Along the outer walls of the mall, there are large signs that are readable from a distance. Some entrances have signs with “Barton Creek Square Mall” above them. Dillard’s, JCPenney, Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Sears each have signs above their respective entrances with their respective names. On an outer wall, near one of the general entryways, there is a sign for California Pizza Kitchen, just above a patio with tables and chairs. There are four people eating at one of the tables. The main entrance next to it has a tall brown rectangular sign with mall’s name inscribed on it. The sign is high above a covered walkway that leads from the inner road to a group of glass doors. Alongside the walkway there is a fountain that spills over stacked stones behind plants that sit in a low concrete wall. There are four young boys and two young girls sitting along the edge of the concrete wall as a woman paces in front of them on her cell phone. Moments after, a black SUV drives up and the woman directs the small children into the car. A man with a suit walks from the parking lot and crosses the road. The black SUV drives off after the man completely reaches the sidewalk. Before the man in the suit goes into the mall, he holds the door for a woman with pink bags. The woman thanks him just before marching through the walkway to the parking lot. The people sitting on the patio are still there but are joined by a couple of older women.

         The inside of the mall is basically two planes of open space that are stacked together and walled in by a variety of stores, restaurants, and service shops. Stairs, escalators, and an elevator create movement between the two levels. On the upper level, there are railed in areas that give a view to the lower level. The building and the core walking area are shaped in a cross where the center is defined by a large opening with escalators going up and down. The second level has an information desk with staff and a mall directory with a map. There is a security guard pacing the area with a straight face. From the central escalator there are four directions that can be taken. There are also four signs hanging from the ceiling on both levels around the escalators, indicating the department store that is visibly at the end of each hallway. An older woman stands in front of the mall directory for a long time, steps away, and looks around. She comes back to the directory and then turns around to look behind her. She wanders off down the direction leading to Sears. Like all the department stores, Sears occupies both levels of space and on each it has a sign outside of its entrance. The sign for Sears on the first level says “Sears” but on the upper level it says “ears”. There are men walking in front of Sears with a large letter “S” containing the same blue double lined form as the ”Sears” logo. The old woman that was standing at the mall directory is walking away from “ears” mumbling and shaking her head.  

         The hub area surrounding the escalators, information booth, and mall directory have a clear view into stores that are on or near the corner of the crossing walkways. Going up the escalators, the first store that appears on the second level has walls of glass and an entryway framed by a brown stone textured material. The metal sign on top of the entrance says “Aveda” in clean simple shapes. On the right side of the Aveda storefront there is a view of the shelves inside, organized with lines of products. The left side has nothing against the window but large color coordinated advertisements with close-up images of plants, water, and people, are stretched across the back walls, above tables of more merchandise. An earthy scent that is very subtle from outside the entry to Aveda gets only a bit stronger when entering. There are two women inside with black-buttoned shirts and khaki pants. One of them offers tea to a short woman walking in and the other is speaking to an older woman about a bottle that she is holding. To the left there are sturdy dark wood stools sitting at a table, which has a row of dark brown glass bottles and small squares of thick white paper sitting on top. Beyond the table are two registers sitting behind a tall wooden stand. In the corner furthest from the front, there is a sink and a mirror with a shelf full of spray bottles labeled “tester.” One of the women in black and khaki walks behind the register while the older woman carries two bottles to the counter in front of the register. The shelves that are pushed against one of the windows are just as organized from the inside as they are from the outside. There are signs below each row of merchandise indicating different scents of perfume, flavors of tea and types of lotion. The older woman is now carrying a bag out while being thanked by both of the black shirted women.

         On either side of Aveda there are two stores with advertisements stretching across almost the entire glass window. The store to the right has a glass wall facing the walkway with a thin flat black framing. Thick white letters spelling “bebe” are followed by thinner red letters spelling “sport” and illuminated on the frame over the entryway in all caps. On either side of the entrance, behind the glass, two images of the same woman are displayed five times bigger than the average human scale. She is wearing sportswear that hugs her figure and is posed in a seductive way. The store inside consists of white floors, walls, and hanging racks that are all illuminated by bright white lights. The merchandise is organized on racks and shelves around the perimeter of the area and there is a wide space from the entryway to a bright white register stand. The store to the left of Aveda has two walls of glass window that stretch into the food court. Across the largest window of the store hangs an expansive image of a slender girl sitting in a field, dressed in tight jeans and tank top . Directly above the entrance, a metallic sign has tall sharp letters that say “AIX Armani Exchange” in black. The store is four times the size of Aveda and three times the size of Bebe Sport. The only person inside is a young man folding jeans in a back corner. A woman walks in and the young man doesn’t say anything to her. The woman walks out.

          Exiting the building the sun's heat is a drastic change to the cool interior environment and the open air contrasts greatly with the dull rumble of activity that is constantly reverberating through the air in the mall. A security guard is smoking under the shade created by the entrance’s covered walkway. An older man and toddler boy walk across the inner street hand in hand. The security guard puts out her cigarette, holds the door for the pair and follows in after them.

 

Barton Creek Mall

When entering Barton Creek Mall I notice that, even though I came in entrance A at ground level from one of the many parking lots, I’m actually on the second floor of the mall. The lady from Lane Bryant props open her door, mall walkers are walking the interior of the mall, and workers are fixing the S from the Sears sign, which currently reads EARS. I see a girl with her camera taking a picture of the sign.

Taking the escalator down to the first floor, I look over the edge and see a sitting area. There are two couches facing each other with a wide gap for people to easily walk through and go into the first floor entrance of Sears. On both sides of each couch are chairs. The mall manager, Nancy Hedrick, explains that the theme for the mall is “country club casual.” She hopes that the various sitting areas help to emit this feeling. The mall management wants to present the image that they’re not just an ordinary mall; they can fiscally afford to bring aspects of a living room into a shopping center to make the shoppers feel more at home.

As I walk around the mall I see many other sitting areas. Some are just benches; others are comfortable-looking couches and chairs. I notice that the main people to be taking advantage of these areas are men. Most are on their cell phones. One seating area has been taken apart to make it even more comfortable for the resting shoppers. There are two couches with black pillows that were once attached to the back of the couch, but now are separate from the couch. On one of the couches there are three of the black pillows stacked on top of each other that someone used while they took a nap. I notice that the fabric on these pillows have collected many stains from the multiple users.

Next to just about every seating area, and other locations throughout the mall, are huge pots filled with plants. At one entrance there’s a granite table with a giant bouquet of flowers. I notice that the mall management makes an effort in bringing nature into the man-made building. The food court is designed with a foliage theme, displayed by an overload of leaves and greenery, in an attempt to give the mall a nature feel.

Just about every store had a different style at their opening. Some protruded out into the hallway, and some stayed flat with the original architecture. Hollister’s store opening is an elaborate tiki hut, but there is not an easily visible sign that says the store’s name. For the longest time I didn’t know what store it was, until I saw the painted name on the very bottom left of the tiki display.

My favorite thing to watch while observing the shoppers at Barton Creek was how those on the second floor mezzanine used the vantage points overlooking the floor below. Many people would walk by, trailing their hand along the railing, while looking at the other shoppers and shops below. These large openings are successful at opening up the floors so the mall doesn’t feel constraining. They also allow the skylights to bring daylight through to both floors. There are skylights all over the mall, and they don’t all look the same. On my last stop at Nordstrom’s, I notice that there is a large skylight before the entrance. When I walk under it I have to squint my eyes because it is so bright. This skylight also allows in a lot of heat. The friends having lunch and business partners having a meeting at the tables on the first floor don’t seem to be bothered by the bright light; they carry on with their conversations and meals.

On a second visit to the mall, I enter with my boyfriend through entrance C. A maintenance man enters right before us. I notice that the handicap door has an out of order sign on it. We walk through the first set of doors into a little area that smelled strongly of mildew then walked through the second set of doors. As soon as we enter the mall there is another out of order sign on the station to rent a cart.

We walk into the store called Past and Presents. There are three girls sitting on the counter by the cash registers. They are all texting on their phones and never once acknowledge us. Once we leave that store we go to In the Loop, where we are immediately greeted by a friendly hello. I ask the sales clerk what she likes and dislikes about the mall. She says she likes how the mall has everything all together in one spot and you can spend a whole day shopping just by walking store to store. Ms. Hedrick mentioned that the average time spent by a shopper in the mall is four and a half hours. The sales clerk then tells me that she hates always being harassed by the salespeople at the cell phone kiosks and the hair straightener kiosk. In the three hours at the mall, my boyfriend is stopped twice by the same T-Mobile cell phone kiosk by “what plan are you on?” being yelled at him. The cell phone salespeople work on commission, so they are persistent to get their sales.

Also while talking to the salesperson at In the Loop, I see a security guard that rides by us on his segway. This is the third security guard I’ve seen, but the only one that’s on a segway. She said that he always comes in to her store on it and asks for cookies. She explains to me that there are usually complimentary cookies at her check out counter.

Once I feel that I've made some good observations and my shopping needs have been met, my boyfriend and I find entrance C so we can head to the car. We walk through the first set of doors and notice that the mildew smell seems to have gotten even stronger. We exit, pass by the people eating on the California Pizza Kitchen patio to our left, look for my car in the large parking lot and head home.

A View From The Food Court

Barton Creek Square Mall
Saturday 9.13.08
3:30 pm

After working my way through the throng of hungry shoppers, frustrated families, and giggling teenagers, I finally bought a Chik-fil-a meal and wrestled my way to the much coveted and rare empty table in a spot facing Frullati Café & Bakery and Sarku Japan. Lunchtime is an all-day event at the mall.

The establishments in the food court are Villa Pizza, Frullati Café & Bakery, Sarku Japan, Flamer’s Burgers and Grill, Quizno’s Classic Subs, sideWOK café Chinese Cuisine, Charley’s Grilled Subs, Chik-fil-a, and Marble Slab Creamery. Of these, eight have red in their signs, five have green, three have yellow, and three have white.

Eleven preteens sit to my right. They are all similarly dressed in generic preppy style clothing. The girls sit on each other’s laps. After lunch, all but two clean up after themselves. When they leave, there is a crinkled bag of Chik-fil-a and the remnants of cheese and mayo splattered in a Charley’s Subs paper tray.

A single middle-aged African American man in a yellow t-shirt sits alone four tables away from me. He takes up only a corner of the table. Two men carrying Charley’s Subs join him. They do not appear to be acquainted with the first man. They wear large unstylish baggy t-shirts tucked into their jeans. One carries a messenger bag, and the other has a receding hairline.

A large middle-aged balding man with a mustache takes samples of chicken teriyaki while standing in line to buy the same teriyaki.

There is no sense of time in the food court. The sound of running water from the fountains in the food court attempts to lure shoppers toward its soothing sound, one of the few reminders of nature inside this large manmade space.

Frullati sample guy is about 6’1 or 6’2, with curly brown hair. He makes several trips throughout this hour back and forth from the counter, but also likes to wander around on occasion. He holds the plate out, sometimes suggestively in a shopper’s direction, but does not seem to directly offer the food to the customer. On the other hand, the samples man at Sarku Japan will directly approach shoppers with samples plate in one hand, while sticking a toothpick into a sample to offer with the other hand. This tactic is more engaging than Frulatti guy’s tactic, which seems to be looking at a walker-by and raising his eyebrows while holding out the plate to them.

Families generally find seats first while one person takes care of the food.

An Hispanic family in front of me prays before eating from Styrofoam to-go boxes from Sarku Japan (double meat special 99 cents). The little girl around 9-12 years old finishes praying in ten seconds and starts eating, but the parents take about 30 seconds. The boxes delineate a meal with the double meat special. A normal portioned meal is on a Styrofoam plate. The little girl is overweight.

It is extremely noisy in the food court, with indistinguishable noise everywhere. Eerie blue-purple lights emanate from the ceiling on certain areas where there is a faux terrace. This is disorienting when juxtaposed with some natural white skylight and the lines of incandescent string light bulbs that lead from one side of the “roof” to the outdoor terrace.

The leftovers of Chik-fil-a and Charley’s Subs are still left on the table where the preteens were sitting earlier. The janitor has not cleaned it up. An Asian woman in her late 40s sits down and eats her meal with no regard to the leftover food. She eats from a Styrofoam box that contains a sandwich and drinks a cup of Frulatti lemonade. She leaves. Afterwards, an Indian man in his 20s sits down with a slice of pizza that emits a distinctly strong garlic scent. He pushes the leftovers to one side, and then utilizes the newly created space to eat.

People in the Sarku line still take samples from Frullati samples guy.

The two people on my left are an older Hispanic man with a mustache and silver streaked hair with a young girl. Both have cell phones out and look around, bored, for close to 10 minutes. They have no food. Perhaps they are waiting for the food to come.

So many bright, disturbing colors. The neon signs are uncomfortable, irritating, and make you want to leave. Yet this is the prime spot for sitting, even though sitting further away means slightly more personal space and comfort.

Food comes for the Hispanic man and little girl on my left from who looks like the wife of the man. She carries only one Styrofoam box of Sarku double meat special for the three of them.

A janitor cleans around a man waiting at a table with drinks. The customer has to hold his drinks. He then cleans the floor around me but does not attempt to clean my table around me. A man a few tables away finishes eating, gets up, and wipes off his own table.

The Sarku line has now turned into a roadblock in the middle of the food court. Families and teenagers without parents seem drawn to choose Sarku. They do have an aggressive sampling technique.

Most people appear bored. They just sit and look aimlessly in the distance, mostly as they wait alone for the rest of their party, or afterwards, while in the presence of their party but after finishing the meal, while on a full stomach.

A table of kids with their grandmas, all with perms.

Neverending line at Sarku.

Cliques are not on macro level in the food court but rather within each table at the micro level. Each table contains a group of people that all look alike. To my left, there is a group of punk kids with similar black clothing and the same length hair, where the girls look like boys and the boys look like girls.

BARTON CREEK SQUARE MALL
TUESDAY 9.16.08
7:30 PM

Walking to the food court, I see 2 little girls play near the American Eagle store. One is crawling on the floor between two large potted plants. Upon walking closer, I see that she has hidden two cups of Frullati smoothies behind them, creating a new and secret hiding place in the mall.

I return to my familiar area, the food court, but decide on a different spot so that I can check out other parts of the mall and the food area simultaneously. I am sitting at the food court’s outermost seating area (tables for two) on the balcony overlooking the area in front of JCPenny and directly in front of sideWOK café and Charley’s Subs.

The Frullati samples are now sitting on a deserted silver plate that rests as free-for-alls on the glass case containing various fruit and vegetables. This time, the sample of Southwestern Chicken Panini is cold.

Sarku Japan still has a man wearing a white smock and red chef’s hat physically handing samples to shoppers.

Most people, when ordering, tend to touch the counter in some way while waiting for the food to come, either by leaning on the counter with their legs or with their hands.

A man walks by as if he is in the hurry; his body is angled forward, and lines of distress are on his forehead. He wears an olive green tweed suit jacket with jeans and a brown belt. His hands are full holding bags from stores unlikely to suit his interests: Hollister, Victoria’s Secret, Pottery Barn.

One janitor sticks out from the rest tonight. Instead of wearing all black work shoes, as is part of the uniform, she has on silver sneakers. She has caked on makeup with penciled in eyebrows, and carries her walkie-talkie directly in the middle of her backside, clipped to the top of the pants. She chews gum as she familiarly walks through the tables as if she’s walked through them a thousand times. The maze of tables and scattered chairs are no obstacle as she navigates through shortcut paths she has formed through the furniture. There is no stopping or hesitation in her step and expression.

My view is obstructed in front by a digital projection of rolling advertisements in a curved glass box, so it is always a surprise to see who comes by. In a general sense, there seem to be mostly people walking either alone or in pairs tonight. If in pairs, it is more likely to be a couple than a girls’ or boys’ night out. Families tend to all use that red car stroller to seat their children. A group of three moms all have a red car stroller and walk down the halls in a pack. This many cartoon cars in the hallway contributes to the “rush hour” of the hallway just as much as real cars would.

The workers manning the kiosks look bored. There are four kiosks in this area seen from my vantage point above, selling custom stickers, mobile phone covers, jewelry, and shiny and colorful foil wind chimes. The custom sticker worker talks to another man in a brown sweater as both closely crouch over a laptop. The employee selling mobile phone covers is a male in mid-twenties, with shoulder length brown hair in a half up ponytail. He wears a yellow shirt and black headphones connected to a laptop. His fingers rapidly tap the table in front of him as he drums along to the beat with his eyes closed. The woman in the jewelry kiosk next to him sits and stares in the distance, also listening to an iPod while on a computer. The only kiosk with no attendant is the wind chime kiosk. There is no sign of human presence there with the exception of a few lights turned on and a half-deserted, half-finished Styrofoam cup of a dark soda.

The ceiling above the open area in front of JCPenny is scattered with large squares, most of which contain lighting fixtures. There are 33 total squares, with 17 squares containing three blue fluorescent bulbs. Of these, four contain a broken, flickering blue light. There is no recognizable pattern or structure to the way the lights or cubes are situated. Every 15 or 20 minutes the blue lights gradually get brighter and stronger, until they all eventually die out with a glittery, dazzling flicker. After a few minutes of semi-darkness, the lights flicker on again for the new cycle. This is all quite similar to the life cycle of a star.

The missing wine chime kiosk attendant is finally discovered: he is the man in the brown sweater visiting the custom sticker man. He occasionally walks back and forth through this area, but this time he stopped at his station to take a sip of the dark-colored soda before returning again to Custom Stickers. Two women are now at the stand as well. They all appear to be flirting. Every few minutes or so, the girl wearing black gives the other girl a hug, most likely in the same effort to bring attention to themselves. After awhile, the four of them gather around the computer to engage in watching YouTube videos. Meanwhile the Mobile Phone guy and Jewelry girl are flirting as well, holding hands and playfully hitting each other. The neglected wind chime kiosk is the only kiosk without a laptop.

A mall security guard steps onto the down escalator. He adjusts his hat, then belt. He then proceeds to widen his stance, points his feet outwards, and hooks his fingers behind his large belt buckle. The escalator is his runway; it gives him a moving stage to show what he does best.

The cook from Charley’s Subs gets too excited about making a grilled sandwich. While chopping up some beef for a cheesesteak, he makes a loud but brief commotion on the grill, and a woman somewhere in the food court loudly ‘shushes’ him.

Turning back towards the food court, the sickly bright neon colors are no less startling during a slow period than at rush hour.

I leave the mall through Nordstroms. The glossy glass entrance-exit chamber shoots the familiar blast of icy air at me from above, a final souvenir to take with me as I venture back outside into the warm summer heat.

A Successful Day at the Mall

Park the car, run inside, go to the first shoe store I can find, locate the cutest black pumps in the store that will go perfectly with that new BCBG dress I just ordered, buy them and head back to my car. This is my usual trip to the mall, but today I will stop, think, and view the mall around me. I never have taken the time to see how such a massive public place is managed, organized, and designed in order to best please it’s usually oblivious customers.
When leaving my car in its miscellaneous spot among all of the other 7,500 parking spots surrounding the Barton Creek Mall, I quickly take note of the small “A-1” posted on a light post nearby. During my trek through the mall, I stumble upon the guest services help desk. It becomes apparent that amongst the small, almost unreadable signs with their uncontrasting colors, nothing was ever pointing in the direction of the help desk. I became curious to find out what the most common purpose was for the desk. When talking to the employee of the desk and asking her what the most common question she received was, she replied it was “most definitely” where certain stores were located. I found this ironic, since there were two directories on either side of the Services Stand and paper maps laying all around the counter for customers to take. I pointed this out and we decided that people like to have more of a personal direct answer, rather than cipher through a map. I asked a random sample of store employees, what was the most common question from customers. The answer was unanimous, “Where are the bathrooms?” So I went on a search for the bathrooms. The first one I found was tucked in a back dark corner and I later realized that most of the bathrooms were off of the main path and hidden away. One specific bathroom was the most commonly addressed about its bizarre location. In fact, when I went to find it, I had to ask the Bebe employees for help. They even told us that neither of them liked to use that bathroom because it was “creepy” and “weird”. So back into the inner depths of the mall we went, through the long halls supposedly leading us to the restrooms. The lighting was dim, electrical boxes were sticking out into the narrow walkway, and there were also apparently unused doors, with no signs or handles. As we sat in the lobby quickly writing notes on the odd design of the bathroom, a policewoman hurried out of the bathroom back down the hall, then one second later she walked back by going the opposite direction explaining how she always gets “lost in these halls”. Another common customer problem presented to employees was that people could never find the water fountain. The Godiva shop employee explained to us how he found this “very clever” because most people would just go ahead and buy the water from somewhere more convenient rather than find the water fountains if they even knew of their existence at all.
As I eagerly roamed the interior of the mall making note of each crack and crevice, a woman trips and barely catches her balance before falling to the floor. I quickly hide my gaze as she fervently looks around with embarrassment to see if anyone had caught sight of the scene. Then she proceeded to scan the ground to see what it is that had caused her to trip. In fact, it was the uneven tile floor that was at fault. I couldn’t imagine this was the first and only disturbance the tile has caused, and assumed that it must be very common. This brought about the issue of safety at the mall. With 12 million people in and out of the mall through the year, one wonders what dangers become present and how safety is regulated. Nancy Hedrick, the mall manager, reported that kids running up the escalators as a common hazard, particularly because parents did not understand the perils. As I stepped off of the escalator, I barely caught glance of a small sign posting the safety rules of the escalator. I could not even get close enough to read it because I would be in the way of other people exiting the escalator. Also, it is at a knee level, which would mean I would have to crouch down to read them. As I took note of these discoveries, a policeman rolled by on his Segway. It became apparent that the mall employs several police who give the customers a sense of security at the mall. Two young women employed by Bebe explained to me how they would change the mall, both of them agreed the mall management should open the main mall doors earlier. The employees are required by the manager of Bebe to be at work by 7:30 a.m., but the main mall doors aren’t open till 10:00 am. This requires them to enter through a back alleyway, alone, and in the dark- not a safe setting for young women.
As for the demographics of the Barton Creek Mall, it seems to be attracting more of the upper-middle class. With no play areas and minimal children’s stores, it is less of a family friendly mall. Of course there are certain areas of the mall that do attract more parents. When Theodore, a Godiva Shop employee, explained why he enjoyed his location he described it as the “ladies area”. With no kiosks and phone booths nearby he has less chaos and being farther away from the food court brings about less children and families. It is well recognized that the families that do come to Barton Creek are usually found in the food court, perhaps because this is where the only mall elevator is located. With strollers and young children, escalators and stairs are virtually impossible. A Sprint Employee explained to me the different characteristics of the Barton Creek shoppers versus those in other malls. He had just transferred from Highland Mall to Barton Creek Mall. He pointed out to us that there is a huge difference in customers of the two malls. Although he believes Barton Creek to be a very nice, clean mall, he has found the customers to be harder to talk to and snobbier than those of Highland Mall. He proceeded pointed out that he is very pleased with his location at the Barton Creek Mall. He is located right at the bottom of an escalator. He explains that his brings him several potential customers to either hassle or draw in with the Sprint Booths bright colorful ads. Theodore, the Godiva employee, explained his benefits of being near the columns. This helps control traffic and gives him an open view of potential customers coming from all directions.
When designing the Barton Creek Mall, the management informed the design team that they were looking for a “country club casual” look. Many design aspects compliment this description. For example, the neutral colors with the deep mahogany used to dress up necessary commercial misfits. For example, the mahogany covers made for the vending machines or the big mahogany frames for the directories. The neutral color pallet gives a clean feel to the mall, but allows for the signs to blend in with their surroundings. Also, the signs are very small, these two attributes are a huge cause of why people complain about getting lost and often ask questions concerning locations. When speaking with Nancy Hedrick it was obvious how much care and time she spent in picking out and displaying the seating areas. Curious in how the customers responded to these areas, I asked one for myself how he liked it and what it was that attracted him to the area. He simply explained, there is a chair and that is all that matters to me. I moved on to ask a mother with her children and her answer was the exact same. As I sat down to enjoy the seating area, I looked up to find an odd ceiling. The ceiling had strange indentions that seemed to have no pattern, along with angles that did not to match the ground plan. Also, many of the tenants pointed out that there are some areas where the mall is gloomy and little light gets in, while others have a sunnier setting. This is due to the odd placement of sunroofs in the ceiling. I was eager to see how the mall had applied its “country club casual” look to the Food Court. I was surprised to find mismatched tables and chairs and a maze-like walkway leading visitors in-between where people were eating. Hanging lights and large ceramic vases are used to dress up the area. The running water in the vases helped to drown out the loud hurried conversation of the people eating and the antique lamps on the columns gave a terrace feel. To go along with the terrace characteristics of the food court, awkward gates lead into the food court, but in fact it is just a gate entrance; it keeps nothing in or out. From the second floor of the food court looking down over the railing, it became apparent that not much care was given to the customer’s view from above. Many of the first floor store signs were unreadable from above. Also, the viewer sees a lot of roofs to the small carts. These roofs do not match the rest of the mall being made from cheap plastic with cut out stars acting as the cover. I was excited to hear an outsider’s view on the mall when I approached a man from Detroit on his thoughts of the mall. He said he was very pleased with it and has never seen such a nice mall in Detroit. He also added that he loved the samples in the food court, which I know is also very popular amongst my friends. When reading online reviews of the Barton Creek Mall, I found that other visitors from outside Austin found the Barton Creek mall easy to get around and good crowd with less chaos than most.
As I headed to my car and tried to recall in what section I parked, I felt that with many discoveries and observations, I had spent a successful day at the mall. Who would have thought a successful day at Barton Creek Mall could be a day when you left without spending a penny.


Barton Creek Square Observations

The following observations were made on September 14, 2008 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. between the KL02 and KL01 floor spaces on the lower level of Barton Creek Square mall.

People mostly walk on the right side and lone women are the fastest walkers. Young men are often found in groups of two.

An estimated 5% of people carry bottled water and/or eat while walking, and about 60% were overweight, but none morbidly so.

Within half an hour, at least 4 people passed by the same spot headed in the same direction as they were half an hour before.

Many families have strollers but there is only one elevator, near the food court.

Benches occasionally have synthetic cushions that are easily removable by undoing the velcro straps that tie it to the bench. They are made for adults — toddlers stand or sit on the ground. Benches were used for a teenage couple to make out on, but most seemed to use it as a platform to eat, drink and sit on. On the second floor, where there are relatively few benches, people lean over the railings and watch the shoppers below.

The second floor is carpeted with a short, hardy turf. Two young girls made do without the abundant first floor benches and sat down on the turf, huddled against a railing while eating a boxed pastry with white plastic forks.

According to one mall employee, the triangular lights mounted on the second floor's edge are turned on when the sun has set, around 7-8 p.m. depending on the time of year. Every so often there is an electrical socket mounted next to them that would be invisible to anyone within arms' reach of it.

The volume of space enclosed and the lack of sound dampening surfaces creates a constant din made up of indecipherable conversations, store speakers emitting music, the crinkling of bags and the squeaking of shoes.

The predominant mall color, the color of the ceilings and tallest walls, is white. Columns, bare wall patches on the bottom floor and tiles are comprised of a variety of grays, browns and other neutral colors. As a result, no bare structural features are visible.

The tile-covered lower floors have varying patterns, colors and sizes but are uniformly free of dust or stains. Live plants are dispersed throughout the mall, but they are concentrated near sitting areas, anchoring benches in the medians or obscuring the bottoms of stairwells. The plants also house a variety of insects, including flies, cockroaches, and crickets.

Square skylights are the best indicator of the time of day. They are arranged in no discernible pattern. Even in the middle of the day, recessed lights five feet from the ceiling cast light back up at the skylights but the light is almost entirely drowned out by the sunlight streaming in.

The mall encloses a volume of space greater than is necessary for its essential functions. For example, one bathroom requires a 100 foot trek down a path through a narrow hallway to reach the male/female rooms and poor ventilation creates a foul odor that permeates the entire path. Perhaps as a respite from this journey, framed faux-antique prints of Roman vases and columns line the path and directly outside the doors that lead to the male and female restrooms is a lounge with three black leather chairs and a metal lamp on a side table.

Every store has a unique façade and lighting system — as in the mall space, no structural elements are left bare and everything is covered in plaster, stone, metal, wood or glass. Approximately 80% of the storefront walls facing the main walking areas are either glass or open. Several stores incorporated wooden or metal fixed shutters as a part of their facade. Most storefront logos are mounted at least 10 feet above ground level. Most storefront sign letters are embossed or raised off their mounts to give them the appearance of or actual three-dimensionality. Single right or left footed shoes are displayed outside of shoe stores on short racks. One store, The Gift Solution, displays its wares in glass, metal-hinged boxes stacked against its windows.

Roughly half of all stores displayed printed advertisements of attractive young individuals anywhere from 1.5 to 4 times larger than life. When the subject is a woman, the face is always showing, but not always when the subject is a man.

Anyone who wishes may watch other people pay $12 to get a 15 minute massage by an obese middle-aged man of asian descent who does most of his communicating with gestural hand movements.

Almost all the kiosks are identical, suggesting they are owned and rented out by the mall. About 8 feet off the ground and connected with metal poles to each kiosk is a cantilevered plane of glass ringed by lights embedded in wood. The lights make the usually shiny metal wares sparkle and gleam to passers-by. There are few chairs for the workers, who, one worker told me, may work a six hour shift without sitting. Often they will sit on the counters themselves. An empty kiosk with drawers made out of plywood and covered in a faux wood veneer contained: the key to the drawers and cabinets, two business cards, one for a hypnotist and another for a hair stylist, a brass disk two inches in diameter, bits of string, two metal bracket clamps and a piece of plastic. Its glass shelves are removable.

A curious white girl from a Godiva chocolate stand/kiosk approached me and sat down next to me on a bench. She said she hated having to cover the kiosk with a tarp every night and suspects the majority of patrons come to the mall to see movies, because directions to the theater is the most common question she is asked. She mentioned a co-worker's suggestion that Godiva save money by installing a more energy efficient refrigerator, but apparently they refused. Before I left she gave me a small gold bag filled with a variety of chocolates, one of them shaped like a clam with a large, soft chocolate pearl inside.

At another kiosk, a young Israeli woman held a tray of colorful translucent strips of soap from Israel and offered them to passers-by. A small screen played a short film depicting a satellite zoom in on the Red Sea area and interviews with the soap's creator. I told the woman they looked tasty and she said many people, mostly children, had tried to eat them. When a young blond girl came to sample one I suggested she eat it, but she smiled knowingly and took it without a word. I smelled each one and selected one with a cucumber scent, which she daintily wrapped in a napkin for me to take home.

Yet another kiosk was a platform for the display of approximately 100 similarly styled sunglasses that varied mainly in color. The man selling them was not wearing a pair.

Everyone must buy

As I began my investigation at Barton Creek Square Mall, I noticed a glittery and hot pink store with mirrors in the shape of hearts. It was a little girls’ store full of pink merchandise with fake make up, hair extensions, and Jonas Brothers t-shirts. Moms sat on the pink dressers as their daughters wandered around thrilled at potentially owning some merchandise. Other girls had already picked out some accessories and were working on convincing their mothers to buy it for them. Little girls were looking in the mirror puckering their lips while applying lip-gloss. Others trying on dresses and twirling around with their big skirts. As I took the escalator downstairs I saw a group of people surrounding a series of floor mats with young girls performing gymnastics exercises following directions from their couch. Two women sat on a table on the side and took donations for their organization, Capital Gymnastics. As the girls did handstands and push ups in their little outfits, shoppers and leering old men watched.

As I continued walking away from the crowd, I noticed a series of business carts along the Barton Creek Square mall’s main walkways. Salespeople attending the carts waited for potential customers as people walked by; once a customer showed interest, the cart merchant assisted him or her. Other salespeople were standing while they loudly promoted the “special sales” in order to lure the consumer.

In my mall visit—strictly for research and observation—I planned to purchase nothing. While walking by these various carts, I was targeted by a woman promoting soap samples in a basket. With no one around, I thought for sure I could not get away from her. She reeled me in by handing me soap samples to smell and telling me about the different scents. After grabbing the final soap sample, her attention shifted to my nails, asking me if I had ever gotten a manicure. Once I responded “no”, she praised me for never having had one, stating that manicures are harmful because of the employment of chemicals. As I watched the monitor on the cart with an image of the earth zoomed in to a scene at the beach with a woman holding sand and rubbing it on her body, I thought I was their target audience because I was a woman and the saleswoman could convince me with no interference because I was alone. The saleswoman grabbed my hand and buffered my nails. Describing the nail product as very effective and not very time consuming, she continued at length about how the product is completely natural and very healthy for the nails. She counted the seconds for the time spent on each side of the buffer and then revealed my nail by saying, “get ready to be surprised!” Even after all of this, I still had no intent on buying the product and looked for an opportunity to leave. She was on a mission and without fail she continued showing me more products and finally introduced a packaged collection of products I had previously sampled. Not wanting me to turn her down right away she offered me the price of the package and explained how I would save money by purchasing the products as a collection.

As I kept telling her that I was there to do research and trying to ask her questions about the business she kept turning her attention to the product. I told her several times that I was a student and could not afford the product. With a trainee beside her she started telling her, “I usually don’t do this, but I am going to give her my manager discount.” She kept telling me, “you are really nice and since you are a student I am giving you a special offer”. Brainwashed at that moment, I was convinced it was a good deal and made the purchase. Part of the reason I bought the product was that I felt I owed it to her for pampering me for a whole fifteen minutes. As Peter Corrigan writes in his book “Society of Consumption”, “One has to reciprocate in some way unless one is happy taking someone’s words without paying for them. The consumer seems to purchase the performance almost as much as the good.” She kept emphasizing that I should take care of my nails and that I should spoil myself once in a while. Who knows if she was being honest about the “special discount” or if she used her assistant to convince me she was offering me a good price. If the salesperson had not been there, I would never have made that purchase.

The persistent saleswoman’s company was called Seacret which is based in Israel and whose U.S. employees all come from Israel. There are four Seacret carts in the mall, three downstairs and one upstairs. As I approached the cart upstairs, I asked a Seacret salesman if I could interview him. After he agreed, I asked how many carts they had and which one gets the most business, he was very reluctant and asked me why I was asking. Since I was not interested in the product he was not interested in helping me. While I observed the other Seacret sales carts, I figured out their main tactics: the salesmen gets uncomfortably close and focuses all of his attention and eye to the female customer as he keeps contact with her hands. As I walked by a hair straightener cart, a salesman asked me “how are you” followed by “do you need a hair straightener?”. My response was “I think my hair is already straight”. Then he pointed to some display wigs and said that I could also curl my hair with it. As I started to walk away saying, “no thanks” his coworker approached saying, “just try it” as there were sample hair strengtheners. I kept saying no and sped up my walking pace. I did not want to get manipulated into spending more money.

Everyone in the mall was carrying a shopping bag; it seems almost impossible for people not to spend. Whether it’s an article of clothing or a simple beverage, the mall drives people to buy. Department stores along with shopping malls were designed to provide the consumer with a wide selection of products, or in Corrigan’s words, “It seemed to indicate that shoppers really could find anything they wanted under the one roof, so they might gravitate to the department store for the convenience of this alone.” As in smaller cities, the mall is the center for entertainment because it is compact with everything you need, which makes it the most exciting place to visit. This steers the customer to the mall and then the mall compels him or her to buy. Mass production, transportation, and urbanization allowed for a dominant capitalist society since the early 20th century, which makes it difficult and almost impossible to imagine a society less dependent on consumerism.

Field Report

Walking towards Abercrombie & Fitch, I can already hear the thumping of the upbeat house music blasting away inside. This store is apparently intended for college kids. I pass by dark massive louvers with glimpses of light peeping out. The merchandise is barely visible from a quick glance. The wall behind the giant doors is plastered with an oversized grayscale image of a shirtless male model. Once I step inside, I am greeted by a model working in the front room with the season's tagline, "Hey, how's it going?". The strong aroma of the fragrance that's sprayed consistently throughout the day hits me. The music and the fragrance follows me as I stroll around the seven different rooms of the store. The lighting is very dim inside. I carefully maneuver around the plants with oversized leaves sprouting out at all angles. The ceilings are dark grey with small yellow lights scattered around. The clothes are all in perfect rectilinear piles, meticulously stacked with XL always at the bottom, and XS sitting at the top. The layout in the rooms resemble a large closet, with the numerous rectangular cavities in the walls with racks of organized clothing. The season's newest merchandise are on the mannequins and the employees themselves. I confuse the employees with the shoppers at times, since there is no official uniform, name badge, or any type of employee identification. I learn to identify them by their actions, such as tidying or folding up stacks of clothes, coming out of the stockroom, or simply clocking in or ringing up an order at the cash wrap. Contrasting to the dim store interior, the dressing rooms are brightly lit and spacious, with a large mirror and bench. I exit the store with a large Abercrombie shopping bag with thick fabric handles, and receive a smile, goodbye and thank you from the same model in the front who greeted me a little while ago. I leave the store as a walking advertisement for Abercrombie & Fitch.
The Apple store is never empty. Even if there are no customers, there is an army of employees always ready to assist you. The window displays are simple, but eye-catching with their large scale. The windows are kept to a minimal distraction and are transparent so the merchandise in the store can be fully visible to the window shoppers. The ambiance is relaxed, though a party atmosphere thrives inside, with all the employees chatting with the shoppers, not only about the electronics, but also small talk. On the parallel wooden tables, the electronics are laid out and ready to be played with. I see customers checking their e-mail, browsing through Safari, taking photos with their friends on the Macs, listening to their favorite artists on the iPods, or watching music videos. Adults are in their grown-up candy store. The ceiling has generic fluorescent lights and scattered trios of small yellow lights. With all the computer and electronic screens simultaneously turned on, the store illuminates. The interior is minimal and plain (such as grey floor tiles) shifting the attention to the merchandise. Customers visit the Apple store to play with the electronics in the unique ambiance and environment. I can walk to any section of the store and pull over an employee to assist me either right away or in a timely manner. There is not a clear central register station, so you pay for purchases wherever you are standing in the store with the employee. After making a small purchase, a matte white drawstring bag with the light grey Apple logo on it is provided. It is a subtle and modest bag.
I pass by a T-Mobile kiosk with classmates. The employee stops to ask us if we are doing a project, seeing us all holding notebooks. He tells us that he thinks his kiosk area is rather dark and plain, situated in an unfriendly location. With Barton Creek Mall located in a relatively wealthy area, he says the shoppers are harder to approach than the Highland Mall shoppers, who are more laid-back. He is trying to sell to us, as I pass by several other kiosks with employees engaged in their own personal activities. I pass a small coffee stand in an open, bright location in the center where the employee working there is typing away on his laptop with his earbuds plugged in. I could not find the name of the coffee stand anywhere, nor did I glimpse at the menu. When I pass the employee, he looks up from his computer screen, throws me a cold stare, and returns to his virtual state. The next kiosk I encounter, Sunny Shades, has an employee with his laptop cracked open in front of him, and texting on his cellphone. Another employee at a nearby hair jewelry kiosk is talking loudly into her cellphone in Chinese and eagerly pacing back and forth. The employee at the Godiva chocolate stand I pass by next notices me eyeing the display boxes, and asks if I'd like to purchase any chocolate today. I tell him I shouldn't, and he smiles and with formality tells me to have a nice day in return.
The diversity of stores is what completes the mall. Each store has its own way of luring in shoppers and making them revisit in the future. First impressions are very important in luring shoppers into a store, so the exterior appeal and brand identity are some of the top priorities. The mall is like a collection of different short stories woven into a novel. No two stores have the same identity, and shoppers have a different experience walking through each store, with sight, touch, smell, and sound.

Mall Field Report: Barton Creek Square

Most people probably take the entire atmosphere of Barton Creek Square mall for granted. There are actually two atmospheres interacting simultaneously, the environment constructed by the mall and the different interactions of individuals visiting this environment. I was immediately aware of the carefully created space I was walking into: signage, seating spaces, wall and floor coverings, even the structure of the building itself had been meticulously and purposefully designed a certain way for a certain reason. Nancy , the manager of Barton Creek Mall, described the mall’s interior decoration as “country club casual”, a genre often repeated under many different titles. This concept is generally interpreted through neutral tones and expensive materials, such as leather and granite, combined with the more playful elements of a typical mall, such as colorful store fronts. This mall was a perfect environment to examine different levels of consumerism and I chose to focus on how consumers behave and react to the process of shopping in a controlled environment. I found special interest in the decoration of the mall, gender and socioeconomic relationships in shopping, and concerns with a layout “hierarchy” of stores.
The first thing that struck me was the “outdoor” elements that had been brought in. Sunlight beams in from the numerous skylights throughout the mall, large scale potted plants are scattered between the carts, seating areas and the food court, which is modeled after a terrace- complete with a decorational awning and garden gate. I found all of this particularly interesting since malls were first created to shield the shopper from the elements but now, in a supposed effort to make the customers more comfortable, this mall has brought visual references from the outdoors in, blurring the distinction between indoors and out. Perhaps this is because Barton Creek Mall is situated on a scenic loop and the foliage attempts to acknowledge that. Of course, patrons are still shielded from weather inside an enclosed, air-conditioned space. It is peculiar that shopping centers are evolving into “ Lifestyle Centers”, such as the Domain in North Austin, where shops open to the outdoors, but the enclosed space of a mall still seems to be preferred by shoppers. I find it ironic and slightly humorous that malls incorporate so much of the outdoors in their décor when their purpose as a structure is to protect their patrons from it.
The seating areas provided in different parts of the mall have a distinct purpose: to provide a comfortable space for the mall customers where they can wait, rest, reflect, etc. There are benches, in addition to these areas, scattered around the mall, but more people tend to gather in the designated spaces. Perhaps this is because the furniture is more comfortable, or that the spaces tend to not face outward into the mall, or maybe it is just our individual perceptions of this type of furniture. These seating spaces recall typical American living room. They usually have a couch or two and few armchairs, maybe even a small table. The couches are always large and covered in leather, suede, or other rich fabrics. Chairs in these areas have large arms and plush backs. The mall has thrown our perception of a domesticated space into a very public place. It is interesting to watch how people interact with these spaces. I observed mostly men or families occupying the seats. They behave a lot like one would presume people act in their personal spaces, even though they were in public. Some sleep, read or fuss with their shopping bags, kids play their hand held video games, a mother even breast-fed her infant. People seem to almost forget their public setting when surrounded in the physical and mental comfort of these seating areas.
The most overwhelming aspect of the mall however, has to be the mass amounts of signage. Directories, storefronts, promotional posters, advertisements - the list goes on and on. The mall contains an overwhelming amount of graphic work, which in turn seems to define American consumerism. It is impossible to not be a consumer in our culture. We are constantly bombarded with symbols, signage, and printed works all trying to communicate different messages to us. People have adapted to this chaotic visual world by ignoring most of it. This realization brought a lot of different issues and shopping patterns to my attention. Patrons frequently get lost in the large complex because of their disregard for maps and directional aide. I don’t believe this to be the fault of the individual designer, but rather our consumerist society for causing this culture where patrons pay little attention to signage. Although it is notable that most directional signs in Barton Creek Square seem over simplified and maps are difficult to navigate through.
These issues also forced me to investigate the separate storefronts around the mall. They all differ not just in logos but structurally- doors, entrance shapes and sizes, etc. For example, the Apple store front is very simple: flat glass panels with silver panels above them and the trademark apple logo in the middle. While, the Hollister store front jutes out into the mall walkway with a tiled awning, dressed mannequins, and more foliage. This is definitely trying to market individual store identities. How and why we consume can help us explain deeper societal issues. I realized that in my own shopping patterns I only shop at certain stores in the mall whose identities I am familiar with or can somehow relate to. This causes me to ignore most other stores that I do not find particularly appealing from the outside. Watching certain groups of people allowed me to see that I am not alone in this. Stereotypes prevailed and certain types of people went in to their allotted stores without straying too much from their socially determined path. This also relied on a hierarchy of stores within the mall. People tend to flow towards department stores more than anything else and pay the least amount of attention to carts along the walk way. In our discussion with Nancy, the mall manager, she suggested a direct correlation with the cost to lease these spaces and their customer volume. I think that there is a lot more to investigate there, however, about location, convenience, and the implied and conceived atmospheres in different sections of the mall.

Giulio at the mall

3:00 in the afternoon: Begin.

I am situated up on the 2nd floor, across from Helzberg diamonds, near the elevators, observing the floor below as well as the space around the foyer. The flow of people is fairly constant. Below a mall security guard flirts with the gal at the information desk. She keeps laughing, he must be telling jokes.

Spaced around the area below are five kiosks selling different things: UT memorabilia on one, lotions on another, cell phone accessories on a third.

A constant flow of people are walking around below. There are lots of attractive girls.

Glancing back towards the info desk, the officer has left. The two girls staffing the desk talk back and forth. It doesn't seem like many people come to the desk - as I write this in my book, two people approach the desk and ask questions. The girls direct them off quickly, but politely. Apparently they really know the location of everything in the mall.

It doesn't seem like I'm the only one watching - Situated around the top of the foyer along the rail are other people staring below. They must be looking/waiting for someone. Behind me is a baby crying, screaming actually. I'm concerned. Its face is bright bright pink, and it doesn't seem like its parents are doing anything... After a few moments, they finally give it a bottle.

Across the way, I notice the manager at Ben Bridge jeweler's staring at me suspiciously.

A screaming child goes by. She didn't get what she wanted. The mother doesn't appear care. She looks as if she's trying to exit the mall as soon as possible.

Looking below again, there is a group of boys. They're all decked out in baggy pants and LA/NY shirts with sunglasses on. Most the other men/boys in the area all seem to be wearing something that screams "I'm trying to look cool".

A girl walking by with her friend trips. Her sandal broke. The friend laughs hard.

An actual APD cop is coming up the stairs, but he doesn't seem concerned with me. He situates himself about 15 feet away from me. He's just observing too.

The same old, bald man has been at the info desk for a few minutes now. This is abnormal. It seems most people get what they're looking for at the desk in seconds.

A lot of people at the mall have strollers...

APD has been up here a few minutes...

Another group of boys arrives below. One wears a wife beater to show off the tattoos on his arm and neck.

Doesn't look like the kiosks get that much business.

The APD has been here a while now. He's either waiting for someone, or just lazy. Actually, he just glanced at me...Is that the first time?

A group of 7 or 8 people arrive (varied ages) up top across the way. They are yelling at a group below them to come up.

I decide to go for a walk around the mall. The cop is still standing near by here.

I go for a walk. There is a lot of Spanish being spoken. A man walks by with his little girl all dressed up. She is wearing a white sundress with a yellow pattern on it. He says something about photographs.

I arrive at the food court. There is a birthday party going on for a little girl. She's turning five. She has 11 other friends there around the table, all dressed in pink.

The smell of the food court is appetizing in order to make passersby hungry. A lot of people are just sitting and talking with no drinks or food on the table. Some people just come here to sit down a bit.

I walk back past my old spot. The Cop is still there, staring at his feet. More Spanish is being spoken. A stroller runs in to me. The mom apologizes profusely. She wasn't paying attention in front of her as her toddler son was harassing here. I politely say its no problem. There really are a ton of strollers here…


I continue to walk. I'm almost back at my original spot. A dad walks around with a diaper bag under his arm. This is not an uncommon sight here.

I get back to my original spot. As I'm getting back into position, I get pushed over by a large black lady. She and two friends are hurrying away. Mall security stops them. He holds out his hand and says, "halt, immediately". He’s very clearly nervous. Its humorous watching him try to assert his authority. The APD cop that was there earlier (and apparently the whole time) looks up and slowly walks over to see what the problem is. He must chill around the mall all day waiting for this moment to arrive.

The "heist situation" takes up my attention. Everything is unfolding. There are three mall security guards up here now along with the APD officer. One of the girls from the info desk has come up the escalator as well. She is talking to the cop. She says she saw something and points down below at a plant. One woman's bags are being searched. All three of the women are playing it cool though, saying they've done nothing. They're all on their cell phones.

Minutes pass. One of the ladies looks right at me. I look her right in the face. She looks guilty, or at least like she knows one of them did something wrong. Who wants to deal with getting arrested on a sunday afternoon at the mall? People are just walking by, trying to act like they are not staring.

Looking below, two strollers collide. I decide strollers are a serious issue at the mall.

Another cop is approaching. He must be here to join the hesist situation. His name is Officer Eveleth.

Officer Eveleth is very intimidating. He's a "triple B": Big, Bald, and Black.
Looking down the way, the apple store is jammed pack. The mall director was right...

I walk by Hollister, the smell almost knocks me over. Its like AXE body spray times ten with some cheap peach schnapps.

Back to my original spot, another APD cop has arrived. These ladies are definitely in trouble now. The searched bags are still on the floor where they were before. All three of the women are handcuffed. One is text messaging behind her back. All three look very frustrated.


4:27 - I leave the mall out the Nordstrom's doors.

Operation Observation

Barton Creek Square Mall

09.11.08

9:44 AM

I park in the Sears parking lot. Gathering my materials, I exit my vehicle. I step foot onto the worn asphalt, lock my car, and proceed towards the Sears entrance.


9:46 AM

A man in a red Ford pick-up truck parks in front of the Sears entrance. He spots a stranded Sears cart in the parking lot. He attaches the Sears cart to a strand of interlocked shopping carts. The man jumps into his truck and drives off.


9:50 AM

A mother and her two daughters sit on a brown leather couch in front of SEARS. The mother feeds her children a healthy breakfast: a large mixed fruit cup. The family seems to be middle class; the mother wears a pink, Ralph Lauren Polo and a tan miniskirt, one daughter wears a conservative pastel full-length dress, and the other wears pants with a red “LOVE” shirt.


9:55 AM

Two middle-aged women exercise on the lower level of the mall. Both wear white sleeveless shirts with black Capri pants and white tennis shoes. They walk in unison at a steady pace. The black tiled border along the perimeter of the mall acts as their guide.


11:40 AM

An old man wearing a plaid maroon short-sleeve shirt, beige Dockers, and brown dress shoes, leans against the railing on the second level next to an escalator. The old man must have just eaten lunch; he twirls a toothpick in his mouth. He seems to not be full and may be craving dessert; the old man stares at the young voluptuous women riding up the escalator. He focuses his eyes on the women like a vulture would its prey. The old man runs his eyes up and down the young women’s bodies. He continues to twirl his toothpick. The old man continues his hobby for about twenty minutes before retiring. Is he going home, or is he relocating?


12:14 PM

It is rush hour at the food court; the lines are long and most tables are occupied. Two Asian women circulate the food court. They notice most restaurants are providing customers with free samples. They stop and indulge on a sample from Quizno’s Classic Subs. They are suddenly drawn to a man’s voice: “Yummy, Yummy Chicken!” The two Asian women make their way towards the free “yummy chicken” sample at Sarku Japan. They finish with a sample of a strawberry and banana smoothie from Frullati Café and Bakery. We make eye contact. The two Asian women realize that I have been observing them. They laugh. I grin.



09.13.08

3:30 PM

A middle-aged man on the second level waits for his wife outside The Limited. He notices the benches are occupied. The benches and trashcans are indiscriminately covered in mahogany. The middle-aged man shrugs his shoulders and sits on the trashcan located near a railing. He begins tapping on the trashcan as if it were a drum. The middle-aged man continues drumming as he leans his head over the railing to observe shoppers on the first level. A teenage girl with a drink in her hand approaches the middle-aged man. She disposes her Chick-fil-A cup by throwing it in the trashcan and continues walking. Ten minutes later, the middle-aged man’s wife exits The Limited. They converse for a few seconds and then make their way towards the food court.


3:43 PM

A young boy holds his mother’s hand as they walk on the second level towards where I am sitting, outside Bebe Sport. The young boy seems to be in a happy mood; he has a slight skip in his stride and a large smile on his face. The young boy’s eyes light up when he notices a row of potted plants along the railing. He begins to pet the plants along his path. His mother says, “Don’t touch the plants!” The young boy disobeys and pets the following potted plant.

3:57 PM

The SUV of strollers zooms by in front of Pottery Barn. It is purple, extra wide, equipped with a sun visor, and wheels similar to those on a bicycle. Two infants dressed in blue jumpers are the passengers. The mother is forced to make a sharp turn to avoid the on-coming traffic of shoppers. She then has trouble maneuvering between kiosks located in the center of the walkways. She succeeds and makes her way into Brookstone.


4:15 PM

A group of teenage boys wearing oversized clothing spots a red, car shaped children’s stroller. The teenage boys take turns pushing and riding in the red kiddy cart on the lower level. Their legs protrude from the stroller as they race down the walkways. People around them seem not to pay any attention. Is this behavior common? Is it allowed? Where are the security guards?


09.16.08

7:47 PM

A Toni and Guy hairdresser sits on a bench outside the salon. She opens up a DVD player and pops in a DVD. The hairdresser holds a manual in her left hand as she views a video. Images of a man’s hair being styled flash on the tiny screen. The hairdresser takes notes. Is watching this a video a requirement for Toni and Guy stylists?

8:11 PM

A young man in the food court wears his messenger bag as he gobbles a fully loaded hotdog with fries and large drink. He pays no attention to his surroundings, but simply stares at his food. He looks at his watch and then takes a large bite out of his hotdog. Seven minutes later, he crumbles his hotdog and fries wrappers, takes a last sip of his drink and discards them in the nearest trashcan. He looks at his watch one last time, adjusts his messenger bag, and leaves the food court in the direction towards Armani Exchange.

8:19 PM

A cosmetic salesman on the first level aggressively approaches a young woman with beauty products. The startled woman awkwardly escapes to Solstace Sunglass Boutique as she nods her head. The salesman complains to a worker in the next kiosk. The adjacent worker shrugs his shoulders. Both mall employees return to their carts.

8:30 PM

An Auntie Anne’s worker on the second level sits on the ordering counter. She begins cleaning one of the two ICEE machines. A few minutes later, a customer approaches the counter. The worker jumps off the counter, wipes her hand on her white apron, and attends to the customer. After the customer receives his order, the worker jumps back onto the counter and finishes cleaning the ICEE machine.

9:00 PM

“Thank you for shopping at Nordstrom. At this time please make final purchases; we will be closing soon. The next time we can service you will be: September 17, 2008 at 10:00 AM.” I exit Nordstrom with a group of friends and get in a Honda SUV. We somehow get lost in the mall parking lot; we enter a wrong lane. A black cat crosses in front of car. Is the cat a negative omen? We finally figure out how to exit the parking lot and get onto Loop 1.

Observing Apple

11:30am-ish

12pm-ish


1pm-ish

11:00am Saturday. An hour after the mall has opened, out of most of the stores in Barton Creek Mall, Apple has the most customers. As I sit right outside watching people come and go, I observe Apple’s immaculate design of its products to its sleek architecture and friendly atmosphere. Its brightly lit iconic half bitten apple logo placed dead center on the silver gray aluminum storefront stands out amongst other stores’ bland lettering. A model of the new iPhone 3G blown up to 10 times its original size dangles in the window display. The employees, smiles plastered on their faces, are dressed either in bright aqua or orange t-shirts. The interior is brightly lit containing tables that hold a range of products from the new Nano to the Macbook Airs. 

11:21am. The crowd has doubled. I notice that Apple’s neighboring shops include White House/Black Market, American Eagle, Bebe, Hollister, and Gap. There’s a traffic jam of people in front of Apple whereas just across it, Gap is vacant. I’m curious why Apple chose this particular area. Was it because there was no other open space to take when the company moved into the mall? Or was it strategically placed there for shoppers to take a break from clothes? There are several customers in American Eagle. Right next door, there are 30-35 customers in Apple.

I begin counting how many people come out with a new Apple product in their hands. The approximate ratio is 1 out of 7 people, not including people who walk in to get their Macbooks and iPods fixed. How many people who walk in are loyal Apple customers? How many are them fresh new converts from PCs? I notice that more and more families loiter in front of the store. A teenage girl and man walk in. A woman drags out a young boy who whines to perhaps stay longer. A middle-aged man walks out with his laptop. Has it been fixed? Then, a middle-aged couple walks out with a massive 30-inch monitor.

12:35pm. The crowd continues to grow larger. Now, every 1 out of 5 people leaves with a new Apple product. I glance over at American Eagle and Bebe, the larger but unoccupied stores. I wonder if Apple helps to attract people to this side of the mall. Or does it overwhelm and blind customers from seeing anything other than Apple? The mall manager, Nancy Hedrick, had stated that Gap and Apple were a few of the more successful stores, which led me to wonder if Apple influences Gap’s success or vice versa.

1:15pm. Every other minute, people pour in and out. Every employee is helping at least one customer. It seems that more men than women occupy the space. Surprisingly, there are many young families. With young families come mischievous children. I walk in and right at the entrance, there is one boy who crawls under one of the tables while a man attempts to lure him out. Another boy begins to gently swing the Nano models hanging in the window. As I walk deeper into the store, I constantly say, “Excuse me” with the lack of space to maneuver around comfortably and traffic jam of people. I’m reminded of a recent Harvard reading, “Ms. Consumer”, which discusses the idea of the mall being city-like or the recreated downtown. With the traffic jam and unpredictability of people and events within the store, Apple resembles a whole other city within a city (the mall).

2:00pm Saturday. I leave the mall.

7:35pm Tuesday. An hour and half before the mall closes, Apple has about 20-25 customers occupying its space. There are fewer customers tonight. Still, there are more customers in Apple than in its surrounding stores. As I sit outside of the store once again, I notice that the lights in the mall turn on and off every 15 minutes. Does this process conserve more energy? Doesn’t turning them on and off waste more energy? Is it telling customers that the mall is preparing to close? Bebe is completely vacant. The employees, without customers to aid, linger in front of the doors observing people.

8:04pm. A security officer leans against the pillar next to me observing my actions. I continue to write in my notebook. A couple drags out their toddler from the store. The boy lies down on the floor. Two students who I had previously seen walk out with new purchases come back within 20 minutes and enter again. Are they returning something that they had just bought? Or could they not resist coming back one more time before they left the mall? A woman glues her eyes on the window display as she walks by, stops, hesitates, turns back around and enters. Three loud students with food in their hands casually enter. Is food allowed in the store? At Gap, a woman walking her Chihuahua dog captures my attention. Didn’t the mall manager mention that pets were not allowed?

8:20pm. Since there are fewer people at Apple than there was on Saturday, I decide to leave Apple and explore elsewhere. Nordstrom’s has a small café called the E-Bar. Nearby, there is a seating area with leather couches that have six pillows each. Hedrick stated that people would ruthlessly rip the pillows off the couches. I picked up a pillow that was strewn across the floor and examined the back. Attached to it was a Velcro sticker that sticks to the leather couches. Perhaps this was an afterthought from discovering that people rip the pillows off no matter what.

8:35pm. I walk some more and see an employee at the Sprint cart watching Youtube videos on his laptop, oblivious and indifferent to his surroundings. Then, in the corner of my eye, the lady with her dog walks by swiftly. I follow her out towards JcPenney where she exits the mall. I notice that as soon as I enter the JcPenney threshold, a musky smell and warm air encompass me. The air conditioning is turned off. Immediately, I am repulsed by the smell and walk back into the open mall area.

9:00pm. I stand in front of the downward escalator wondering where the upward elevator is. I look across the space and see it at a separate end. Why weren’t the escalators built next to each other for better convenience? In other areas of the mall, they were. Stores begin to close.

9:10pm. I return to Apple one last time. There are still about eight customers left even after it has been closed for 10 minutes. Apple is still alive, brightly lit.

Every other store is vacant.