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The Snows Of Sbarro's
February 16, 2014 8:38 AM   Subscribe

In 2011, the upscale White Flint Shopping mall was closed and planned for demolition, but not before someone went in and photographed the interior and food court in all its pastel-neon-plastic 80s glory.
posted by The Whelk (106 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
When I was a small child who had recently emigrated to this country and watched 4-6 hours of television a day, this is what I thought all of America was like.
posted by griphus at 8:44 AM on February 16 [9 favorites]


Also if I had my druthers, I'd be living in a full-scale replica of The Max from Saved by the Bell but apparently that's "bizarre" and "insane" and "well outside the scope of our interior decorating services, sir."
posted by griphus at 8:45 AM on February 16 [35 favorites]


My first thought " wow, that's waaaaaay nicer than our mall, which was considered a treat to go to, because it had stores unlike say, anything in a ten mile radius around our apartment."
posted by The Whelk at 8:49 AM on February 16


If the mods want to update the OP - the article states it was closed in 2011, not 2000.
posted by COD at 8:50 AM on February 16


Man, good riddance to this place even if it is sort of an end of an era in the DC burbs.

Growing up in Montgomery County you had Montgomery Mall which was the "regular" mall, Lakeforest which was kind of the trash mall, Tysons is your the ritzy mega mall a half hour away if you couldn't find what you were looking for at either of those.

And then White Flint was just this bizarro world mall that no one understood why it existed, at least when I was growing up in the 90's/2000's. Maybe when it opened in the 70's it was "pure glamour", but man, in the 90's? It was like, "hmmm, I need to go to a store that exclusively sells lava lamps and plasma balls, then hit up sharper image, then maybe pick something up from the Gap and if we time, we can catch a 20 minute 3D movie at Dave and Busters." It was total WTF. Borders was the only reason to really go there, but when that closed? That mall was done for. The strange retro food court tied it all together.
posted by windbox at 8:55 AM on February 16 [7 favorites]


I didn't know White Flint had closed. It's a strange contrast to what the Frederick Towne Mall (ca. 40 mi away in Frederick MD) looked like when it had almost closed down (one department store and one Hallmark were still open and you could peer into the mall until recently). The roof was leaking; walls were stained; the whole mall smelled. It did not look nice.
posted by acrasis at 8:56 AM on February 16


White Flint opened when I was 6. The Eatery -- which was what this food court was called, though the linked post doesn't say so -- was the first food court most of us had ever seen. It looks terrible to you now because we have different ideas about how a commerical environment ought to look. But it wasn't terrible. It was great -- all those different kinds of food, and you could get food one place and your parents another, or you could mix and match from different places, and enjoy it all in what was at the time not ugly at all, but precisely of the moment.

Also, in high school, you could get a guaranteed laugh by referring to the bathrooms in the Eatery as "the Shittery."
posted by escabeche at 8:57 AM on February 16 [15 favorites]


Holy crap those murals. There's no way the person that did those didn't do the cover art for at least a few sci-fi novels.
posted by passerby at 8:57 AM on February 16 [8 favorites]


I was there in 2000. I thought it was a blast. It was the closest mall to my apartment and, not being from around there, it was novel. How can you look at it and not revel in the oddity.
posted by PolarHermit at 8:58 AM on February 16


Looking at those pictures I could swear I've been to the place, but I haven't. I guess it reminds me of other malls elsewhere with the same esthetic.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:02 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Just a few more years left alone and it would have made a great Bioshock level.
posted by Behemoth at 9:02 AM on February 16 [9 favorites]


That place just looks like a fancier, less dilapidated version of literally any mall in Manitoba.
posted by wreckingball at 9:02 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]


[Updated the year in the post.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:05 AM on February 16


Three malls in Toledo have died - two of them have already been demolished, and the third is set for demolition in May. That leaves one mall in Toledo, and two in the suburbs of Maumee and Perrysburg.

The three dead ones looked quite a lot like this. I'm glad to see this style of mall go the way of the dodo.
posted by MissySedai at 9:16 AM on February 16


Oh my god I hate the captions. Ha ha ha. Great photos though.
posted by neuromodulator at 9:18 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]


It looks like it smells like an ashtray, but in a good way. Most of my memories of malls from then have that smokiness.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:19 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


The person who wrote the captions really, really, really, really wants us to think that those pictures are deeper and more meaningful than they are.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:20 AM on February 16 [21 favorites]


Nobody looted those ovens? Nobody looted those beautiful ovens? The rest of the structure, as iconic as it is, is pretty useless to me - but if you've never baked in a real pizza oven - it is magical. They may be heavy as hell and require a forklift to get them out - but - hell I'd be tempted to build a house around an oven as magical as one of those.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:25 AM on February 16 [10 favorites]


a great Bioshock level.

BIOSHOCK: VICE ?
posted by The Whelk at 9:27 AM on February 16 [6 favorites]


Mais ou sont les nieges d'anatan.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:32 AM on February 16 [7 favorites]


Well my "Kafkaesque" quotient is fulfilled for the day.
posted by angerbot at 9:34 AM on February 16


White Flint opened just before I moved away from Montgomery County. I remember going to it at the grand old age of 7 and being rather impressed. It was certainly better than the little strip mall by the Giant that largely summed up my shopping experience at that point in my life.
posted by sfred at 9:37 AM on February 16


I keep hoping for the demise of malls but they all seem to be doing well around here. Even the Mall of the Dead isn't actually dead. I was in one last year and remembered all over how much I hate them.
posted by octothorpe at 9:40 AM on February 16


As a kid growing up in Baltimore city (which didn't really have any malls in its city limits) in the 80s, White Flint was definitely a Very Fancy Mall. Somehow I completely blocked out any memories of that food court, though.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:41 AM on February 16


Dead malls all around America
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:43 AM on February 16


It was certainly better than the little strip mall by the Giant that largely summed up my shopping experience at that point in my life.

YOU SHUT UP ABOUT CABIN JOHN SHOPPING CENTER!
posted by escabeche at 9:45 AM on February 16 [7 favorites]


The "nice" mall in my hometown has sort of turned into this but is still open. Like it's still got the same aesthetic but it's in sort of that pit of mall hell where they won't let you die peacefully so it's a weird collection of "whatever shops want to buy space in a dying mall." There's a coffin outlet in there. Like you can go in and be sized for scratch and dent/remaindered/discount coffins.

On the one hand, it's kind of funny, but on the other hand, it makes me kind of sad to see the place where I spent untold hours of my mallratting youth turn into Moe's Discount Coffin Emporium.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:48 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


I guess it reminds me of other malls elsewhere with the same esthetic.

Yeah, that food court looks a lot like one I was familiar with growing up. Swooshing fiberglass meets neon meets vaguely Italianate tilework must've been a very popular choice for retail design. I see they got Roger Dean to do the mural. Shame they couldn't have gotten Patrick Nagel.

I do love it. It all still looks like the future to me.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:48 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


I finally saw the original Robocop yesterday. I suspect for future generations distinguishing the satirical kitsch from the standard 80's aesthetic will be impossible. As our grim century progresses the 80s and 90s feel truly hyperreal.

I can't say I'll miss malls but they do feel democratic in hindsight, at least in comparison to today's increasingly luxury-oriented shopping culture. The rest of us have discount movie theaters and playgrounds for social gatherings, I guess.
posted by gorbweaver at 9:51 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Cristina's World...cretins!
It's Maxfield Parrish's Garden of Allah.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:51 AM on February 16 [7 favorites]


Mods, you need to update this again. White Flint didn't close in 2000, and it didn't close in 2011. It is still open, albeit barely. Most tenants moved out by the end of 2013, but Lord & Taylor is still there (and is trying its best to stay there).

Dave & Busters is also still open.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 9:54 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]


I'll also add these photos must have been taken pretty recently. In 2011 the food court was still at least 2/3 inhabited. The last food court eatery closed up sometime in the second half of 2013...
posted by Ike_Arumba at 10:05 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


When I was a small child who had recently emigrated to this country and watched 4-6 hours of television a day, this is what I thought all of America was like.
I visited a pen-pal in Czechoslovakia in 1989, and he'd managed to hook up some sort of antenna so that he could occasionally pull in TV channels from West Germany. When I arrived, he'd just recently seen some TV special about Las Vegas, and he kept telling me how marvelous and wonderful America must be, with all those sparkling lights and signs..... He presumed that all of the US looked like Vegas.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:08 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


So, is anything about this story true?
posted by bongo_x at 10:14 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]


I must disagree with the captioner. I find the pictures to be Ray Bradburyish rather than Kafkaesque.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:16 AM on February 16


As much as I agree that shopping malls are generally terrible, I haven't heard much about how those sprawling auto-centric "power centres" that are replacing them are any better, aesthetically or otherwise.
posted by spoobnooble II: electric bugaboo at 10:23 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Somewhere zombie Hemingway sheds a tear.
posted by Dr. Zira at 10:25 AM on February 16


There is something oddly surreal about an empty shopping mall. Anyone who has been to Vallco in Cupertino understands.
posted by vaportrail at 10:31 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Darn those well funded mall cops, delaying the inevitable mall dystopia, where clans of rat-people battle while cockroaches swarm and assemble to decorate the walls with temporary graffiti.

P.S. I sneaked into my first R-rated movie at that mall. Boobs!
posted by surplus at 10:35 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I've been in shopping malls that are still open that looked like that.
posted by lagomorphius at 10:40 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


On the bright side: there is a no smoking sign.
I hope the demolition crew donates those chairs to a poor neighborhood school or a storefront church.
posted by Cranberry at 10:40 AM on February 16


Personally I find malls creepy even when they're filled with people. More-so, even.
posted by cman at 10:43 AM on February 16


White Flint opened when I was in high school in Mont. County. It was the posh mall, with stores like I Magnin. We went there not to shop, but to stare. Too rich for our budgets (at least for the crowd with which I ran).

What hasn't been mentioned yet? This tile festival wasn't the first incarnation of the food court at White Flint. The original was not accessible--sections were raised so it took a step or two up to get to them, and that's where some tables were situated. As at least one previous person has said upthread, the food options were terrific, back when food choices as a mall setting of their own were new in the area. The setting was warmer and friendlier, in neutral hues and perhaps with wood trim here and there--more like a 70s setting. The white tile hospital look (murals included) happened some time in the later 1980s, and it was appalling even then.

In its last days, White Flint mall was used for career day presentations (booths set up in the large open spaces); yoga mom-and-me classes held in the space opposite Dave & Busters. Borders closing up was really the death of it, and while Cheesecake Factory still was packed, the rest of the place looked like the sad relic it was.

It's not that I'll miss it. But what is planned for the site and surrounding areas is a traffic nightmare, in an already congested area.
posted by datawrangler at 10:52 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


As much as I agree that shopping malls are generally terrible, I haven't heard much about how those sprawling auto-centric "power centres" that are replacing them are any better, aesthetically or otherwise.

They suck. Two of the surviving three malls around here are of that ilk. The developers call them "shopping villages". Meh. The only difference between them and enclosed malls is that they're not conducive to walking, and there's no food court for bored teenagers to hang out and raise a ruckus in.

The one enclosed mall remaining is not any place I ever let my boys go alone when they were teens, and it's not getting any better.
posted by MissySedai at 10:52 AM on February 16


The angry-looking reindeer on the Christmas banners at White Flint were an amusing, if mysterious, sign of the holidays. How I miss them and this small, odd little mall.

.
posted by Stoatfarm at 11:09 AM on February 16


Did somebody say 80s? Back in the late 70s, a developer began building a mall way out on the eastern edge of Tulsa, assuming that development would continue out that way. It didn't, but someone still decided in the early 80s to buy the place and finish it. By 2004 or so, largely thanks to someone building a mall a few miles away where the development did go, it was almost empty, save a Dillard's outlet (did you even know Dillard's had outlet stores?) and maybe a few mom and pops.

Today, it has been redeveloped into the weirdest office space ever. It has a couple of call centers, a day care, and the DMV office. No more food court, but there is a convenience store and a Subway. Anyway, these are not my pictures, but someone kindly took a bunch before they turned it into whatever you'd call it now.
posted by wierdo at 11:18 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Recent WaPo piece about the past and future state of White Flint Mall.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 11:18 AM on February 16


White Flint was the first suburban shopping mall I encountered that offered valet parking.

That speaks volumes about where it was and how it got to where it is.
posted by delfin at 11:20 AM on February 16


I believe this may be the first time in human history that anyone has waxed elegiac about a Sbarro's.
posted by killdevil at 11:22 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


The very last picture looks like it could be the doorway to Saul Goodman's office.
posted by crapmatic at 11:24 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Nobody looted those ovens? Nobody looted those beautiful ovens?

This is probably because they have eaten sbarro's 'pizza-like' things.
posted by srboisvert at 11:26 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


It's like Kids Incorporated meets Logan's Run.
posted by blueberry at 11:26 AM on February 16 [11 favorites]


enclosed shopping malls that captivated the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s in favor of the roofless “lifestyle center” of the 2000s and beyond

which are truly awful.

they have the same stores (essentially) as the mall, but all the hassle of parking downtown. with the bonus that i get to walk in a mall, in the rain.
posted by Dr. Twist at 11:50 AM on February 16 [10 favorites]


all those different kinds of food, and you could get food one place and your parents another, or you could mix and match from different places

No, 100% of everybody would get the California Chicken Salad from J. Chow's, the best thing ever eaten at a mall.
posted by palliser at 11:50 AM on February 16


It looks kind of like how I expect a mall food court to look, minus the businesses and patrons.

In Calgary, we do have the odd sad mall with dollar stores and the Coles bookstore with a selection surpassed by most airport newsstands. But for the most part malls are still as popular as ever. I think the only mall I've ever seen torn down was immediately replaced by a Wal-Mart and a Rona (like Home Depot). And there are plans to replace a few more that are close to light rail with high density developments, but for now those malls still have business.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:54 AM on February 16


Darn those well funded mall cops, delaying the inevitable mall dystopia, where clans of rat-people battle while cockroaches swarm and assemble to decorate the walls with temporary graffiti.

I so want to get access to one of these emptied malls before they get demolished so I could make some sort of weird indie mumblegore horror film.
posted by jonp72 at 11:59 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Those roofless lifestyle centers freak me way the fuck out, a charming village! That no one lives in! That's ruled by corporations! It's like the human pavilion in some horrible alien zoo, an Epcot center for our own lives.
posted by The Whelk at 12:00 PM on February 16 [12 favorites]


Great memories of playing on-rails shoot-em-ups at Dave and Busters as a kid. I remember Sharper Image had a six foot tall gumball machine, which was pretty neat.

White Flint's supposed to become a mixed-use development, which makes far more sense given how close it is to a Metro stop.
posted by Tabs at 12:20 PM on February 16


Thanks so much for this! As soon as I read "White Flint," a barrage of memories flooded in. Haven't lived in DC in > 20yrs, I hadn't even thought of White Flint. As a Montgomery County girl growing up in the 80's White Flint was the aspirational mall, while Lakeforest was my closest mall (Gaithersburg represent!). White Flint was the wealthy people mall (I. Magnin, Bloomingdales), the one you went to for the Homecoming dance dress shopping or plain ol' window shopping. I even opened up my first bank account at the Chevy Chase Bank there, in 1985.

And I loved that ersatz Georgetown M Street with all my teen girl heart, which I thought was the most wonderful thing ever, though I'm sure I would have no love for its Disney-esque plastic cobblestone streets now. And I agree, that food court was the first of its kind I'd ever seen, and I thought that was magical and special, too.

Route 355, my dad's old FDA job at the Parklawn Building, Giant, Cabin John...it's another lifetime ago.
posted by Pocahontas at 12:25 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


At least in terms of the big department store anchors, malls have only themselves to blame for their demise. I prefer clothes shopping in person, because women's sizes are often whimsically completely off, and I like to feel fabrics and check fit before I buy instead of dealing with returns. But I have yet to see a non-discount store that actually puts, say, all the pants in one section, rather than by designer or some other cryptic formula, so that you have to go four different places in the same store to try to find one pair of black pants. So I order online, and that mall doesn't get my foot traffic, impulse buys, or meal purchase money.

The one things malls still do best is provide a free indoor space for parents to take restive small children. The ones that survived around here put in bigger playspaces, kid mini-rides, and toystores and kid clothes shops in the surrounding places. When my kiddo was small and it was too hot or too cold for playgrounds, the mall was our best option. And we'd almost always buy food, at least. Malls are always loud, so your kid could be loud too, and you could just zone out on the benches for a few blessed minutes.
posted by emjaybee at 12:40 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Is it wrong that I want to buy an old warehouse space, and turn it into a loft with murals like that?


If I told an interior decorator that i wanted something with a Maxfield Parrish meets Patrick Nagel kind of vibe, would they just call the cops on me?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:42 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]


White Flint; damn. Such a weird mall. I remember they hired several people --including me-- at some point in the very early 80s to stand by a grand piano in one of the center areas and sing show tunes to entertain those passing by. I didn't know many show tunes at the time, but crammed a bunch in my head real quick since they paid crazy-ass money for those days: like $500 for two hours or something. I stood in my tux and sang stupid show tunes and people looked at me like I was crazy. But that was a month's rent back then.

I also played about 40,000 hours of crazy taxi at that D&B. Had no idea the mall had even closed.

.

(I guess. I liked those big checks...)
posted by umberto at 12:47 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


I think enclosed malls are dying for good in the south and other parts of the country where walking outdoors can be pleasant year-round. It makes it easier to run non-anchor style megastores like Best Buy, Michael's and REI, and the landholders would rather have a couple dozen really large, wealthy tenants and a couple dozen more smaller tenants, rather than five or six department store magnet tenants and hundreds of smaller franchises.

Corporate consolidation over the past few decades has made the latter business model questionably viable anyway.

In the north, though, it's more complicated. An enclosed indoor space means that people can get all their shopping done for the snowy 1/3 of the year without having to go outdoors. The trick is to find a way to make the place seem not dismal when so many of the smaller units are empty and boarded, which is an inevitable consequence of business churn; Some franchises have limited lifespans because they're set up entirely to exploit some trend without built-in longevity, and some franchises just plain collapse, get bought up, decide the local area is not a good market, or whatever. Landlords probably don't like giant interior malls either; there's all that indoor space they have to maintain without being able to lease to anybody. An exterior mall is just like any shopping center: The storefronts are right at the curb and the landlords can lease all the space not dedicated to parking.

The trick is getting the merchants, landlords, and consumers to all agree. Northerners seem resigned to having to move their cars from storefront to storefront, dealing with unpleasant parking lot conditions, limited parking due to the plowed snow banked up over spaces, and other customers all making the same motions. They have to go where their stores are, though, and the large retailers are currently all-in on the outdoor mall concept.
posted by ardgedee at 12:49 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


White Flint opened during the years I was in high school a few blocks away. So I visited the mall frequently. The movie theatres especially. Later in 1986 I remember going to see ALIENS at White Flint, and on the way out of the auditorium after the movie, gashed my head but good on the EXIT sign in the doorway of the theatre. For some reason it was only about 6' high and I'm 6'3. Ouch. Still hurts to think about it.

Like others have said, the mall was such a weird place. Parking was always a nightmare. The whole place felt poorly architected, no understanding of people, light, environment, foot (or car) traffic flow, nothin'. Just this big box next to the Metro line.

The other mall further out Rockville Pike, the notorious Rockville Mall, was even worse. It was so bad it pretty much shut down before it even got going.
posted by brianstorms at 12:54 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Apparently immune to the overall downward trend of enclosed malls: Woodfield. It remains pretty well at-capacity, and absolutely packed to the gills with people pretty much any time I am so unfortunate as to be there.
posted by like_a_friend at 1:01 PM on February 16


The other mall further out Rockville Pike, the notorious Rockville Mall, was even worse. It was so bad it pretty much shut down before it even got going.




And now this is caught in my head.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:12 PM on February 16


As I grew up in DC, in the city proper, I never had any real suburban mall experience as a teenager. For shopping we had stand alone department stores in Friendship Heights and Mazza Gallerie (technically a mall but purely high end) and, of course, the mecca that was Georgetown where I hung out on weekends with friends. But one of my last summers in high school I worked as an apprentice goldsmith at my girlfriend's father's jewelry store at White Flint. I commuted via Metro, ate at the Eatery (which I thought was amazing), and not once did I shop there. It was fascinating, alien and because I worked in a workshop above the display store I never had a sense of 'mall' except when I came out for lunch, arrived in the morning or left in the afternoon. It is so strange to be reminded of that time, because even though it was a good time in my life, White Flint itself feels like a memory of a strange, foreign place that I visited on vacation. Says far more about me than White Flint, I know.
posted by buffalo at 1:13 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


The sad mural feels like Barton Fink's painting of the girl on the beach
posted by timshel at 1:30 PM on February 16


I have great memories of the early days of suburban malls. We had a central area in our mall where parents abandoned their children so they could reenact lord of the flies while their parents shopped. There was a 'mountain' made out of carpeted plywood blocks stacked pyramid style that invited children to play king of the hill. No padding whatsoever.

There were so many arms broken that I remember wanting a cast so I could get signatures and then keep it on my bookshelf after it was cut off. Like everyone else did. I'm still kind of disappointed it didn't happen for me.
posted by srboisvert at 1:31 PM on February 16


like_a_friend: "Apparently immune to the overall downward trend of enclosed malls: Woodfield. It remains pretty well at-capacity, and absolutely packed to the gills with people pretty much any time I am so unfortunate as to be there."

I feel like Woodfield Mall is in a whole separate category. My mind would be blown if it died. The same is sort of true of the Mall of America. I'm pretty sure it has gone into decline, but there are still loads of people there. (It probably helps that it's by far the most transit-accessible mall and downtown Minneapolis's shopping options pale in comparison.)

(Unrelated, but there's a mall in the Twin Cities that looks like it was designed by the same people who designed Deerbrook Mall, which I swear has been dying for my entire life and yet continues to hang on. I think the only reason anyone sets foot inside is to go to the TJ Maxx. Almost every other shop is accessible from the outside--it's like a shopping center with a mall awkwardly pasted on the back. I was baffled when I went into its Minnesotan twin and some nontrivial percentage of the stores were actually occupied.)
posted by hoyland at 2:09 PM on February 16


dang, it's like a prompt for a post-apocalyptic adventure: horrible things chase you while you run through the abandons ruins of the mall.
posted by angrycat at 2:11 PM on February 16


I'm still amazed the Japanese style train station/shopping center hasn't caught on in the US. It's kind of the perfect symbiotic relationship. The retail gets more traffic from commuters and extends the geographical area of being convenient to customers, the rail line gets riders interested in going shopping without having to park. Those malls don't look dead to me; they seem to be getting bigger and more elaborate.

Oh that's right. We hate public transportation no matter what.
posted by ctmf at 2:13 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]


I once went to White Flint Mall when I was in DC to visit a friend from high school who was in college there. We took the Red Line all the way out there because they were the only place in the area with a particular video game, Street Fighter IV or something, that he and his roommate were really into. I remember that, being from Louisiana, we made fun of the "Cajun" restaurant in the food court.
posted by wintermind at 2:15 PM on February 16


I spent a fair amount of time at White Flint, but oddly I don't remember the food court at all. What I do remember is a girl in my dorm made money on the side pretending to be a mannequin. Bloomingdales used to hire her. She'd have to stand perfectly still, in really heavy makeup, with a thousand-yard stare, then suddenly adjust her position in a mannequin-like way while little kids poked her to see if she was real.
posted by HotToddy at 2:27 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Oh, how strange. I saw this floating around the internet the last couple of days, but hadn't realized until now that it was White Flint Mall, or even that White Flint had closed.

We ate a lot of pieces of cheese pizza from the Sbarro's there, all the girls from the cross country team (we scraped the cheese off and ate only the crusts). We watched all of our movies there. I lived a lot further north, up in Gaithersburg-verging-on-Darnestown, and Lakeforest (or the Rio, what a weird place that was) should have been my mall, but I went to the IB program at Richard Montgomery and my friends were drawn from all over the county. Rich Potomac and Bethesda kids, poor second-generation kids like me who lived in apartments. White Flint was a good middle ground, no distressingly expensive Abercrombie + Fitch to go into and an easy stop on the Rockville Pike bus line.

I had my first kiss in that weird exposed glass elevator. I was holding a drink from Jerry's, it was the weekend before Homecoming. So suburban; I'd never thought of it that way but of course it was. Very strange.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:35 PM on February 16


Good riddance to these snobs I hope the kemp mell records dude smashes the whole place with his hammer.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:47 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I'm still amazed the Japanese style train station/shopping center hasn't caught on in the US.

Aren't train station department stores a thing in Japan because there's some sort of connection between the train companies and the department stores that results in far more shops than in train stations elsewhere? Berlin Hauptbahnhof has a fair few shops, but I think they're largely your normal traveler-oriented train station shops (plus a small grocery store).
posted by hoyland at 3:01 PM on February 16


I think Woodfield stays crowded because it has somehow managed to always feel upscale. it's also an enclosed mall in an area that remains affluent given it's proximity to Chicago and a few major highways. the NW suburbs aren't going to go into decline anytime soon.

also half the year the weather sucks and who wants to walk around Oakbrook or Old Orchard when it's 2F and windy (somehow, people do).
posted by ninjew at 3:20 PM on February 16


Good riddance, I say.
posted by freakazoid at 3:47 PM on February 16


I, too, shopped at this mall a lot. It was really ugly and dark inside. But, it was the closest mall to where I lived. It wasn't the kind of place where one would idle. Though it definitely reminded me of the malls of my childhood - totally 80s, and it that way was sort of comforting. I always had trouble getting a salesperson to help me at other malls, but the snooty ladies at the Bloomingdales would always help me - I feel like they were used to seeing non-white, non-business attired people in track pants who would spend a decent amount of money at the store, unlike places like the Montgomery Mall where people go to hang out and spend time, and there fore dress better, rather than as a place to specifically buy certain things.
I was a little sad when the Bloomies closed in 2012. I also liked the little tailoring shop there. I should have followed up to see where they moved to. (Also, I think the mall closed completely in 2013, not 2011).
posted by bluefly at 3:52 PM on February 16


dang, it's like a prompt for a post-apocalyptic adventure: horrible things chase you while you run through the abandons ruins of the mall.

While " Kids In America" plays over the tinny PA.
posted by The Whelk at 3:56 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I'll admit I didn't go to it THIS fall, but I have a conference every year at the Bethesda North Marriott, and there's not a lot of close food options that aren't just awful. Consequently, I've eaten at the PF Chang's and whatever Italian joint is next to it at the entrance to that mall certainly as recently as just before Christmas, 2012.

IOW, that mall certainly didn't close in 2011. I'm actually pretty sure I bought a paperback in the bookstore in that mall in late 2011, too, biz travel being what it is.

Anyway, I skipped the food court, so I can't attest to the photos, though I've certainly been to malls with foot courts that look (or looked) similar (the Shops at Canal Place in New Orleans, e.g.).
posted by uberchet at 4:28 PM on February 16


Tysons is your the ritzy mega mall a half hour away if you couldn't find what you were looking for at either of those.

A much younger and single me did a consulting gig that took me around the corner from Tysons mall a couple of times a month for a year or so. My team and I figured out pretty quick it was a great place to get picked up by bored, suburban women. "Cruising for soccer moms" became a thing.
posted by kjs3 at 4:47 PM on February 16


I even opened up my first bank account at the Chevy Chase Bank there, in 1985.

From the Wikipedia entry on Chevy Chase Bank:

Despite its name, Chevy Chase Bank was a federally chartered thrift regulated by the Office of Thrift Supervision, rather than a bank.

Thank you for your diligence, Wikipedia, but that wasn't actually what was confusing me about the name.
posted by passerby at 4:52 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]


And now this is caught in my head. posted by TheWhiteSkull

I went back and it was amazing. I drove 25 years later down the same route my teen self always rode my bike to get to Rockville Pike. Nothing much was the same, but it was all familiar.

The highlight was the one strip mall where downstairs in the back the aquarium shop WAS. STILL. THERE. 25 years later. In the 70's all I wanted to do was finish high school, get a job in that aquarium shop, sit in the dark and listen to the Eagles. Wait, I still want that.
posted by surplus at 5:16 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


I think Woodfield stays crowded because it has somehow managed to always feel upscale.

This is weird to me, having grown up there when it was decidedly not upscale (it wasn't as sketchy as Stratford Square, but it totally wasn't as nice as Old Orchard or Northbrook Court), but lately it is suuuuuper classy.
posted by like_a_friend at 5:22 PM on February 16


I used to go there in the mid-eighties out of queeriosity, because everything in that mall was too expensive, but I worked just behind the mall and enjoyed the glass elevator, which I imagined shooting me into orbit and a conflict with vermicious knids, and the J Crew, which had a gayish sort of vibe that felt cool to my late-teen self. It was all too fancy, though blissfully below the stratospheric one-percent snoot of Mazza and Georgetown, but I liked walking around places, just watching people and wondering about their stories.

In the end, though, I am more grit than prep, more PG than Potomac, and so I retreated to the grim safety of Beltway Plaza, which at least had a decent old school pet store, a non-chain bookstore, and a theater that showed Rocky Horror.

I did, however, once urinate on a single overhead cam engine directly in front of the Rockville Pike entrance to the mall at the height of rush hour with an elderly former calendar model in the passenger seat covering her eyes with a program from a Residents concert. I had a 1979 Fiat Strada, which I adored for it's strange joys, like wonderful, better-than-Golf tight handling, peculiar aesthetics, and having the key on the left side of the wheel, but which had a few quirks, like needing to be push-started a little too often and occasionally bursting into flame.

The drive from Rockville to my sad little apartment in Bladensburg was the commute that's made me turn down a profitable life ever since on the basis of my rigid anti-commuting rule, because it was an hour-and-a-half-long series of six-inch angry lurches down Rockville Pike and then onto the Inner Loop, and it was particularly bad for my Fiat, which, when running hot, would show off the problem of putting a fuel line across the hottest parts of an engine. The engine would heat up until gasoline would actually start to boil in the clear plastic inline fuel filter there, which would then pop off like a champagne cork, spraying gas everywhere.

I had the drill down pat, though.

When this would happen, I'd know because tendrils of flame would start to flicker up from the strange asymmetrical vent on the hood and the car would stall as soon as the carburetor float bowl emptied. I'd jump out, fling open the hatch, pull out a can of expired diet grape Shasta from a whole case of expired diet grape Shasta I had from my weekend job at the pizza joint, shake it up wildly, fling open the hood, spray out the fire, and carefully plug the fuel line back into the inline filter.

I'd done it so many times that my entire engine was stained an absolutely luminous turquoise from one of the dyes used to make terrible artificial soda appear grape-related. I'd close the hood, toss the spent can on the floor in back, start up, and continue my Chinese water torture commute for another hellish day.

Except—

I'd just passed Nicholson Lane, where the headquarters of the terrible Theater Vision company hunkered down in the grimy colon of Rockville ("Ha, ahm Joe Jacoby and this is Theater Vision!") and the last surviving Peugeot dealership in Maryland was beginning to fade away, approached the mall in that stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start stop start misery, when appeared the frightful tongues of flickering demon flame.

"Crap, Flora, the car's on fire," I said to my regular riding carpooling companion. She was in her late sixties, still a beautiful black lady with a sort of careworn Lena Horne vibe and a mean sense of humor.

"Well, put it out!"

I hopped out, into the solid cholesterol plug of traffic in that miserable sclerotic artery, directly in front of the mall, flung open my hatch with the first horns of anger starting to sound their plaintive, hopeless cries against universal injustice, and—

I was completely out of expired diet grape Shasta. The back seat was full of empty cans, the case was empty, and I could already smell burning plastics.

"Shit, I'm out of Shasta!"

I darted back and forth, thinking in that panicky headspace of screwed.

"What do you mean, you're out of Shasta? Should I get out?"

"No, not yet. Umm. Uh—I'm gonna pee it out!"

"I do not want to look at your little pink dick this late in the day, Joe Wall!"

"Cover your eyes!"

I flung open the hood, looked around in a moment of flickering modesty, then pissed out a minor engine fire. This did not smell good, and clouds of fetid steam billowed. In a car directly beside me, a man muttered, "Oh, for Christ's sake," to which I looked over and shrugged. My car's on fire and I'm being resourceful, jerk. Traffic had resumed it's halting slouch towards the bedroom communities of the DC area, and the horns rose up in a Wagnerian chorus.

"Jesus CHRIST!" I yelled, clipping the rubber hose to the somewhat burnt fuel filter. "We can't ALL have new cars, you assholes!"

I slammed the hood and hopped in. Flora Doyle, once relatively successful as a catalog model for the black businesses of the predecay District, was perched there with one hand holding a concert program of the Residents over her face, having pulled it out of the glove compartment as a meager social grace.

"You can put that down," I said, starting the engine. "I put it away. For the record, it's not little, though."

"Oh, I'm sure. Still pink, though. You know, you probably ought to fix that damn thing."

"The fire thing, you mean?"

"Can't do much about t'other," she said, and we laughed like banshees, gracefully celebratory despite our poverty.

Turns out, it only cost me two bucks to reroute the whole fuel line all the way around the engine compartment to stop the fires, but we tend to put things off, you know.

To this day, I recall the scent of urine steam and rehydrated residue of expired diet grape Shasta chemicals every time I am anywhere near White Flint Mall, which seems oddly appropriate. They were not grand days, these, but we got by however we could.
posted by sonascope at 5:25 PM on February 16 [26 favorites]


I think Woodfield stays crowded because it has somehow managed to always feel upscale.

I'm with like_a_friend here, Woodfield was never upscale at any time I could recall. Sure, it had the only Fields for 30 miles around, but that didnt make the mall classy. Best I can figure is that the mall has somehow become a tourist destination ala Mall of America. On weekends there are always tour busses parked in the far lots (and I'm not counting the campus express ones). And they're certainly not coming hundreds of miles to visit Sears (RIP. oh, not yet? Sorry.)
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:38 PM on February 16


I had my first kiss in that weird exposed glass elevator. I was holding a drink from Jerry's, it was the weekend before Homecoming

If there wasn't a genre called "Montgomery County erotica" before, there is now.
posted by escabeche at 6:08 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Wow. I had no idea that White Flint was closing!

Whenever I think of White Flint mall, I think of my parents and I trying to decide once and for all where the word stress is supposed to fall in that phrase. White FLINT? WHITE Flint? WHITE FLINT? We would say it over and over.

I actually remember nothing about the mall proper. BUT I took my roomie to the Cheesecake Factory for desserts when we were in grad school and she broke up with her serious boyfriend. And there was an escalator that went JUST to the Barnes and Noble, and really, what is classier than that?

I'm gonna miss that Cheesecake Factory. It was a bonding experience, man!
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:18 PM on February 16


Hoyland, some of the private train lines are owned by various department stores, particularly Tobu, Seibu, and (in Kansai) Hankyu. It's pretty normal for, say, Tobu to have a department store at a major station of one of it's lines. On the other hand, pretty much any significant station in any built up area will have some sort of shopping area, especially if the tracks are elevated. Since land is so scarce/expensive, pretty much all of it gets used. As for why there's so much shopping, the trains are very heavily used, and if you can go through the ticket gate and directly into a supermarket, it saves a ton of time (though the station supermarkets and kiosks are usually pricier than stand alone stores further away from the station).

As for malls, growing up in Kalamazoo, there were basically two main malls, Crossroads (out in Portage) and Maple Hill, out at the edge of town. Across from Maple Hill was the West Main Mall, which even in the eighties was nearly a ghost mall. There was a movie theater and a Fun Factory at one end, tons of empty store fronts all the way through, then a Zales at the other end. I have no recollection of that mall ever having anything more than those three stores, and it stayed like that through most of my childhood. The strip malls built up in front of it were quite succesful, and always seemed to be busy, but the mall itself, from a time before food courts, just sat there, empty and creepy. I'm pretty sure its a Lowe's Depot or something now.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:18 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I'm still amazed the Japanese style train station/shopping center hasn't caught on in the US.

I was just wondering the other day why grocery store chains aren't locating themselves adjacent to suburban commuter rail park & ride lots. It would seem like a natural fit--get off the train, do your shopping, then drive home. And with the local chains now doing Internet ordering where they load purchased items into outdoor lockers for pickup, it would seem like the perfect place to offer a convenience to people.

I guess segregating parking between train riders and people just showing up to shop is too much of an issue?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:39 PM on February 16


That Sbarro's was a formative place for me. Haven't been back in awhile but hearing about this closing is quite sad.
posted by fraxil at 6:39 PM on February 16


I had my first kiss in that weird exposed glass elevator. I was holding a drink from Jerry's, it was the weekend before Homecoming

If there wasn't a genre called "Montgomery County erotica" before, there is now.

Truer words were never spoken! Yep, Homecoming dress shopping at White Flint mall, I did that. And the Jerry's she's referring to is Jerry's Sub Shop, where my sister worked. And renting videos at Errol's, amirite?
posted by Pocahontas at 9:02 PM on February 16


it's weird how Schaumburg feels like everywhere and nowhere at the same time
posted by ninjew at 9:23 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Those roofless lifestyle centers freak me way the fuck out, a charming village! That no one lives in! That's ruled by corporations! It's like the human pavilion in some horrible alien zoo, an Epcot center for our own lives.

Oh, come on. Like indoor malls were any better? Really? Some better designed ones probably used skylights to good effect, but my local mall was a pretty dingy affair with almost no natural light at all. And the developers hadn't caught on to the concept of a food court, so the food choices were scattered sort of randomly throughout.

Lifestyle centers are soulless and sterile and base shrines to capitalism, but are you really saying malls were something other than that? At least there's light and space and a lack of claustrophobia (ok, that last one is laying it on a bit thick, but you get the idea).
posted by zardoz at 10:34 PM on February 16


ninjew, I think it's more like all suburbs feel exactly the same, as they are all built of ultimately disposable and exchangeable parts. The same stores are in Schaumburg as are in the "Schaumburg" of every major city. The only reason Gurnee isn't more of a copy of Schaumburg is that the houses are more spread out further north, so the retail corridor isn't as dense as it is around Woodfield. Either way, there's a GAP, an Old Navy, a Sam's Club, an Ikea, a multi-plex, the same fast food, the same slightly above fast food level chains in all of these places.

A couple years ago, I lived within a ten minute bike ride (in the suburbs of Tokyo) of Outback Steakhouse, Subway, GAP, Costco, Forever 21, KFC, McDonalds, Gold's Gym, and all the rest. All of that was on the edge of a corporate headquarters/shiny building development. The burbs are the same, all over the world.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:46 PM on February 16


I've only been in DC for a handful of years, but I made many pit stops at the White Flint mall when I first moved here and was walking in the snow to visit strip mall furniture stores to stock my apartment. I never knew it had a food court but I have been in that spiffy glass elevator and one time I felt like a goldarn hero when the elevator was broken and I pressed the stop button on the escalator so that it could be used as a staircase. Dave and Busters + Vegetable Garden strip mall vegetarian Chinese restaurant was always my dream date idea but alas, I was never able to pull off the combo. I guess the next best thing would be Goodwill + the restaurant attached to Koshermart...

Shopping villages freak me out. Like, I can see how that deal may make sense in SoCal or Miami, but why the heck do they build them in Portland freaking Oregon? Heaven forbid that developers create real walkable communities instead of something that is a mockery of one. If White Flint is incorporating housing, that's a start. Although I'd eat my hat if it will be anything close to affordable or car-free. I'm still not sure why people will pay more expensive rent to live boxed in by five lane highways with an extra hour or so to their commute but I also know that it was hard enough to get the type of woman that I date to go to Dave and Busters, let alone to say yes to being proposed to in one. Different world. (But, uh, is PF Chang's still there?)

Soon enough Shopping Villages will go obsolete as well as soon as the novelty wears off and I can only hope that some entrepreneurial hippy turns the parking lots into tiny house communities and the storefronts into little ma and pop groceries and hole in the wall ethnic restaurants while the box stores are recycled into community centers and microenterprise incubator spaces... Le sigh.
posted by Skwirl at 11:13 PM on February 16


Venture out past the burbs and this would still be considered just fine. Shit, Juneau wishes it had a mall this nice.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:52 PM on February 16


The big urns in the food court mural are a Maxfield Parish quote, I believe.
posted by newdaddy at 2:10 AM on February 17


I am fascinated by shabby malls that are repurposed as community spaces, schools or satellite city halls. For example, the Morningside Mall in Toronto had a second life after most of the stores shuttered, anchored by a public library branch and a community nonprofit. Local residents continued to hang out in the food court to play cards or practice Tai Chi.
There is perhaps no better example of the private mall as community space than the now defunct and demolished Morningside Mall in this community in the east end of Toronto. A classic enclosed form, Morningside was home to a food court that served as an informal meeting place for a men’s card club and a South Asian seniors’ social group — uses that persisted long after the waning of the core retail function.

...in the late 1990s, Walmart entered the mall through the purchase of Woolco. At this time mall life was still active, but as Walmart de-malled their entrance to the internal corridor, smaller stores slowly began to die. Vacancies increased and made it possible for more community groups to enter. In 2001, the East Scarborough Storefront (ESS) made a home in the mall, inhabiting the former space of the public library that had moved down from the third to the second floor. ESS is a coalition of more than 40 community groups and organizations providing free services, programs and referrals in the fields of health, education, employment, settlement, parenting, legal services, etc.
- Parlette, Vanessa, and Deborah Cowen. “Dead malls: suburban activism, local spaces, global logistics.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35.4 (2011): 794-811. [This links to a pdf hosted by the community organization that fought to save the mall.]
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:54 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Oh, come on. Like indoor malls were any better? nope! They're both paranoid shrines to car culture!
posted by The Whelk at 6:13 AM on February 17


A few months ago, I accidentally stumbled into a weird, underground indoor mall in DC's Chinatown, while looking for a post office. The whole place had a very similar vibe to these photos -- super 80s, and very creepy, given the abandonment, bad lighting, and low ceilings.

However, even though most of the retail tenants had gone (the post office was undoubtedly the "anchor"), the food court seemed to be about 80% occupied, fairly disgusting, fully staffed, and *completely devoid of customers* at lunchtime on a workday. I got a few odd stares as I walked through, as though the staff at the fake Sbarro were as surprised at my presence as I was at their improbable continued existence... Seriously creepy.

I've never been to White Flint, although I've driven by a bunch of times... The mall was already seriously on the decline by the time I moved here, and I've never had a reason to go. Judging by these pictures and it's external appearance, it reminds me a lot of the Fashion Center in Paramus, NJ. Now, *that* was a weird and pointless mall.

The anti-development sentiment along Rockville Pike has always perplexed me. Any new development at White Flint will be right on top of the Metro station, and is unlikely to generate a ton of new traffic. Have the people of Montgomery County never visited Arlington? Through careful upzoning, Arlington managed to add a ton of new residents and jobs without really having any effect on traffic, and kept virtually all of its existing residential areas intact. If you want to complain about a "traffic nightmare," go focus on the completely unsustainable amount of new development in Gaithersburg. If MoCo wants to add residents and jobs, the best place to do it is near the Metro. (Besides, it's not exactly like Rockville Pike is an awesome place in its current form)
posted by schmod at 6:54 AM on February 17


I love ruins of all sorts, and even this, I can't help but imagine being cautiously explored by guys with swords and magic exploring. Such treasure and danger awaits in the Brook Stone.
posted by ignignokt at 7:33 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Brookstone is even more inexplicable than Radio Shack.
posted by schmod at 7:39 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


killdevil: "I believe this may be the first time in human history that anyone has waxed elegiac about a Sbarro's."

But that's where you get a real New York slice!
posted by Chrysostom at 8:17 AM on February 17


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