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Mack Williams: Walling up in the mall

Mack Williams

One rainy day before Halloween, I returned to my old indoor exercise walking haunt, the mall in Danville. It had been some time since I’d been there. Despite the rain, the entrance carpet, however, wasn’t like some grocery store entrance carpets that smell like a local dog wash benefiting some charity (besides benefiting the dog).

One former site of three or four prior businesses had an announcement of a new business on the way, involving chocolate! I thought to myself that maybe the chocolate business will be much longer lasting. After thinking the word “lasting,” I imagined Gerald O’Hara telling his daughter Scarlett, “Why, Katie Scarlett, chocolate’s the only thing that lasts!”

The inside view into the closed Sears had also been walled up. Instead of racks of clothes, there was only a giant spread-out poster of Fall scenes with a message about “Life being what you make it!” These positive messages were only visible to those inside. Where the outside Sears sign had been, there was only “blankness” (signage of a kind).

The assemblage of greatly enlarged black-and-white pictures of Danville’s history still lines the walls of both levels. Those pictures of former industry, plus additions of happy themed wall paper over walled-up former store spaces brings to mind the phrase, “Passed into what was” from an episode of the original Star Trek TV series.

I guess if the “Nothing” of “The Never Ending Story” (1984) had replaced its swallowed-up parts of the universe with beautiful posters and happy messages, it wouldn’t have been so scary.
And speaking of “walled up,” the great number of additional walled-up former store spaces made me recall Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Mastercuts, which I used to frequent, was walled up and covered with a poster depicting a local learning institute. I wondered if its barber chairs and its mirrors into which the patron once gazed (as the barber said “How’s that?”) remain there in the darkness behind that recently-installed “facade.” Then, for some reason, I thought of Gladys Presley’s carefully preserved Graceland bedroom and her hairbrush containing a few strands of hair.

One old storefront was covered with a three-paneled panorama, resembling a view from the local Dan River Riverwalk Trail. Another scene was from the vantage point of stepping onto that Trail’s footbridge (I thought of “One Step Beyond,” and Star Trek’s “Holodeck”). The three-paneled scene reminded me of the old-time Cinerama movies’ “scene sutures;” and I suddenly imagined that if the mall’s walls could move like a silent movie “background cylinder,” one could “walk the trail” while it snowed outside.

I saw a lady who had been working at Goodwill after the jewelry store in the Mall where she formerly worked had closed. There’s a new chain (pun unintended) jewelry store in the same mall space; and now she’s working there! (a bit of positiveness more concrete than pretty pictures and positive messages). She’s in her natural element again, dealing with beautiful jewels instead of old clothes.

Many years ago, there was a K&W cafeteria, so, like my Mastercuts reverie, I fancied that behind that wall still lay cob-webbed booths, tables, and a stainless steel kitchen area, perhaps containing something resembling Miss Havisham’s cake in “Great Expectations,” complete with webs, spiders, and other “residents” (but its items and those of Mastercuts have all likely been re-purposed someplace else).

One old store was expanded years ago and became a Boscovs, opened with hoopla by the effervescent, often married Mickey Rooney, much removed from his Andy Hardy days. Boscovs fizzled; and Rooney later died (nothing to do with Boscovs’ closing). Fortunately, Dunham’s Sports moved into that area.

Yes, despite everything, you might say that with continuing business and some “patching over” in places, the mall is putting up a good front on the inside.! But then, I guess that’s where all “good fronts” begin, on the inside.

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