I’m not sure whether malls are places where viruses thrive, but they seem like they could be the cruise ships of retail for all of their enclosed spaces and recycled air. At least that’s what I was first thinking in Kingston today when I picked up a keyboard at the mask-providing, temperature-taking Apple Store in Bentall Centre. Instead, I saw the “third place” re-emerging, centered more on the sociocultural realities of the immediate post-lockdown world.
I thought carefully about the scene I experienced, because never in my life did I expect masks or iPad-based thermometers as gateways to the Genius Bar. Nor did I ever envision that small talk in a mall would surround “all things virus.” Nor how teenage friends sit together–in benches or on the mall floor– just because it finally seems an ok thing to do.
I spent the majority of my time at the Apple Store talking with an employee from Romania about the difference in the Romanian and UK approaches to lockdown. We discussed what percentage of shoppers fail to honor social distancing, and who neglects to wear masks on transport. Most importantly, he said he just wants to be safe, have customers feel safe and be able to come back to work in the morning,
Malls may be going out of favor, and history may dismiss them as never becoming the stand-in for streets and squares that many hoped they would be. But for now, they are a place to watch in Pandemica. They can still play the bazaars of old, with a surprisingly human touch, where we can see beyond the isolating walls of quarantine.