Every year I take Anna to the local mall in Muskegon to the ‘paint a pot’ place and have her paint something spectacular for her brothers and sister-in-law. She has an engineering mind so it takes a long, long, loooooong time to pick stuff out, gather the perfect colors, create the perfect lines, and make sure it is double coated/matching colors/thought out to the very last detail. Outside the shop is always where Santa sits and we love seeing the little kids all dressed up ready for their time to tell him exactly what they want. Christmas music is always blaring, kiosks are crammed into the center walkway and it is PACKED with shoppers. We love the festive atmosphere. I was surprised this year when we drove up and saw the lot pretty much empty. Younkers was dark and closed (forgot they had left) and it seemed eerily quiet. Sears was vacant and closed. As we walked into the mall I couldn’t help but remark at the litter around the doorway entrance and the shear emptiness of the mall. No crowds. No laughter. No Salvation Army. Nothing.

We kind of put our heads down and walked to the ‘paint a pot’ place. There was no Santa outside the door, just a sign that read “Santa is now located at the middle of the mall by the food court”. I was struck by not only the emptiness of the mall, but the lack of decorations. I remember elaborate, over-sized decorations with big red balls and garland swinging from the storefronts and crazy lights that hung from the 50 ft ceilings ~ lights that went on for miles and were always bright white and oh so sparkly and twinkly. And there were bright red signs hanging from the ceiling that read “Merry Christmas!” and glittery gold and silver sparkly stuff, everywhere. OH! and don’t forget the kiosks lined up in the center of the mall with candied almonds that you could smell from like 50 feet away and remote control cars and board games and funny hats and personalized ornaments and goofy things that you could never find any other time of the year. It was festive and magical and happy and exciting.

When we entered the ‘paint a pot’ store there was only one other family there. And there was no Santa outside our door. He and the chair and the lines and the photographer had been moved. And there was no smiling, no couples walking around holding hands, no people walking around with huge, overstuffed bags. Yet what struck me the most, is that no Christmas music was playing. Instead, there was a ‘top 40’ kind of track of stagnant songs from the ’90s. It really bugged me. My dialog to Anna was something like “why in the world isn’t there Christmas music playing?” and “WHAT?? No Christmas music?” and “Do you think I can find who’s in charge of music and tell them what to play?” and “I’m going to go for a walk and find someone who can change this music to John Denver Christmas songs” and “Doesn’t this bother you?” and “Can you find Christmas music on your phone?”

We ‘painted our pots’ and paid our money and laughed at the absurdity of waiting until the last minute, then left and walked through an empty Bed Bath & Beyond (too depressing to walk past the closed Sears store again) and headed to our car in the empty parking lot.

In this world of malls whining about internet sales taking away their business and complaining about shoppers deserting malls in favor of online shopping I can’t help but wonder, who deserted who?

With love from Grand Haven,