A story years in the making. A story I feared to tell for worry of legal recourse. A story that involves comic books and wrestling. A story only I can tell. The story of when I was nearly banned from a mall and still on a list.
Many years ago I was absolutely desperate to find employment. We just had our son and my wife was at home with him. The place I was working at, and making enough money to support all of us, had three rounds of layoffs and eventually closed. I was in the first round. For reasons left to fate and God, I couldn’t find work for a year. I applied for everything I could find. Once nearby locations yielded no results I began applying anywhere. Hour or more commute one way? Do you pay weekly? Is the job full time? Then this commute is not an issue. One of the jobs I applied for was at a mall an hour away.
There is a great comics and toys store in one of the many suburbs of Syracuse NY. They were looking for help, and I was looking to work. Sure it would be a drive. Also they have two stores so I could possibly be working at both locations. No matter, I knew the product and needed work.
Coincidentally, this was the mall I went to as a kid. An hour away in the other direction from where I grew up. This was the exciting new shopping experience maybe twice a year. Summer and Christmas time. I remember the food court. The antique shop. A WaldenBooks that carried different stuff. There was a Toys R Us next door. This mall was exciting. Over the years, my home town got a mall and a bigger one opened in Syracuse. This childhood mall lost more and more tenants but it was still the mall of nostalgia. I arrived early for my interview and chose to take a walk through.
From one end to the other. Taking pictures and video of anything I remember from my childhood. Sure, it didn’t look the same. Many stores and restaurants were long gone. Things that were still there were in bad shape. But the memories were still there. I thought my brother and our mom would enjoy pictures. Neither of them had been there in years as well. Wouldn’t it be cute to have a picture of me standing by a quarter ride machine and put it side by side with a photo of young me riding the same machine? Mind you, I was only taking pictures of stuff. No employees. No kids. No humans at all. Just me and inanimate objects.
I went into the bathroom by food court and came out to someone in a shirt with the mall logo asking if everything was alright. Yes. Bathrooms are clean. Flushed well. Thank you. “Why were you taking pictures?” Oh! My apologies good sir! I haven’t been to this mall in maybe 20 years and I’m being nostalgic. I thought my mom would like a picture of me by that ride. I bought my school clothes here. My favorite book over there. I’m having fun revisiting my childhood. “Oh! Well, that’s fine. Just don’t take pictures of any people.” Not at all my good man. I’ll be on my way now.
This misunderstanding over, I walked the rest of the mall. All the way to the end, with a closed anchor spot location, turning around to walk back. Huh. That’s a lot of guys walking towards me. I pay no mind until they stop me. “Who are you and what are you doing?” Well, different sir. As that man hiding behind you knows from our previous conversation, I’m taking nostalgic pictures. “Who are you with?” I am with myself. Once again, just thought this would be fun. Allow me to tell the story again. “What are you doing with these pictures?” Once more, let me tell you a tale. Again and again, I am accosted. No matter how many times I explain myself, it is obvious I’m not believed.
I left out that I would soon be interviewed for a job in that same mall. The owner of said store was someone I kind of knew and I didn’t want my presence to have a negative impact on him or his shop. Finally, the head suit tells me “you’re allowed to continue shopping, but if you take another picture you will be ejected and banned from this mall.” Not what I want to hear as I’m looking for work. I agree to his terms and wandered in and out of stores. Trying to throw them off my scent so when I went in for my interview they would be none the wiser.
The interview went well. Ultimately I didn’t get the job because the owner was worried my commute would be too long and could lead to problems in the winter. Meanwhile, I’m sitting on videos of a dead mall which treated me like some sort of criminal. I’ve done nothing with the videos for fear that the suits at this mall would see my recordings and punish this store. Even years later. I didn’t want video I took of an empty dead mall to negatively affect the one good store still inside.
Until, the wrestling and toys YouTube show, the Major Wrestling Figure Podcast, recorded themselves shopping at that same mall. The two stars went to buy some toys at the store before a WWE event in Syracuse. Their YouTube videos have tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of views. Weekly. Plus an audio podcast. Weekly. Tons of downloads. Many more than my videos would get. Yet here the two of them are showing off this dead empty mall to an international audience. And going into the same store.
Emboldened, I present my videos taken years ago!
And here is the WWE video, with much more hits than mine and taken more recently. Look for Syracuse footage 24 minutes in.
So, how did this happen? Really, what was I doing differently than these two gentlemen? What happened to single me out? Thanks to my knowledge of retail and friendships across the area, I have an answer. Rumor is, the owners of this mall defaulted. Many years ago and they didn’t care to keep up with bank payments because they owned a bigger mall down the road. So they left this mall to die. Now the bank owns it. The bank wants nothing to do with owning a mall, getting tenants, trying to operate it day to day. But any rent they receive from the few spots left is at least squeezing a little bit of blood out of the stone. As I was walking this mall dressed for a job interview – groomed, well dressed, bag with documents in my hand – they thought I was an insurance adjuster or similar. They were convinced I was taking pictures of the empty store fronts and lack of customers in order to lower the value of the entire property. I didn’t look good enough to work in a comic store, but I looked good enough to destroy a once multi million dollar property.