Mall culture


Recently on the internet I came across the comment that Prague’s days as a consumer black hole were over, making clear, once and for all that mall culture had arrived. That statement couldn’t be more accurate. In the last decade the capital has seen the arrival of shiny new shopping centres at a magnificent rate, changing lifestyles and Czechs’ leisure time like never before. Going out with friends, usually meant just “grabbing one or two at the pub”, but now there are dozens of glossy options to choose from, often under one roof: hanging out at the gym, going bowling, going to the cinema, trying out exotic restaurants at the food court, or simply browsing the stores.

Certainly there are many who loathe malls and will always choose smaller, more personal outlets, which is fine of course, but the fact is that many here have accepted shopping centres favourably. At weekends there are crowds especially of young families as well as the inevitable groups of gangly teenagers. A study this month suggests that when they do go to the mall, Czechs now spend at least an hour inside. And more and more see such visits as a form of entertainment. Developers are well-aware of the trend: this year 12 new outlets are expected to join 250 malls already in existence.

Is it a bad thing?

Many of course are critical of malls as vacuous and unimaginative. That may be. On the other hand, there’s no question the arrival of mall outlets has gradually led to a dramatic improvement in the quality of services. Less and less, it seems to me, you are likely to be treated with surly words or handed a meal at the restaurant like it were a slap across the face, not uncommon at older establishments not so long ago. Thanks to the increased competition I can’t help but feel that that more and more in the services industry, from coffee outlets to the clothes stores, especially in malls, are very appreciative of their customers.

Of course that doesn’t make me uncritical.

There are days when I dread the very thought of the mall. Days when I know I’d be uncharitable to the crowds who will be there, wandering from store to store like the zombie customers in a George Romero movie. Days when even store managers will fly off the handle: “Don’t feed the parrot: can’t you read the sign?!!” But mostly, I am appreciative: I know that now, unlike say ten or 15 years ago, when the mood hits me, I have a choice: I can abandon Prague’s walkways and medieval passages and buildings, if only for a few minutes for a half an hour or so at the mall, smack in the centre of the city.