When I was a young girl, I used to beg my parents to take me to the Americana Manhasset, an upscale outdoor shopping center on the North Shore of Long Island. I grew up in a far less tony suburb, and for me, the Americana held the promise of not just beautiful merchandise but the possibility of the kind of life those luxury goods symbolized.
My mom and I, both proudly brandishing twin Vuitton Speedys, would weigh the virtues of Cartier Tanks and Van Cleef Alhambras; we would pop into Prada and ogle the ensembles—I remember the two of us being particularly awestruck by a silk coat photo-printed with sheaves of wheat. Once, after my masterful campaign of whining and pleading at Fendi, my mother actually broke down and bought me a huge carryall for my birthday that I still have today. (To give you an idea of just how long ago this was, I believe it cost $800, an astonishing price tag at the time.)
In truth, I love any kind of shopping (in the depth of the pandemic shutdown in New York City, I spent many days cruising around my local drugstore). I have been known to enjoy a lost afternoon at a mall, even when it is a magnet for dissolute teenagers and boasts a smelly food court. But there is a special place in my heart for the upscale open-air shopping center—and not only because, in today’s world, many of us just feel safer social distancing outdoors.
Though plenty of these centers exist in cold climates, the outdoor mall always seems most at home where it’s warmer. On a visit to Honolulu, I killed hours at the Ala Moana Center (beach? What beach?), where gigantic palm trees and tropical blossoms try their best to distract you from the nearly 300 shops. Last January in Miami, I visited both the Bal Harbour Shops and the city’s Design District. Like most swanky shopping centers, both have cafés (no food courts!) where you can sip an espresso and wonder whether today is the day you will finally bite the bullet and buy that Bulgari Serpenti watch.
Say what you will about online buying—and yes, I love it and I have the stacks of boxes at my door right now to prove it—there is nothing like in-person shopping. I get misty-eyed imagining a salesperson pulling out a stack of Hermès scarves, inviting me to examine the patterns and decide which print speaks loudest to me. Can clicking Add to Basket ever rival that experience? I think not.
Not for me anyway. I will happily slap on my mask and head for the nearest outdoor mall, feeling my mom’s invisible presence beside me as I contemplate Loro Piana cashmere pullovers and Tiffany T-bracelets and sublimely ridiculous Gucci Mickey Mouse bags—things to bring comfort and joy in these wild times.