Apr 15, 2013

American obesity

The doom-and-gloom merchants who claim that America is losing its way could not be any more inaccurate in their assessment. Obesity is every bit as American as football, apple pies, megachurches, and Ford trucks. The fact that the number of the obese in the United States is rising does not represent a cause of concern; rather, it is irrefutable evidence that Americans still hold dear the cultural and societal values that make our country so great and unique.

(Photo credit to The Atlantic )

Apr 1, 2013

The fall of Fashion Square

I was introduced to the American mall about a week after my arrival in Orlando as a nine-year old. My family had taken up residence at a family friend's house, and were in need of some furniture before moving houses again after the summer; I also needed some clothes for my first year of school in America. The friend set up a trip to the Fashion Square Mall, as it was the closest one to our temporary place of living (and remained so after we moved into our new home).

I recognized the contrasts between retail centers the U.S. and Japan almost immediately. Department stores in the States occupied, and still occupy, a vastly different type of space than back in Japan: propped up away from the city center, built fairly low to the ground, with acres of walking space, and dozens of stalls selling everything from calendars to electronics to baseball caps to license plate accessories. On the other hand, I also saw hundreds of shoppers milling around FSM that day, walking from one store to another, many with their own kids in tow. It was the same kind of bustle that I was used to seeing in the department stores back home.

That was in the summer of 1996. My family made numerous trips back to Fashion Square in the years that followed, whether the purpose was to get new appliances, new clothes, new prescriptions for our glasses (the byproduct of hitting the books hard when studying English), and seeing the odd film after a theater opened up  in the complex. Then, for whatever reason, we stopped visiting the place as much.

If my own trips there are any indication, it appears most people in Orlando have done the same. Whereas FSM was a veritable hornet's next of activity during the rest of my childhood and adolescence, the buzz within the complex has since been gradually sucked out by an atmosphere vacuum. Shuttered shops and abandoned booths dot the space between the anchor stores, which themselves have become increasingly desolate. There are tables at food court that look like they have gone untouched for weeks. Even the workers at the movie theaters, and at the eateries on the outer fringes of the complex, seemed to be spending much of their time chatting to each other, or to friends that were passing through.

There are any number of reasons why malls like Fashion Square (and West Oaks, in the other side of town) are, for lack of a better phrase, going out of fashion -- the stagnant economy? The rise of online shopping? The Walmart-ification of consumer items? -- but they have become magnified at FSM, as the attendance continues to dwindle and the few shop owners that have moved into the open stalls struggle to keep their businesses afloat.

Revitalization, however, may soon be on the horizon. The complex was recently sold to a new developer for $35 million, and the new owners have laid out their vision for bringing the place, and its surroundings, back to life again. This new injection of funds may not prove to be the elixir for Fashion Square; nor is it guaranteed that the investments will even bring a decent return in the long-run. But it is a start, a necessary first step, for a mall that has been on a slow but noticeable decline.

Worst case scenario? It would buy more time before the place gets chronicled on this site.

Side entrance

A largely deserted walkway

Unoccupied stalls with the lights still on

Big advertising board...

...and the abandoned stores immediately to its right

More shuttered stores

(Permanently) closed food stands

Former jewelry store turned waiting room

Parking lot upstairs


Requiem for a cream


Clearance rack at Sears

Portrait of desolation

Former Japanese restaurant (and Chinese buffet), just outside the mall

Movie theater turned church

For-profit education

Pathway to nowhere