Behind mall's Cinnabon aroma, retail desperation in the air

By Petula Dvorak
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The shopping mall can be a scary place to roam these days.

The makeup women in those fake lab coats lock in on me like the Death Star's tractor beam. I avoid eye contact.

The Dead Sea salts guy keeps trying to put lotion on me. I duck and dodge.

Nope, I don't want to taste bourbon chicken. Not in a box, not with a fox. I do not like bourbon chicken, Sam I Am.

Sorry, my boys are running away from me, I don't have time to check out your new frangipani hand mousse.

Stickers? Balloons? Well, okay, my kids will take 20.

This is not the mall I know. And I'm not alone in noticing.

"It's the recession. I've never seen anything like it," said Kelly Simmons, a Gaithersburg nurse who chased her 19-month-old through Montgomery Mall last week as she herself was chased by salespeople.

"In the past, in Nordstrom, they totally ignored me, figured I didn't have the money to spend," she said, pointing to her decidedly leave-me-alone-I'm-hanging-in-my-sweats look. (Turns out she's a fellow West Coast native; I get it.) "Now I walk in, and they won't leave me alone."

Going to a suburban shopping mall these days feels an awful lot like visiting a haggling, freewheeling, exotic marketplace where you get stalked by hawkers and attacked by barkers. Minus the international charm.

On a stroll through just about any shiny hall of an American mall, under the atrium and up the escalator, you will be faced with offers of stickers, coupons, samples and demonstrations of the magical powers of an array of goofy products.

The desperation of retailers is heavy in the air, and it is changing the shopping experience.

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