I believe I’ve ranted before about how much I love West Edmonton Mall. I love that it’s very dynamic; it’s in a state of flux. The mall you go to today is not the mall you go to tomorrow. Stores come and go in the blink of an eye. Hell, all of Phase IV used to Woodward’s. And nowhere is this more evident than in the entrance I always go down; a little place called Bourbon Street.
One of West Edmonton Mall’s gimmicks has always been its theme streets. These are areas of the mall where all the store fronts are done up in a certain architectural style to attempt to beautify this castle of consumerism. Europa Boulevard tries to do Europe. The newest is Chinatown, a collection of Korean nail salons and Japanese pop culture outlets centred around an Asian supermarket. But the granddaddy has always Bourbon Street, which attempts to recreate that world-famous street in New Orleans.
Bourbon Street has always been West Edmonton Mall’s restaurant district. It has always boasted a collection of upscale restaurants (the Modern Art Café) to the mundane (it boasted one of the mall’s three McDonald’s back in its heyday.) It’s been home to worldwide chains, such as Edmonton’s Hard Rock Café (before Hard Rock had to shut down in western Canada) and the first Hooters outside of the USA. But what gets me is how even the overall décor of West Edmonton Mall’s Bourbon Street has changed.
When I was a kid, I remember looking up at the ceiling of Bourbon Street and seeing hundred of tiny flashing bulbs, trying to recreate the night sky. Mannequins dressed as ladies of the evening stood in upper balconies, leading to more than one awkward question asked of Mom and Dad. Statues of Mardi Gras entertainers peppered the sidewalks, and there had to have been at least three fountains. But now, the fountains are gone. The statues and mannequins are gone, as are most of the Bourbon Street-style facades. Now, everything’s being phased out as more and more chain restaurants move in and want more of their company’s corporate-mandated entranceways out in the mall. The ceiling has been replaced with a much brighter off-white tile. The Bourbon Street theme has become so watered-down. It’s not the replica of Bourbon Street that it originally was. Now, it’s a Disney-fied, family-friendly Bourbon Street. I still long for the Bourbon Street of my youth. It was so much more distinct; more personality.
How I long for the West Edmonton Mall of my youth! When West Edmonton Mall first opened up in the late 1980s, it loved flaunting its claim to fame as the world’s biggest mall. Everything about the mall had to be the world’s biggest. Biggest parking lot, biggest indoor amusement park, more submarines than the Canadian navy! It echoed everything that was wrong with the 80s: greed, excess, and consumerism run amok.
Then, in the 1990s, that’s when the allure of new started wearing off, and the mall really started to change. It started going from “world’s biggest” to a source of confusion for the people of Edmonton. Disney’s infamous lawsuit started. Fantasyland became Galaxyland. Pebble Beach Mini-Golf became Professor Wem’s Mini-Golf. (And I have yet to play a game there.) Half of the submarine fleet is now in dry dock. I grew up and the mall understandably changed. But my perceptions of it have changed as well.
True, I’m a lot more cynical now. I see the mall for what it is: just a giant castle to consumerism. But still, whenever I spend a day in Edmonton, I wind up there. I can’t help but come back whenever I can. It has always represented to me everything about living in the big city. When I was a kid, going to the city meant going to the mall. And I think I keep going back there in a futile attempt to recapture my youth.
But it always changes. Whenever I go back, there’s a new store to check out or I sit in bewilderment as an old one closes. Toy City used to be Music World used to be Harvey’s/Swiss Chalet. Luv n Stuff used to be the mall’s post office. Julio’s Barrio used to be the Hard Rock Café used to be the Pacific Fish Company. And Bourbon Street used to be much more real.
Aww, who am I kidding? I just miss the Pacific Fish Company.