Vol. 10, No. 8

February 21 - 27, 2002

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Our Timeless Malls
by Eliot Caroom

For people like James Williams, a visit to the mall can seem like a visit to a black hole, where powerful forces rip apart the fabric of time and space. Well, the fabric of time, anyway.

Malls, unlike hospitals, schools and many businesses, bear the distinction of being clock-less. Certainly you’ll find no clocks in Annapolis Mall, where Williams waits for his wife.

“Basically, when I come to the mall, I’m with my wife, and I’m doing what I’m doing now, sitting,” Williams said. “When I go shopping, I get in and out because the longer you stay, the more money you spend.”

In a culture where clocks are taken for granted, their absence can come as a surprise.

At Marley Station in Glen Burnie, security set off confidently to locate a clock. When none could be found, higher authority settled the issue.

“There has not been a clock in Marley Station,” said general manager Charmaine Crismond. “Some shopping centers have it as part of their decor, although I don’t know too many.”

At Annapolis Mall, marketing director Jill Donnelly had never thought of clocks. “It’s not really on purpose,” she said. “There’s just no place to put them. If you walk along the mall, you know that one store ends and another store begins.”

Lechter’s Kitchen Place, which just closed in Annapolis Mall, had plenty of clocks — all for sale. “I think the majority of public places that lack clocks do so deliberately, not as a decorating flaw,” said assistant manager Anne Haggerty. “They don’t want to remind patrons of obligations that will take them away from spending their money.”

For her, they’d be a useful feature. Losing track of time has made her late returning to work from breaks. “I also need to know what time it is to close my store,” she said. “I don’t have a watch. I’m in retail.”

At “Bags … and Sew On,” employee Jean Sheetenhelm has a different theory: that mall designers were actually doing shoppers a favor when they omitted clocks. “I think they want people to come here and kind of lose themselves in the mall,” she said. “For a lot of people, this is the next best thing to fantasy land. Shopping is the number one recreation in America!”

Still, Sheetenhelm pined for an era when clocks were part of shopping in Annapolis. “One of the nice things in downtown Annapolis — when you could actually buy clothes and food there — was you could always look up to Church Circle and see what time it was,” she said, referring to the clock that graces the steeple of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church.

As he waited for his wife to tear herself from the fantasy land of the mall, James Williams was glad to be clockless. “If I could see time pass,” he explained, “I would get more angry, because I hate being here.”

Eliot Caroom is an undergraduate student at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. This is his first story for Bay Weekly.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly