Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Lessons From the Golden Age of the Mall Walkers

The Winter Garden in Manhattan (courtesy Pelli Clarke & Partners).

I’m so excited to start sharing content from Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall with you leading up to its June 14 publication day. This first excerpt is from Chapter 5: Whose Mall Is It Anyway?

When Caroline Knutson began walking laps at the Lancaster Mall in Salem, Oregon, in 1982, she felt like she was onto something. She had signed up for TOPS — Take Off Pounds Sensibly, a nationwide nonprofit wellness group — and it provided new friends as well as a new routine. She chatted, shopped and exercised, on dark winter mornings as well as light summer ones. Back then she drove herself to the mall and walked without assistance. By 2013, when the The Statesman Journal caught up with her, she was vision impaired and using a rolling walker. Her daughter had to drop her off, but she still showed up most weekday mornings at the mall. Now she made one half-mile loop of the mall rather than six to eight.

“Asked how she navigates the mall with such poor vision, she chuckles through her response: ‘I’ve walked there since 1982. I know that mall,’” reads the Journal profile. After heart surgery in 2003, a doctor suggested she get on a treadmill. “I’m a mall walker!” Knutson’s daughter remembers her mother proclaiming.