People carried cameras and walked the halls in a bittersweet farewell to a Northland centerpiece. Metro North Mall closed last Tuesday, except for the Macy’s store on the west end. On Sunday, I paid a last visit and found others doing the same. I never dreamed in the early 1980s that I would ever be sentimental about a giant indoor shopping mall. Especially one packed with people and shops that seemed a bit big city for someone raised in rural Missouri. But memories built up. They came back to me and others during final visits. I entered through Macy’s, which is still vibrant and brightly lit with merchandise on display that makes even a mere visitor seem prosperous. Helpful employees stood at the ready. Then I walked out from the store into the ghost town. First I visited the lower west side hall where Kelso’s Pizza provided a family restaurant and gathering spot. The mall was not empty. People were in the hallways, even if a mere fraction of what once was. “This used to be a jewelry store, I bought things here,” I heard a woman tell a young girl she was leading by the hand. On into the interior I walked, past a hallway counter where I once bought a Christmas ham. Further down was the shop where I bought fancy coffee and chocolate bars for Christmas morning. Nearby, a sign on a shop bore a wistful message. “Topsy’s Popcorn will return for the holidays, 2014.” Not now. Christmas was the busiest time. Hallways and stores were packed. High school students wrapped packages to earn club money. A children’s train circled in the lower level near the big fountain that spouted water as balloons rose and fell in the two-story atrium. Children walked around the water in season to visit Santa and the Easter Bunny. On Sunday, some visitors sat once more on steps where weary shoppers or people waiting on shoppers once rested. I remember some Christmas Eve visits to the mall when I was a rather desperate shopper but at day’s end, mission accomplished. Metro North opened in 1976 when civic leaders such as Northlander Anita Gorman pushed Kansas City as the City of Fountains. The mall was built by the late financier and developer Frank Morgan, and as this and other malls were his stamp on the city, he did not scrimp on fountains. But they were silent on Sunday. Those who drain water from the big central fountain will have a chance to gather some change. Pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters rest on the bottom, thrown in by those seeking good luck. Many people paying last visits carried cameras. On the central lower level corner was the shoe shop where I bought several pairs. A man whose name I never knew worked there year after year. On Sunday, some kids had figured out a way to get past the chain link, drop-down door. They stood up in the glass display window and their parents took their picture as if they were on display. Chairs and refreshments were spread outside the old Dillards (I think, I’ve already forgotten for sure). I asked a man reading a book why the goodies were present. “It’s a Girl Scout troop,” he said. The mall hosted one more meeting as Scouts took a final tour. Nearby, tall, tropical plants grow in a large planting, near where a piano, organ and sheet music store once operated. It seemed like every time I passed, one of the shop salespersons was playing music to pass the time. On this day, teenage girls climbed among the plants and posed for photos like visitors to ancient ruins. I made the westward turn into the lower hallway. At one of two remaining shops a sign read “Visit our GNC stores in Zona Rosa and Liberty.” Employees were packing up the last products. Metro North wigs, in business for three decades, remained open for business on Sunday. Mall walkers peered in as passing. The walkers will miss their exercise route sheltered from the weather. Metro North seemed amazing when it opened because it was huge. Their only big competition in the Northland was the Antioch Shopping Center in Clay County, also now defunct. Metro North is on the county line. But it also drew shoppers from far away. Now, new shopping areas on North Oak Trafficway, Northwest 64th Street, Liberty and Zona Rosa in KC pull people in. I wonder if enormous heating and cooling costs caught up with the mall along with people feeling like they’d been there and done that. On the upper level, a black plastic cover inside a door was pulled back a bit so you could peer from one end of Montgomery Ward to the other, a sad and lonely sight. I used to cut through Wards to reach the mall interior. The same employees worked there for years and were familiar faces. That was when companies offered jobs with benefits, decent pay and sales commissions. Or those employees would not have been so enduring. A more-greedy corporate era hastened the company’s demise. Buckets caught rainwater dripping from a leaking roof in Wards and outside in the upper hallway. I could almost smell hamburgers cooking in the little diner that once held down the corner in the upper southeast wing. Back to west I walked, past the one-time Penney’s entrance and other places where I’d bought things. I rarely visited the jewelry shops but did once to buy wedding rings. I walked down and back up the center stairs once for old time’s sake. On down the hall I went, past shops I remember, like the Victoria’s Secret store where guys pretended not to look as they passed. Most of us decades ago would never dream that the mall would close and even be slated to be torn down and replaced. It’s like a town vanishing. I left through Macy’s where the escalators still run. The store seems like a time warp, before recessions battered middle income families. The store remains open, but you won’t be able to enter the mall through it. Shopping in the mall was a bit like being onstage. You saw people and they saw you, which was the allure for some. Some final onlookers applauded as the curtain closed.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.