The Galleria Mall is going to be demolished to make way for… wait for it… condos. You didn’t have to ‘wait for it’, did you? You’ve either heard the news already or simply bet with the house that condos were coming because, that’s all that ever does anymore.
It’s beyond a joke. It’s beyond cliche. It’s pretty much as sure as gravity. Sure as the sun. If there’s an old structure in this city, of any sort, of any age, of any significance, it will be razed for a condo building. It’s the natural order of things in Toronto.
I moved to this city about 10 years ago and quickly learned to predict which corner of which intersection were destined to become condos with remarkable accuracy. Often. Past couple of years I’ve been calling it in which order it will occur; south-east corner, followed by the north-west corner… north east is already condos and the south west corner looks like it’s got 10 years before they eye it.
I’m not clairvoyant, I’m just playing the odds.
It even took Honest Ed’s. That place was one of the attractions that brought me to Toronto in the first place. One of the truly unique oddities that made this otherwise bland city somewhat interesting. (Yes yes, Toronto, I know ‘but… the neighbourhoods!’ Yes, you have neighbourhoods, don’t be so defensive.) I am truly amazed that Kensington Market has held off this long as it has, for whatever it’s worth anymore.
And now The Galleria is on the chopping block. But who cares, right? Somehow, I do, though I haven’t lived in the area in years. It’s strange that I find myself pining for an old, tacky mall when I spent just about all my ‘X-er rage’ loathing and mocking them decades ago. Strange that I feel somehow there is a piece of… culture being replaced by it’s opposite. It was a weird old mall with a Zellers in it. A place where the ‘food court’ was one old yellowing stand where tuna salad sandwiches and a cup of Folgers drip were still probably the biggest sellers. Really, losing the Galleria is nothing to feel remorse over. Even in it’s heyday, if it ever had one, it wouldn’t have been worth my energy typing a page in it’s defence… but here I am. It is, I think, more a sign of how far we’ve moved into the unflinching banality of corporatism that has me feeling down.
Yes, malls started the whole thing. Yes, suburban creep blazed the trail for our unquestioning acceptance of a Starbucks being placed within a small coffee’s walking distance to another Starbucks. It’s not only unquestioned, it’s expected, nay, demanded.
So why defend modern corporatism Mach 1? Why bother?
I will admit, these old relics do hold a place of nostalgia for me. Despite all my snide-isms and aloofness, I did grow up in their heyday; the early 80s. The smell of mall fountain water, it’s unique blend of chlorine and wished upon coins, is a sense memory that will put me right back there searching through iron-on shirt catalogues for the one image that truly defined how I felt about homework. It reminds me of buying my first Ozzy Osbourne tape. Puts me right back in the San Francisco novelty store with neck bending curiosity about what ‘Fundies’ were all about.
Then, in seeming correlation with my growing ‘anti-corporate angst, man!’, the ‘box malls’ started to take over. What malls were in the late 80s to my then budding anti-conformist ideals, the scorched earth approach of WalMart and others in the 90s made malls look like opera houses and cultural centres. Even the banality of suburbia had an appeal when contrasted against these vast parking lots filled with warehouse stores that were designed for you to have to drive between. The Chapters is over a kilometre away from Future Shop… you can’t walk that! In a mall in the 80s you’d easily do 5k before having to stop at Treats for a maple dipped.
Ok… ok… this has potential to careen well into a nostalgia saga where large wooden horses full of soldiers are replaced by table top pack man.
So why am I saddened by the Galleria being torn down? Sure, it’s partly the nostalgia. Whenever I’d walk in there and see the groups of old Portugese men in tear away track pants, white turtlenecks and leather jackets sitting around arguing about… whatever they were arguing about while scratching lottos tickets and the botom-end ‘fashion boutiques’, the nail salons and bargain technology kiosks, I’d see past that, into the past. I’d see the arcade and the record store. I’d see slush puppies and pop rocks.
But it’s more than all that. That’s all past and I accept that. Nostalgia exists in me, not in an eighty-percent vacant mall. Even if the tiles are orange and brown or teal and pink. It’s more than that.
It’s about the soul of Toronto. Toronto needs weird places. Toronto needs strange things. Toronto needs pockets, even little ones, that somehow magically avoid the eyes of developers. Vibrant little ‘dead zones’. Not because I’m a Pac-Man Luddite, because without weird places, weird things don’t happen. Without weird things happening, art doesn’t happen. Without art happening, our world is a predictable Ikea puzzle and as creative as changing the word ‘large’ to ‘grande’.
Toronto needs weird. I’ve heard that, over the past number of years, there have been raves and pop-up art markets happening at the Galleria, it gave me hope. Live shows. Bands. Strange things that seemed to go deeper than the cookie-cutter artisanal/hipster/barnwood gentrification that is so trendy (profitable) these days. Toronto is in dire need of the weird and uncomfortable. When I heard of these events, though facebook groups like BUNZ/PALZ (whatever it is now or next week) I had this little dream that maybe a group of oddballs and miscreants would occupy and take over the mall. That they would transform it into a strange cultural centre of artists and performances and little social non-profits. A place where people who don’t fit in can go instead of, y’know, moving out of Toronto entirely. A place where skateboarding was encouraged inside. And maybe there’d be an arcade…
I had a dream that there would be a fight, that the Galleria would become a symbol, a beacon for those of us who remember, or are curious to know, what it was like to ‘not buy in’. I don’t know if that ideal ever existed in Toronto. I saw a huge squat-in. Unfortunately, this fantasy occasionally smelled of nag champa, but, considering the bigger picture, even that was ok. I saw parties and bake sales and communities gathering around to defend some stupid mall… not for the stupid mall, but for the simple sake of defying the seemingly inevitable replacement. Defying, not bulldozers, but what followed in their wake.
This ironic little pipe-dream was maybe just my last fleeting hope for creativity to prosper over profit. Even ugly creativity. Even bad art and music. My last grasp at something that really did die in the 80s. Shot up by Reagan and Rambo. That stupid little mall, in a stupid little way, in it’s fleeting days had the faint possibility of representing an ideal that it never did in it’s entire existence. An ideal that has been dormant for so long that I’m not sure I remember the word for it. Or if there ever was one. An ideal killed by the profiteers.
If there is a word for an existence, an effort, unencumbered by the desire for profit. That’s the ideal. Art for art’s sake. Existence for existence’s sake. Even in just a tiny pocket like a stupid old mall.