I know every time I visit Easton Town Center I say something along the lines of, “The guy who thought this place up is a damn genius,” but I’m going to say it again.
The gist: Easton Town Center is a faux-town, an open-air mall, stores laid out on a grid of narrow streets, with squares and fountains and sidewalks just narrow enough to be crowded, just wide enough to be passable. It sounds like a concept that wouldn’t work north of North Carolina, but friends, it works like gangbusters. It’s an upmarket Stepford Bedford Falls, like your memories — it’s all the good things you remember (or think you remember) about shopping in your hometown, but none of the bad stuff. No bums. No shuttered storefronts (not yet, anyway). No dusty inventory at old man Gower’s drugstore, just Pottery Barn giving way to Smith & Hawken giving way to Cosi giving way to Nordstrom’s giving way to the Apple store.
I always chuckle when I go there, because Fort Wayne has a similar mall, smaller, now two years old. The metro editor at the time swore this was an utterly crackbrain idea that would never, ever fly. “It’s too cold in winter,” she said. “Sure it’s full now — it’s August. Wait until Christmas.”
It was packed at Christmas. Wait until January. It was packed in January. Etc., etc. Soon she was insisting it would soon be a “ghost town,” just mark my words. Well. It’s not.
People don’t mind going into nippy temperatures between stores. They like seeing the sky, feeling the Christmas in the air. They like the atmosphere. Atmosphere sells, more so than comfort.
We went on Saturday. Standing on the corner of Spend Too Much and Charge Your Limit (the streets have names, but I’m blanking on them now), waiting to cross from in front of the jam-packed California Pizza Kitchen over to Williams Sonoma, standing shoulder to shoulder with my fellow Buckeyes, it occurred to me I’ve seen this scene before — in urban downtowns, before the malls sucked all the people away. I wasn’t in a downtown; I was in a replica downtown. But it still felt festive and merry. Entirely false, but in a good way.