Column: Loss of mall cinema matters to many

 

If I learned anything, it’s that people care about things they allegedly don’t care about.

A year ago, I wrote a story about the closing of Buck’s Unpainted Furniture. The family-owned business was prominent across the Twin Cities once upon a time. In 2015, the business was down to a single Bloomington storefront. The furniture store was still a viable business, but its owners were ready to retire, and there was nobody prepared to take the reins.

I didn’t see a lot of online mourning for the loss of a local furniture business, but I didn’t go looking for it, either.

More recently, Hub Jewelers of Richfield announced it was closing as of Dec. 24. The longtime fixture at the quirky shopping center of the same name was pulling the plug on its retail business. The owner cited the challenges of operating a retail business and the growth of her custom jewelry business as reasons for closing up shop. Like Buck’s Unpainted Furniture, Hub Jewelers was a local business with more than 50 years of history.

I found a smattering of online disappointment regarding the loss of Richfield’s longtime jewelry business. There’s no shortage of places to purchase jewelry across the Twin Cities, but those who took the time to express an opinion were disappointed to lose a local business that they had a personal connection to at some point in their lives.

Three days before Christmas, a reader sent me a link to an online article that noted Theatres at Mall of America was closing before the end of the year. I shared the link with a Bloomington discussion group on Facebook.

I wasn’t particularly interested in being the messenger, given the message wasn’t mine. But after reading the vague details about the impending demise of the movie theaters, however, I wondered when Bloomington was last without a movie theater. I had no idea if any of the city’s movie houses of yesteryear were still operating when Mall of America, and its 14-screen cinema, opened in 1992. So I turned to the online world to provide memories of Bloomington’s theaters of yesteryear. (Southtown Shopping Center’s former theater, which is beloved to this day by many, closed in 1995, I was told.)

What I didn’t anticipate, however, was the interest that the closing of the Mall of America cinema would generate. I’m well aware that anything that happens at the mall is big news, and probably bigger news than the same event happening at any other mall in the Twin Cities. Yet, I was surprised that dozens of people chimed in, and stunned that more than 30 people were compelled to share my post with their personal Facebook network. It was as if I had shared news that Christmas was being cancelled due to a labor shortage at Santa’s workshop.

Plenty of people expressed that they wouldn’t miss the mall’s cinema. A popular gripe: It took too long to get to into a theater upon parking the car in a mall parking ramp.

Others speculated about the mall’s unannounced plans for the soon-to-be-vacated space, with some predicting that a new, state-of-the-art theater will eventually sprout within the mall.

A few people weren’t particularly troubled by the absence of a Bloomington cinema for the first time in decades, noting there are options not far from the city’s borders.

I won’t pretend I knew the mall’s announcement was coming, but I wasn’t shocked, either. Nothing is sacred inside the mall. Most retail space within its original walls has been redeveloped at least once since 1992. The cinema simply joins a robust club. (Am I the only person who misses the Warner Bros. store?)

As best I can remember, the mall’s cinema was a big deal in 1992 because it had 14 screens, more than any Twin Cities theater at the time. That’s no longer the case. And the mall theaters were built prior to the explosion in popularity of stadium seating. Although the Mall of America cinema has been updated since its opening, it wasn’t as fancy or sophisticated as the megaplexes that have followed.

The mall’s theaters remained busy, as best I could tell, despite their competitive disadvantages. And regardless of who owned and operated the theaters, the mall’s cinema has a history of offering unique theatrical opportunities that you don’t find at many suburban theaters. Retro film screenings, sensory-friendly screenings of films for families and showcases of typically unattainable animated shorts vying for the mighty Oscar were among many things that set the mall’s cinema apart from its competition.

As surprising as the pre-Christmas announcement was, I was more surprised by the all the interest in it. The fact that more than 30 people were compelled to share my post with their social networks tells me that despite the many claims of disinterest in the theater, or by extension the mall, plenty of people care about what’s happening there.

And that shouldn’t surprise me. People often peruse online news sources and social media channels to find out what’s happening, and then take the time to comment about how they don’t care about the topic they just read about.

Plenty of people claimed indifference to the fact that Mall of America does not have a cinema in 2017. Who knew so many people cared?