When I first moved to Nashville, there was a mall at every point of the compass and one practically under me. Rivergate to the north, Cool Springs Galleria to the south, Bellvue to the east and Hickory Hollow to the west, and Green Hills just down the road. And I spent a lot of the 1994 Christmas season darting between them.
Green Hills was closest, and hands-down the most posh. (Ten years later it would get Nashville’s first Apple Store.) It lacked a bookstore, but it was right down the road from Davis-Kidd and not far from Bookstar, so there were plenty of options for that anyway. It was there that I would duck into Mozarella’s, sit at the bar, order a loaded baked potato with potato soup, and get filled up quick while bypassing the half-hour wait for an actual table. For me, this was quite the innovation, which should tell you something about how thrilling my life was.
Rivergate, in the north, was the oldest mall – it had the same feel as Eastwood Mall back home. One level, old buildings, but it was a huge sprawling ramble of a mall. Hickory Hollow, in the west, was your typical bog-standard two-story suburban mall, while Bellvue, to the east, was a smaller more boutique-type mall whose exclusive stores started moving to Green Hills or Cool Springs Galleria, south of town and HUGE. It was still possible to leave the office at 4 and hit all five before they closed, even at the height of the Christmas madness, because I was just that bloody minded.
I think part of it was just that the malls represented a big chunk of novelty – a new town meant new TV and radio, new stores, new highways and byways to learn, and I wanted to just run around and soak up the difference, whether it meant Caster-Knott or Dillard’s for department stores or Boston Market for dinner or Lightning 100 on the radio or the Channel 4 local news or the pseudo-beltway of 440-to-40-to-24-to-65. New side-routes to learn (the “invisible beltway” of assorted pikes and parkways), new hole-in-the-wall dining (the taqueria on Nolensville Road), and to cap it all off, positioning such that a whole array of clear-channel AM broadcasts became clearly audible, from St Louis and Cleveland and Cincinnati and New Orleans. In short, instead of just being in a new and different bubble, it felt like the jumping-off point to a bigger and wider world.
Bellvue’s closed now, and Hickory Hollow and Rivergate are reportedly circling the drain. Nothing really stays how you left it. But it’s hard not to think of Christmas and not think of dashing through the malls, picking up the leather coat that became the Elk, splashing out on more Vanderbilt stuff just because I went there and I had room on the credit card – the only holiday where I went from the Herd back to the Argonauts without missing a beat and belonged twice over. And because surprisingly, Northern California’s mall scene is nowhere near what I would have anticipated all those years ago…