Full Florida Fantasy
Burdines, Cutler Ridge Mall, 2003 (before the Macy’s rebranding in 2004). Source mall-hall-of-fame.blogspot.com
Breezy, pastel, and humid; the scene is a summery South Florida shortly after the turn of the 3rd millennium. You’re going to the mall. Where else?
A true reflection of the state's sunny lifestyle, the mall is always bright inside. Uniquely achieved via expertly placed skylights which produce an ambient lightness, a soft and almost heavenly effect. Hazy ray beams fall onto lush palm trees and other live foliage that thrive in the atrium-like environment, some growing as tall as the ceiling. In combination with the hues of artificial light that emit from tracks above, the interior of a classic Florida mall feels like the best of both the natural and artificial worlds. A comfortable, air-conditioned indoor-outdoor experience, where the luxuries of technology and nature peacefully coexist in symbiotic benefit.
The mall couldn't be without kiosks, always flashing their lights and drawing attention to novelty items like barking toy dogs. They line the middle of the halls on the way to your destination, mini-universes upon mini-universes , each with their unique products and visual tactics meant to catch your eye. The colors of consumerism surround you, and you appreciate their efforts as you walk past. It always strikes you as more beautiful than you remember.
Despite the myriad of temptations, there is only one thing on your mind. The department store that rules them all because it has it all. No one in town will argue with you about it either. It’s the only go-to sanctuary that offers or takes care of, in some way or another, literally - everything.
At least, everything you could possibly need if you were living or visiting a place “Where Summer Spends the Winter”.
You make a turn at the fountain, the centerpiece of the mall. The most prominent anchor stores are always close to large water features. Near the end of the short hall are two large columnar palm trees with softly illuminated fronds. The palm columns are artificial, yet almost more impressive than the real thing. Connecting the faux-tropical archway is a mini marquee embossed with the sacred symbols of Floridiana - a seashell, a starfish, a dolphin, and a conch. The niche images are all backlit in their individual frames, complementary to the lighting of their personal palm fronds. Seating is arranged beneath the marquee, inviting you to stay awhile. Smaller decorative plants in pale light green pots are thoughtfully placed, visually supporting the symmetry of the space. The columnar palms continue throughout the multiple floors of the store.
As you walk through the archway, your vision is flushed with an elaborate storefront design. Recessed into an architectural wall, the entrance is a harmonious blend of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne styles. The wall is made of large baby pink tiles and features a curved border with a structural mauve shape that crowns the topmost middle portion. Underneath this, the glow of the bright neon-pink sign warmly hugs your eyes. It's familiar and triggers an ASMR-like response all throughout your body.
You take a step back. It feels good to be in such a beautifully pleasing environment. You soak it all in. You’re entertained, you feel glamorous, you feel special. The storefront pulls on you like a powerful magnet until you’re connected. Suddenly, a surge of dopamine is triggered, and you realize you are completely immersed in a masterpiece of retail theater. A total and complete Full Florida Fantasy. You’ve arrived at Burdines, baby.
The air conditioner blows cool, and you know if the end of the world occurs right now, everything you could possibly need is right here. Phantom smells from the ghost of the Hibiscus Tea Room restaurant have reached your nose, and you start to think about which of your senses to indulge first. The winding paths are marble, glittering with seashells and specks of mica. At their crossroads are elaborate merchandising displays, elegant, yet casual in that they are always selling the care-free subtropic way of life, the ultimate ‘Endless Summer’. The mannequins are well dressed and evoke a good-natured spirit. If you didn’t know they’re made of solid fiberglass, somehow, you feel you’d trust them with your life.
Rudely interrupting the fantasy, the floor starts to glitch. Zzzt. The word Macy’s appears hazily in your peripheral vision. The logo features some basic red stars…ew. Why is that here? In the corner, a mannequin’s hand starts to slowly ripple like water. ZZtt. Zzzt. Get it together. Zzzt ZZt. Please, let me get to the atrium before the simulation ends! It was always too good to be true, you think to yourself.
Overstimulated, but feeling like a kid again, you ride the mirrored escalators to the various floors. At the top and bottom of your escalator ride the signature Burdines grand palm archway awaits. In some areas, there are curved concave ceilings painted sky blue with wispy clouds. You are absolutely and positively delighted. The pastry you bought from the restaurant is hanging out of your purse, simultaneously dropping crumbs everywhere. With total satisfaction, you happily grab it, finishing it whole in one bite. ZzzTT.
With a flash of light, you snap back to reality. Unfortunately, reality is the same department store you knew and loved, now void of any unique elements. It’s still glittering, and it’s still in your favorite mall - but now it’s stale and unwelcoming. Generic, you mutter to yourself. As you look around, the identifying Floridiana features have been replaced with the common…nothing. At this moment, you could be in any department store in America. They’re all the same. The corporate red star mockingly looms over you, as you attempt a variety of mental gymnastics to get back to your simulation. ZzzZt. ZzztZT. Who ARE you? You’re not MY Florida store!
Sierra Grace is a multidisciplinary artist working within photo, video, sculpture, and installation. Her blasé approach to photographing the beauty found in day-to-day suburban banality blends elements of subtle humor with lush melancholia. She is based in Miami, FL.
Below is a digital flipbook version of
Sunshine Cookbook (1930) by Josephine Jackson. Enjoy!