Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: What Now? The Shuttering of a Mall and its Ice Rink

(Above photos: 2017 at Lloyd Center Mall rink; granddaughter, Avery, and me; just me; daughter, Naomi, and me being silly)

I read yesterday that Lloyd Center Mall–covering 23 acres and at one time the largest shopping center anywhere–is closing. And may be torn down. Built in 1960, it was a whole new shopping experience; thousands attended the ribbon cutting as the then-Governor did the honors. Big stores moved in, restaurants. A food court was built later that overlooked the fun below. A huge draw was the indoor ice skating rink. Originally an open air mall, it was beautifully glass-roofed when I moved to Portland in 1993. Generations have long enjoyed its convenience and offerings, but over the years there has been a downturn in numbers of shoppers, as new malls have sprung up and small businesses have continued to flourish the last 30 years. With the devastation and restrictions brought by the pandemic, it appears to have finally come to a full stop and must be sold or demolished.

It’s a sad moment as I reflect upon this older local hub of activities. Many events took place there over the decades, from Clydesdale horses to gardening/flower shows to fashion shows to wildly popular midnight sales. I wonder what else went on that I missed those years before.

The mall was a primary stop for my family when we lived in NE Portland. We walked over (a few blocks from our old neighborhood) for a quick pick up of a necessary item, or to find a gift for a special occasion. Or we stopped by a couple of hours to just browse on a rainy day, grabbing a bite to eat and watching skaters below in the center of it all. Just taking a curious appraisal of milling crowds can be entertaining. And when we met family, say at Barnes and Noble Bookstore, for coffee, a scone and a new book, that was pleasant, too. Everywhere there was chatter, activity. Youthful friends often met their cohorts there to shop or while away time or attend a movie in the indoor movie theaters. It was a safe place for even young teens to be on their own, overall, though in the last years there was some illegal activity in and about the mall. And that likely contributed to its demise. A nearby corner park also became known for drug activity.

But when I had time, I certainly spent a fair share of money there. Sometimes it was a small and distracting getaway between work and other life business, or to distract myself if disgruntled or confounded by some issue. I’d get exercise walking there; I could meander a bit, get a drink, a treat. But mainly I was glad to have last minute shopping options so handy.

And then there was the ice rink. I have long been an ice skater seeking good ice.

Just thinking of that oval of slick stuff no longer existing there brings a small lump to my throat. For where else will I –and so many other ice lovers–end up with skates in hand? I can think of no place, at all. There once was a bigger ice rink at a newer mall (Tonya Harding used to practice there), but that rink closed due to less interest. Lloyd Mall rink was popular with area residents and those who came from a distance to enjoy family recreation–or just singular skating. There were classes for all ages, different kinds of skating events. It met a demand for our greater community. What pleasure to witness fathers or mothers and their children, older and younger friends with linked arms, kids zooming about on their own, littler ones teetering, trying to regain balance amid forward motion. You saw happiness out there. I felt my own. And there were hard falls, sliding off course, then skating on. There are always failed moments, mine included as I executed a barest half of a waltz jump that was easy at 30, but not so much at 60. But I tried to improve as well as just speed skate some, weaving betwen others, backwards and forwards. It got my heart thumping hard and that was good– my body sang.

Now that the mall is closing, I realize I should have skated there more. I was 43 when I moved to my first Oregon home and I quickly seized the opportunity to try the rink. And was delighted despite it being smallish. Yet I might have skated there only four times a year, to my regret. Between family obligations and long hours at work, it was a lower priority to me. When I retired from working in the mental health field, I planned to skate more but instead I wrote more….and saw more family and friends amd explored other interests. I never rekindled the habit I cultivated as a younger person.

Indoor ice skating was a bit odd, in a way. There were no biting, sleety, snowy winds as I raced around the rink. Far less layers of clothing; not even gloves were required. Of course, I’d readily adapted to northern weather vagaries growing up in Michigan. But I learned to skate at a well maintained outdoor rink, took figure skating lessons from early childhood. It was one passion of several I nurtured and though I did well, my daily disciplined study and practice began to fade by my late teens. I had skated for the joy of it as well as for competitive sport– and it was a blast. And a winter activity that was a rejuventator, one which saved me from the weight of despair many times.

Then I went to college, got married and my children were born. It was up to us to find a pond or lake frozen over each winter, which we often did. And what antics there were out there, the family gliding and falling and rushing over the rough ice nature afforded us. My first husband was a decent skater and enjoyed outdoor sports as much as did I. When married a second time we lived for years in Rochester, Michigan. Just two houses down from ours was sprawling Rochester Park with a rushing brook– and a pond. In winter it froze, thick and safe. There was a rustic warming house; we changed into our skates, took breaks to heat up hands and feet and sip cocoa. Every one of five children skated, though some were more enthusiastic than others. Marc was less enthralled but willing to try a bit, then watch and cheer us on. I was full of happiness, helping the children step and push onto ice, then find their own power and glide; to skate backwards; to stand with feet placed just so, then draw in arms quickly to create a spin. Despite the generally poor condition of snow-skimmed (or encrusted) ice–and excited hockey and speed skaters that gouged the surface and interrupted our trajectories–it was an outing always worth our time. The cold left our cheeks reddened, noses dripping and fingers tingling.

I was a skating nut, an outdoors lover way back, and grateful for all of it. And my blades on ice felt special. Thrilling.

So, now I wonder what to do with no rink. Of course I desire to skate even more now that the old standby is closing. And I long to teach the toddler grand-twins how to skate. I suppose I may have taken the rink–and the mall–for granted. Now I’ll have to search for a new ice rink. Hopefully, within an hour’s drive.

Thanksgiving is next week, then… Christmas. I for years looked forward to gawking at gaudy holiday decorations strung about Lloyd Mall, bright reds and greens with gold and silver accents, sometimes huge snowflakes and maybe icicles sparkling in the lights. It was a noisy, crowded, festive place, a spot where we shared energy of a loose community. Where groups merged briefly then separated. There was something for everyone if you looked long enough. I do feel a shopping mall is never the best place to authentically socialize. I am not supporting the idea of anyone becoming a “mall rat.” Though for soem folks this may be a safe place, the pause from a wearying or harsh life, a kind of comfort. Lots of older people could be seen sitting with coffee, eating a cheaper lunch, at the edge of such bustling life yet within the group of humankind.

I came to malls late and never missed them. There were none (other than small and ugly strip malls) in my hometown as a kid. Nonetheless, it is a place that is public, like parks, and available to all (in theory, usually in practice), offering a modicum of shelter and food. And Lloyd Mall was meant to be a people’s mall, and there are trains and buses about the area; it is close to Portland’s city center. The mall had begun to look a bit run down but it was spruced up a few years ago. Yet I had a fondness for that faded luster–it had been well used, enjoyed so long by thousands.

Not that I don’t have other choices for shopping and meet-ups. It’s a big metro area; there are multiple destinations to meet needs. My more local downtown is pretty–overlooks a lake–but small and very high-priced. There are other “downtowns” out my way, streets lined with a mix of shops and other businesses, but it is mostly so suburban. I also live a few minutes from an attractive shopping center designed like a large village square, with good restaurants and other businesses on narrow streets, with lamposts and flowers everywhere. It is a bit chi chi, or tries to be with fancier fittings, higher end stores, But I go, anyway. It suits me well enough for now–until I get more time in Portland’s unique shops, when the pandemic wanes…if and when it does.

This week I noticed a huge Doug fir tree up on the faux village mall corner, decked out in a festive spirit with shiny things. I saw more people shopping, and they looked cheerier than they have for awhile. We all want life to behave more normally, so even if it isn’t yet we pretend it is and seek ordinary but improved experiences, and the bit of lightness we bring to this more superficial activity creates a ripple effect. Who doesn’t love holiday candles? Bought one. Who doesn’t like peppermint mochas? Well, I do. Who wouldn’t want to purchase a wonderful book or ten for their family? I did so.

The pandemic has thus far impacted many businesses. Stores have been shuttered all over that could not make ends meet without daily foot traffic, a steady flow of buying and selling. We need to support small businesses, especially. And keep finding ways to get together, to safely mingle, to exchange greetings and news, to share our love and appreciation. I am counting on more of this to come, even in smaller doses, far fewer people. As far as the old mall goes: the Lloyd Center Mall real estate will be revamped, utilized for mixed residential-business spaces. I suppose we get used to new architecture, the unknowns accompanying redevelopment. At least I do hope I am not in complete shock when I drive by the palce again one day. Until then I will be elsehwere, living beyond the density and action of the big city.

But I’ll also look for another ice skating rink… I so wish for a new place. May it come true so I can glide and spin, skid and play with grandkids, adult kids or alone for years to come. I want to feel the chill air whip my hair as I skate, then come to a spetacular T-stop that discharges snowy spray into bright air.

(Naomi; daughter, Alexandra, behind her niece, Avery; Avery and Grandma/me.)