In a recent feature story, Katie Jane Fernelius took a close look at the history and troubles of Northgate Mall in Durham. Self-described “local sentimental sap” Michelle Smith reflects on what the mall meant to her and her generation: “As a native of Durham (my parents still live in the house I grew up in), I was one of said ‘mall rats.’ I, my sister, and brother all have memories of hanging out with friends at that mall well before its deterioration. 

“It has brought me sadness that it’s fallen as it has in recent years. It’s not only been a source for shopping, but a part of our social structure and income at times. As a kid, I remember going shopping at the Big Star; my uncle was the produce manager. My sister worked at Wills Book Store as a teen. I worked at Express during college at one point, and my dad had a second job at Sears. I used to go to Roses and Thalhimers (when it was outside the mall) with my grandmother and to the uniform shop with my mom to pick up her Nurse Mates. I threw my retainer in the trash at that mall McDonald’s when shopping with my friend Gina!

“It became very disheartening when the crime wave invaded the mall. My mom didn’t want me going by myself. But as an adult, I still shop there. I trust no one else other than the sweet woman at the Eyebrow Designer to thread my brows, Khen’s is the best tailor in town, and I still love shopping at Sears for clothes for my kids, not to mention the other unique shops you discussed. Having a shopping center convenient to North Durhamites is terribly valuable. A working mom such as myself does not always have the time to hike to Southpoint, no matter how flashy and fancy it is. Life is busy, and, most days, there is the element of time to consider. 

“I am only one thread of the fabric of this large, growing community. I am sure there are many others who have very similar stories. I appreciate you shedding light on the structure that is so much more than that—a part of our memories and history of the Durham community. I hope that the new owners/developers will take this to heart when planning its future. It’s a valuable piece of property, but not just for its financial equity.”

Susan Weaver adds: “Northgate Mall reflects the heartbeat of Durham in ways that the article overlooked with its not-so-subtle title, ‘Kill the Mall.’ In addition to providing low- to medium-priced retail, cell phone and shoe repair, and beauty shops, the Northgate Mall hosts a mall-walkers club with socials and recognitions, two library facilities (including a 3-D printer), Wednesday night music jams, Dress for Success, and seasonal displays, events, and art. It also hosts a summer movie and concert series, as well as many events featuring local schools and organizations, diversity programs, and public interest. 

“There is dining variety in addition to the outdoor market April to November. As with so many things in Durham, Northgate Mall’s value to the community is more than superficial. Its heart beats with and for the people. Sears recognized that—it bucked national trends by keeping the store open. Duke did, too, with expanding services there.  It would be nice to see you promote expansion even more to accommodate government offices or other services. A lot of people rely on it for employment, amusement, and, of course, shopping.”

Finally, Jim Craven responds to a comment in a recent Backtalk: “Dave Sandidge says he has ‘never met a true-blue Democrat who wasn’t a professed atheist.’ Dave and I have not met. I would tell him, though, that I am an unreconstructed New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society, bleeding heart, tax-and-spend liberal Democrat, and also a proud supporter of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi, an NRA opponent, and am retired from the United States Navy. I am also a priest in the Episcopal Church, ordained now thirty-three years.”

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