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New York Got Malled.

What’s so wrong with popcorn shrimp? Learning to love Time Warner Center, Home Depot, Red Lobster, and the rest of the new chain gang.

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As the influx of big-box retail into Manhattan has escalated, New Yorkers have gotten more and more pissed off. They miss Barneys on 17th. They cry when thinking of Charivari. Our gritty retail independence has always been a source of pride.

At first, I felt angry too, especially observing the recent influx: Target in Brooklyn, The Shops at the Time Warner Center, and a particularly dazzling area around 23rd and Sixth, comprising the Home Depot, Best Buy, and the Olive Garden. I started to lament the old Shakespeare & Co. on the Upper West Side, even though I forget where it was.

Then I got over myself. I learned what every self-respecting Ohioan has always known: Big chains offer their own kind of bliss. Most notably, popcorn shrimp, which I’ve been enjoying in immoderation at Red Lobster in Times Square. The little fried frizzles are yummy, and it’s a place where no one will ever look for me: a big family restaurant in midtown. I can wrap a breaded coating around myself and go to sleep. It helps when you down your shrimp with one of Red Lobster’s specialty cocktails; the other night, I had a frozen Kahlúa Cappuccino. You can’t get that at 60 Thompson. You forget how amazing the drinks are at chain restaurants. Like the Cherry Frizzante, which I’ve been served at the Olive Garden. It contains Martini & Rossi Asti, white Crème de Cacao, and cherry and vanilla syrups. It is what you might call a wine cocktail.

Normally I’m all for the underdog. But not always. Recently I had a picture-hanging conundrum. More specifically, I was hanging four shadow boxes by a Northern California artist, each enclosing delicate objects, such as petrified quail eggs. I attempted to explain this to the gruff guys at my local hardware store. One stared while the other pointed at the ceiling and said, “Picture hangers over there.” “There” contained a few dingy plastic bags of hooks suitable at best for a battery-operated singing bass.

So I went to the Home Depot on 23rd Street, a store New Yorkers really love to hate. There, a nice “concierge” directed me to aisle eight, even pointing (accurately) toward the clearly marked area. I spent a happy half hour fingering hundreds of possible hangers before finding just the right ones.

I feel just as welcome at the new Target in Brooklyn. Sure it has flaws, like the fact that Chloë Sevigny went to the opening party. And it’s so brightly lit! But I get my Clorox Bleach there, and for half the price of any Upper West Side “independent retailer.” Which leads to the question: What’s wrong with big stores’ hurting insanely overpriced independent retailers? I might splurge on shadow boxes, but I’m not overpaying for bleach.

The Time Warner Center, though, has really changed my life (it helps that I live a block away). Yes, it’s a mall in Manhattan, but it’s my mall; it’s the glassy spine around which I wrap my formless day. I read magazines (for free) at the little Dean & DeLuca inside the Borders and spend happy idle hours gazing at the thousands of coffee-bean varieties inside Whole Foods. Forget being stared at by some intrusive indie book seller who’s sneering at my US Weekly; I find great inner peace in the TWC’s madness, which makes it worth every square foot.

In fact, the whole mall explosion might not be the soul-leeching experience we’ve been led to believe. The other day, I was at the Jamba Juice counter in Whole Foods, waiting for my Berry Lime Sublime. The drink-makers asked each customer, “What’s your favorite cartoon character?” so that it could be called out instead of the person’s first name when the drink was ready. I said “Snoopy.” Two Snoopys were called before me. I can hardly wait for Wal-Mart.


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