Going Out of Bizness: Goodbye To The People’s Mall, Evergreen Plaza

All photos by Willie

All photos by Willie “Rookie” White

Willie “Rookie” White is a Chicago-based artist who does a lot of dope shit and will be doing more dope shit in the future with WARR. Read about his fund-raising campaign for his documentary on Chicago violence and read this feature on him from Rolling Out.

So many times I click my shutter and the feeling overtakes me that I’m embarking yet again on another mission with my camera. It happens the same way every time.

By “it” I mean the hunger, the want to capture life in a bottle so it has no chance to change again, it stays still as the world around it changes and either deteriorates or morphs into something unrecognizable.

I work independently so missions start off simply enough —  some event that I think should be captured comes across my eye or ear and I ready myself to work. Getting out to the site of the action I’m often tired and full of complaints due to other responsibilities I claim, but when I get out to where I’m drawn to I fight through the laziness and get the work done and afterwards I’m usually happy.

It is said a picture is worth more than just a thousand words, but the verbosity of pictures aren’t what impress me most, it is  their ability to time travel. With this ability, you can do two things: stop time, or go back in time.

Pictures haven’t been able to harken on the future yet and for good reason, science has yet to catch up with the artistry of photography and I am glad it hasn’t. Sometimes the future is scary. Sometimes we aren’t ready for what is ahead and the ignorance that comes along with the unknown is but a gift from God.

The pictures I took back on Oct. 6th before a hospital visit with my father and after taking my son to school spoke to the unique ability for pictures to stop time, all of us have think about it at some point. Why do you think Back to The Future is such a popular story and title? In less than 24 hours a wrecking was to tear down the majority of the space once occupied by a past kingdom of commerce on Chicago’s South Side by the name of Evergreen Plaza.

12168398_541537169332982_1835607726_oEvergreen wasn’t just any type of mall by any stretch of the imagination, it was for lack of a better word, a cultural monument for many of the people who made use of it. On a larger scale, The Mall was once an untouchable centerpiece of pop culture in America, a past time for millions and a revenue source that businessmen of all sorts plotted to be apart of.

Evergreen Plaza emerged for a time among the Age of The Mall as Chicago’s black mall. That’s right, though the area around the Plaza is largely non-black, people knew that mall was OURS (lol)!

When I posted the pics you see accompanying this post stories of “firsts” and “lasts” started pouring in,damn near literally to the moment I hit share on Facebook! The FB post I put up with my pictures has amassed an astounding 1,000-plus views. Now, that may not mean much in the wider viral world, but DAMMIT I’ve never gotten that many shares, likes or even complaints in that amount! John says, “remembering all the goodtimes……”; Jackie states, “aaaah memories!!”

Most people commenting to me felt nostalgic about the social significance of the Plaza, placing it at the level of a personal landmark. Jeffery jokes, “this was the spot… even the movie theater with the rats and shoot outs lbs, it was time tho! RIP…,” LBS, sure, but there was no lack of seriousness.

Sadly, the American Mall has rapidly approached the point of extinction and the Plaza’s once out-sized presence in the community didn’t spare it from a fate many popular epic retail spots have faced and will continue to face.

Shopping for the duds and ‘dos that conquer the times of here and the now are now done with the click of a mouse. I was at lunch with my boss during a recent a film shoot and he told me, “kids these days have no concept of money.”

“It used to be your grandmother would ask if you had any money and if you said “no” she would then give you at least $5. Because you always had to have at least $5 in your pocket at all times back in the day. Money gave way to plastic, and plastic found a new highway in which to travel in the internet.”

Having come up just like so many others on the South Side, my memories of the Plaza were pretty simplistic. I can best remember going shopping with my mother, which would take up an entire day. Most of my time was spent browsing shit I know I couldn’t buy or holding my moms purse while she tried on outfits in the fitting room.

In this time before cellphones and the internet once I got tired of my hand-held Tiger video game, there was nothing to do but listen to the elevator music that suffocated the store’s soundwaves and inhale the “new clothes” smell, which in many cases I’m sure was sprayed on for the half-dozen time by the time me and moms showed up. More smells got to me once I got closer to the mall’s center, bordered by the store’s open entrance — the smell of leather came from the Wilson’s store. In the food court what dominated my nose was the Cinnabun shop.

12168229_541537165999649_1952755600_oMost times I wouldn’t even ask for things I wanted while at the mall with my mom, I knew better. Yet and still she would use food to bribe me to go along with her on her 12-to-14 hour excursions. My affinity to fast food always got me in trouble this way.

My family largely left the shopping up to my mother because for her shopping was a science. If what you copped had a receipt on it you better not take it off cause it may be going back to the mall when a sale hot-spot features that same product. Moms would buy winter clothes in July and shorts and t-shirts during the holiday season. Yeah, we had no business in my moms playground but I spent many years as her shopping assistant paid on a steady commission of fast food.

When I reached my teen years the halls of Evergreen were filled with girls my age looking at boys twice their age and boys trying to show they had the money to woo them. My mom’s outing irritated me at this point because I still had no money to by the baseball hats I loved or the gym shoes my sports and fashion required. I was out the loop still, this time because of money (or lack there of) and the work still wasn’t glamorous .

“Hold my purse, baby, while I get your daddy some pants.”

Reluctantly, I obeyed while trying my best to hide from the pretty girls that would frequent the basement are where you could take pictures with your “boo,” make a music video via green screen or get air brushed white tees featuring a memorial to your cousin who recently passed on the front. As a teen I was frozen with embarrassment being at the Plaza with “mommy.” Little did I know this too would change soon.

“About 15% of U.S. malls will fail or be converted into non-retail space within the next 10 years, according to Green Street Advisors, a real estate and REIT analytics firm,” wrote Hayley Peterson in Business Insider last year.

“That’s an increase from less than two years ago, when the firm predicted 10% of malls would fail or be converted.”

12165250_541537215999644_1734118897_oBack on Facebook, while looking at Meridith’s thumbnail picture I could tell she was a wise woman who had been born much sooner than I with opinions born out of that added experience, “the last time ____ and I walked there, it was so sad. I suppose Wal-Mart played a part. I’ve heard that once they move in, there goes the hood!”

Indeed, that could definitely be the problem. Continuing to click away while I stood around the hollowed Plaza, I couldn’t help but notice all the names of the old shops from the outside and wonder how is it that such popular retail names can’t help a place to flourish? Well, you better believe I had my own ideas.

The internet murdered the mall. If you ask me, the internet is to the mall as Ike was to Tina Turner. Or like fatty foods are to the pancreas. In short, the internet treated the American mall like it was an African-American male caught fighting dogs (s/o to Mike Vick, get well soon). Sorry, but I can’t leave the humor out of my writing, even if its of a biting nature.

Look, you guys get what I am saying, I’m sure! I mean I made a simple post on a Tuesday with a few pics I snapped and some thousand shares later, here we are. Through the same very vessel that pretty much killed the American mall you take this in as if it were a dragon doomed to make a peasant boy famous through its own slaying.

How will the science of shopping be executed years from now? Many say it will almost be totally all holograms and computers. To me that is scary. For even I, a person not big on the whole shopping experience, can appreciate the act of actually touching the stuff I buy before I buy it. I mean, call me old fashioned, but I just don’t wanna know the Fed Ex man more closely than members of my own family.

Some things in our minds we would like never to change, yet change is indefinite. Good thing pictures still exist to slow things down.

On Facebook, Messiah shared my post with the pics and simply said, “that used to be the place Smh r.I.p” and no matter how it was for me personally, that statement is nothing but true.

 Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio; Follow Rookie on Twitter @Rookie_Chi and his production company @AHINAH_TheMovie

One response to “Going Out of Bizness: Goodbye To The People’s Mall, Evergreen Plaza

  1. Pingback: Hip-Hop: ATCQ’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad Rocks Chicago’s East Room | WARR - We Are Regal Radio·

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