Crestwood, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis near where I live, has gone through some hard times. At one point Crestwood was the home of Crestwood Plaza, “where the big stores are”. Crestwood Plaza was such a popular shopping mall that one year, a week or two before Christmas, it took me over an hour to drive there in bumper-to-bumper traffic from only a few miles away, so many folk were eager to shop at the then very popular Crestwood Mall.

That was maybe ten years ago.

Today the mall is abandoned.

Little by little, over the past decade, every one of the hundreds of stores in the indoor climate controlled retail paradise closed up, from the big anchor stores to the smaller chains. No one’s quite sure of the cause of this. One factor is the renovation of other malls in the St. Louis suburbs. Another is the declining demographic of Crestwood and its environs, an area which now consists mostly of seniors whose children and grandchildren live elsewhere.

The interior of Crestwood Mall

For a while, the mall’s owners were renting out abandoned shops to locals who were either struggling theater troupes or craft stores. The rent for each shuttered unit was a token of perhaps $100 per month, which is not enough to enable the mall to stay open and maintained, but a local arts mecca suddenly existed and the mall was being visited again.

But since that economic arrangement could not last, the local tenants were evicted, and the mall now sits totally vacant, its parking lot empty and slowly weathering away.

A development group has expressed interest in tearing the mall down and building an new and improved retail / entertainment paradise, but the group is being stymied by local politics and by a Crestwood board of aldermen who are not willing to authorize the hiring of a planner, and are wary of the tax increment financing the mall’s prospective developers are asking for.

Recently, my family and I stepped out of St. Elizabeth of Hungary church in Crestwood to be greeted by a group distributing flyers regarding the situation at the mall. The group is Metropolitan Congregations United , an ecumenical association of Christians advocating for economic development in St. Louis neighborhoods.

The flyer urges folks to attend the next Crestwood Board of Aldermen meeting to pressure city hall to give the developers what they want, so that the mall can be rebuilt and Crestwood’s tax base saved.

So it occurred to me—are Christians really so gullible as to advocate for Salvation by Means of a Shopping Mall?  If this new mall ever gets subsidized by TIF financing and built, who will the tenants be? Local craft shops and theater troupes? No, overpriced out of town chains selling useless luxury items.

I understand that it’s not economically viable for locals to pay only $100 per month rent on indoor retail space, but is the solution to that the corporate capitalist cave-in to the least Christian element in our economy—the artificial and unnecessary air conditioned affluence of chain store retail outlets?

If Metropolitan Congregations United really wants to help the citizens of Crestwood, then they should learn a bit about Distributism and the social encyclicals of the Catholic Church. A more local economy, based upon a greater distribution of independent mom and pop business owners, would find a way to make the old mall viable, without surrendering to the “we always get what we want” mentality of our debt-based consumer culture.

But instead the local Christians are advocating for the very economic system that is both culturally and economically doomed.

 

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