World Trade Center mall offers chance to reflect on 9/11- with retail therapy

On the 15 th anniversary of the terror attacks, the new Westfield and neighboring Fulton Center provide the most American of experiences

Im going to Shake Shack, specifically the one in the new Westfield World Trade Center mall, desperate to sample a burger designed by and bearing the name of Today Show presenter Al Roker. Im told that this burger has been stifled with pulled pork, which intrigues me greatly, but on my style there my attention is diverted by a peculiar sight: a store ominously titled the Freedom Wine Cellar.

We were told many things in the working day after 9/11 that they detested us for our liberty, that the evildoers would be brought to justice, and most importantly, that we needed to go shopping. The highest form of patriotism was buying a boat, or a few hundred dollars worth of clothes we didnt need. Our defenders George W Bush, Rudolph Giuliani were the equivalent of Ivana Trump imploring the women of the movie the First Wives Club to not get mad, but to get everything.

And now, 15 years on, everything can be bought on the very parcel of ground where Americas greatest modern collective trauma unfolded. The Westfield World Trade Center, which opened last month, offers us a most baroque kind of retail therapy.

A Time magazine article from 2013 cited a study( paid for by the online shopping portal which claims that 52 % of Americans engage in retail therapy the act of purchasing goods to ease feelings of sadness. The World Trade Center site has been finely calibrated to offer that experience, and so much more.

Theres the chilling memorial fountains where the towers once stood that have launched hundreds of thousands of cheerful selfies. Theres even a gift store where one can purchase a piece of 9/11 memorabilia. The clerks there might be the saddest employees I have ever witnessed forced to relive the infamous date over and over again through videos of first responders and city officials discussing the two attacks playing on a loop-the-loop on giant monitors.

I bought a coffee mug. It was the least I could do.

Thousands of visitors pack the World Trade Center transportation hub for the grand opening of the retail spaces. Photograph: Alamy

Naturally, Im feeling a bit down as I traverse this latest piece of the multibillion-dollar WTC redevelopment project which is why Im so dead-set on waiting in the interminable line for the Al Roker burger. You insure, I dont shop to improve my mood. I feed. And sometimes, I drink.

Fortunately, the Westfield has both of those options, as the Wine Cellar makes clear. A portion of all proceeds must go to supporting the worthy cause of liberty, I say to no one in particular, otherwise why the incongruous name? Is there anything in this world that inspires freedom less than an addictive substance like alcohol? I suppose Freedom Discount Cigarettes would qualify. Its shut when I arrive, a nondescript exterior that uncovers a wine barrel-shaped interior if youre lucky enough to get there during business hours. Freedom isnt free, and its also not available on the weekend.

The first thing youll wishes to do inside the new Westfield mall adjacent to the World Trade Center memorial site is not to store. In fact, shopping might be the last thing on your mind. The Westfield is part shopping center, portion transportation hub. Fulton Center, nearby, is a traditionally bred complex with multiple subway station entry points and home to my new favorite patriotic liquor store. The only signifier telling visitors that they are dangerously close to the site of a mass murder is the armed guards. They chit-chat, grab a few moments of reprieve and direct hapless visitors around the labyrinthine build( it takes a moment to realize that the line for Shake Shack starts a floor below the actual Shake Shack ).

But the real depict is a heavenly monstrosity called the Oculus. When viewing it in the right illumination, one could be forgiven for guessing an angel had crashed to Earth and landed facedown on the cement. Promotional material on the Westfield website says that the Spanish architect Santiago Calatravas design for the Oculus was inspired by the image of a plunge being released from a childs hand. In reality, it resembles an exposed ribcage from the outside and a refurbished situated from Logans Run or Conquest of the Planet of the Apes on the inside. Its so white, futuristic and ethereal that are able to find yourself thinking you had died and St Peter was waiting to ring you up at Banana Republic.

Going deeper into the Oculus, you arrive at a cluster of stores. I strolled through once during a regular workday and once on a Saturday afternoon and in both instances, stores were lightly trafficked. Where was the Pinkberry, I asked myself? Wetzels Pretzels? At least there was an Apple Store so that I might charge my hungry iPhone, sapped of its strength by my unnatural compulsion to take pictures every 15 minutes or so. The busiest region is the observation deck, high above the main shopping floor, which affords the intrepid tourist an ideal backdrop for photos, videos, snapchats, vines, and the like.

An exterior opinion of the Oculus during the Westfield World Trade Center Grand Opening. Photograph: Cindy Ord/ Getty Images

Befitting an expensive, high-concept mall that could be mistaken for the Judeo-Christian interpreting of the afterlife, the stores inside the Oculus are mostly high-end and unapproachable theres a John Varvatos, a Kate Spade, and a store called Reiss that sells blazers that cost more than my television and I avoid them as I wander. When I think of the benefits of retail therapy, I imagine an H& M or a Zara shops that sell disposable clothes at low prices. You can peruse the floor for an hour, then leave with a bag full of junk that will fall apart or go out of fashion in a year, for around $100. Retail therapy, one would think, is not pressing your wet pleb nose against the window of a Mont Blanc until an underpaid clerk swats you away with a rolled up copy of the New York Post. Its impulsive and transitory happiness, a brief whiff of the infinite possibilities of a new trenchcoat.

I remember I need a birthday gift for my father-in-law, so I slink into the Art of Shaving, a store dedicated to, you guessed it, the sacred act of removing hair from ones face. Im one of three patrons, then speedily one of one. The sales associate, Richard young, tall, black, and impeccably dressed is eager to please. Do you shave much? he asks me. I have a beard, but I remark that Im considering ditching it. My face has been overtaken by gray hairs and a quick shave strikes me as a more efficient means of dealing with this problem than the indignity of purchase and applying Just for Men. No, you look fine, he answers when I mention the grays, buttering me up for an easy sale. He directs me toward a shelf of beard tonics and conditioners that no one actually requires, but offer the illusion that youre get your life in order and grooming yourself like a real human would. This is retail therapy at its finest.

I point to a travel-sized suit of assorted potions. Oh, thats great, because theyre TS-Aapproved bottles, he offers, unsolicited. I suppose he can tell Im a traveller. Why else would I be in this mall? Thats funny, you know, I say, because this was built on the World Trade Center site. His smile curdles in befuddlement. Because we wouldnt have those restrictions if it werent for the two attacks. It must be weird working here. Component of me thinks hes about to reach for a taser to subdue me. I realize not everyone in the Westfield is preoccupied with guess of the terror attacks that the Oculus is meant to memorialize. In fact, Im sure Im the only one in the building that owns a copy of the 9/11 Commission Report.

I only dont think about it, Richard tells. It feels like only a regular mall. Then again, I wasnt here when it happened. I nod gently. I suppose Ill take the beard conditioner.

Like Richard, I wasnt in New York on 9/11. I was safely in Merced, California an old us air force township that is most famous for its close proximity to Yosemite national park and for being the birthplace of the actress Janet Leigh. Still, the memories of that day eat me not even a hamburger or a sack of graphic tees can distract from my memories of how it felt to watch the towers fall.

The Westfield website tells us that Calatrava and Daniel Libeskind, the head planner for the WTC site, designed the Oculus so that every year on 9/11 at 10.28 am Eastern day, a beam of light will penetrate the opening in the roof of the building, dividing the structure in half. After its over, shoppers will be able to go back to doing what Americans do best keep moving.

Sadly, the Al Roker burger is no longer available to cheer you up.

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