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  • Writer's picturerobertkruge

Cultural Anthropology: University Place Mall, Chapel Hill, NC

Updated: Apr 11, 2020

Step back in time. The year is 1973 when this cultural icon was born, a mere three years after I graduated from UNC- Chapel Hill. And nothing much has changed over the intervening half century. One of the anchor stores, Southern Season, recently closed. More will likely follow. Many storefronts are already vacant, and the only thing that this mall can boast is that there is never a line. I visited recently to take a few pictures before this structure is changed into an Amazon fulfillment center.

Entrance - Dazzling Architecture

The entrance could have been “designed” by anyone with a straight edge, a T-square, and a pencil. Every expense was spared. The exterior screams, “I don’t give a s**t”. What’s patently obvious is that they didn’t even try. Malls were in their heyday then, and any old structure would do. People flocked to them anyway. Now this brick and mortar monstrosity just takes up space. “Build it and they will come” might have been the original business model, but over time it has morphed into “Why Bother?”

Exterior Rejuvenation

I don’t know exactly when, but sometime between 1973 and now, someone thought it a good idea to spruce up the exterior mall décor with some faux graffiti, apparently designed by the same team that “designed” the mall entrance (perhaps the 9th grade class from St. Agnus HS). What resulted was an extraordinary rendition of true folk art, dare I say revolutionary. I’ve never before seen so many toaster ovens in one place, … and very colorful!

Interior Decor

A potted plant graces one end of the mall and was placed at just the right place so as not to impede foot traffic, of which there is little. I know, it says “spend, spend, spend” like few ornaments do, but who thought this was a good look? I guess it saves big bucks on decorating a mall that few people frequent, and why waste the money? This poor plant gives minimalism a bad name.

"Modern" Lighting

More minimalism. Not exactly a laser light show illuminates the mall’s promenade. Up-lit water fountain? Forget it. Lamp shades, lots of them, forty-eight to be exact. That’s the ticket. I’ve never before seen so many lamp shades in one place. At least all their enclosed lights work. I’m not exactly sure what the placement of the two orange chairs signifies, perhaps an imminent visit from the Duke and Duchess of Essex?

Two More Chairs

The decorator provided a total of four chairs to accommodate the throngs of daily visitors. These two are fitted with state-of-the-art USB recharging stations, which can be used for free. That’s right, no charge to recharge. It’s perks like these that have kept this mall so popular.


I’m not sure if this is a mannequin or a nineteenth century foreshadowing of CP30. In either case, why to clothe it when you have fashions like these.


Haute Cuisine

This is as good as it gets. I think the protective steel fence is a bit of overkill. Who exactly would want to break in? I don’t see any toilet paper.


That’s all I have for now as the security guard, seeing me taking pictures, kicked me out. Apparently, taking pictures of the interior of this mall is viewed as dangerous. Perhaps I was casing the joint for a late-night heist. As if they had anything I wanted to steal. Heck, I thought I was doing the mall owners a favor. Viewing my pictures might be the only way many people would “see” what’s inside. It’s not like most people would voluntarily enter this commercial mausoleum to see for themselves.

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