The first shopping mall in Mexico City, the enormous Plaza Satélite, opened in 1971. In the past decade or so, the trend has been to build smaller malls in any neighborhood where the market will bear them. With slight variations, all Mexico City malls look alike and have the same stores, skewed toward younger consumers. Many such shops are branches of multinationals with headquarters in Europe -- stores you see in much of the world, such as C&A, Mango and Zara. (That last is part of the Spain-based Inditex Group, with more than 3,000 stores in 65 countries, including the Berksha, Pull and Bear and Oysho chains.)
For most of my life, I had the New Yorker's contemptuous view of malls: loathsome eyesores for unfortunate hicks who live on the peripheries of cities and cannot even buy a newspaper without getting into their cars. However, after so many years in Mexico City, I can sort of understand the chilango's comfort in shopping centers. One of the principal sources of stress in the city is traffic, which makes it so complicated to get back and forth from anywhere. Since so many malls have sprouted, they are easy to get to. Some take comfort in their uniformity and predictability, and that once inside the bubble, their consumer needs are met -- needs that, before the appearance of the malls, were largely undiscovered. I understand the social status issues as well. Malls give certain chilangos the sense that they are part of an affluent contemporary universe.