This American Life spends several days in a mall in suburban Tennessee, to document life in the mall during the run-up to Christmas. Also, a rift in a national association of professional Santas—the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas (yes, there is such a group).
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Note: this is the 2010 version of an episode that originally aired in 2008. A few stories have been re-arranged and some content updated.
Most media stories set in shopping malls don't really tell you much about what it feels like for the people who work in a big retail operation, or for the people who hang out at the mall. Because the mall's more than just sales. Today’s show begins at a table in the food court, near Sbarro’s, in the Cool Springs Galleria, outside Nashville. That’s where Ira Glass found Nick, Cheyenne, Natalie and Chase – teenagers hanging out, killing time before a movie. (5 minutes)
Not Dead Yet
Yes, some stores are going out of business in the Cool Springs Galleria, but it's just two stores. We talk to staff at one store that’s closing down, and at another, in the food court, where business is great. That’s maybe the most surprising thing about how this recession is playing out — that some stores are doing just fine. (10 minutes)
Santa Fight Club
A tale of two Santas. There's Tim Conaghan, a full-time professional Santa with a big belly and a real flowing white beard. And there's Santa Nick—he too has a belly and real white beard. But the story of Santa Tim and Santa Nick is not like most uplifting Christmas parables. Instead, it's about two men, very much alike, who came to lead rival factions in a bitter Santa civil war, and came themselves to be arch enemies. Josh Bearman reports on the political schism that's overtaken the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas. (27 minutes)
In a part of the mall no shoppers ever see, there's a snug, dark little room with 43 TV screens, one for each of the cameras in the hallways and parking lots, the roof and the loading dock. We hang out with the security people who work in there, seeing what they see. (7 minutes)