smoooke geeeets iiiiin myyyy eeeeeeeyes

I can blame the fire if I want to.

Today was the Illinois-Missouri Author Fair, as organized by the marvelous Cheryl Eichar Jett. She coordinated with the Metro South Arts Council to get us a mall space on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to hawk our books.

First of all, I love the concept behind this mall. Crestwood Court in St. Louis is one of those mid-city malls unfortunately not located directly on an interstate, and Americans are too lazy to drive anywhere more than fifty feet from a highway, so it died. Most of its anchor stores are gone, along with nearly all the little stores that keep a mall alive (Aeropostale? Foot Locker? Things Remembered? People still go to these stores?).

The food court is on a lower level reminiscent of the bowels of Mordor, with only a solitary Subway surviving. We had a running gag about Subway; resist the Subway! Find other sustenance! But they took us for a few sandwiches anyway.

Some mad genius began converting the mall into indie art space. (Parade article about it.) Handmade jewelry, a dance studio, paint-your-own ceramics, a theater company, a miniatures craftsman... all independent artsy types. They call it ArtSpace, and I think it's brilliant. What better use for a dead mall than to bring it back to life with creative works? Heaven knows indie artists (and authors) could use any help to find venues for our work.

Unfortunately, it appears to be the best-kept secret in St. Louis. I never heard of it before today, and the foot traffic showed I'm not alone. All told we got perhaps a hundred people actually walking into our little storefront. Foot traffic in the mall itself varied throughout the day, but on the Saturday after Thanksgiving we should've been elbowing people out of the way.

Is that normal for Crestwood? Or was it the fire? (You knew I was gonna get back to that, right?)

The mall caught fire.

No, I'm not kidding.

We first noticed when the smell of smoke reached us. There were no sirens that we heard. The scent was faint but grew stronger. Then one of the passing customers told us, "The mall's on fire, they told us to evacuate."

Well, nobody told US. I stuck my head out in the parking lot and didn't see anything. I later found out it was on the far end of the mall, the opposite end from us - and it's a looooong mall.

I found the number for mall security on a sticker on the wall in the back of our empty storefront. They told me the fire was under control, but the smoke was pervasive and we might want to leave.

ME: Um.
OHARI: I'm going to duck in here while you go tell the authors they're about to die a miserable fiery death.

Here's an example of how crazy authors are: none of us left. But... but... leave our BOOKS?? We coughed, and the smell was strong, and when you went more than a short distance away from our little storefront it was impossible, and my lungs started burning and I felt a little dizzy, but we stayed.

There's a reason writers have a short life span. *koff* I am really regretting it now, because my lungs hurt more now than they did when I was there. I'm going to sing like crap tomorrow, with apologies to the Choir Zookeeper.

Many thanks to my dear Ohari, who showed up to buy me lunch and stuck with me through the fire, then spent half the afternoon standing in the hallway with our Authors Fair sign attempting to lure in customers.

Ain't he a sweetie?

Also thanks to Mark K., who showed up toward the end, bought books and helped me load out my booth to the car. Thanks to the other authors who hung in there with us - we had a great time with each other, cracking jokes and goofing around when there were no customers (which was most of the time). And especially thanks to Cheryl for setting it up. Regardless of how sales went, she herded these cats well and the idea was solid.

We can blame the fire if we wanna.



  1. We have three dead malls in Nashville, one got razed and rebuilt as a WalMart (*gag*), one got converted into a hospital on the main floor with the anchor stores remaining down below (stuff like Michael's and Ross) , and the third has nothing but a few storefront churches, an AA meeting room, and a Jazzercise class. Yours sounds much cooler.

    What caused the fire, do you know? I am sad to think that someone's art might have been damaged by smoke, fire, or water.

  2. Sadly, it seems none of the St. Louis press have picked up on it as of now. (My paper is on the other side of the river.) I am curious myself as to what caused it. Hopefully no one lost too much in the fire.

  3. Anonymous8:57 PM

    Only thing I heard was that it was electrical, in an HVAC unit on the roof, which had been previously repaired by stealing parts out of another rooftop HVAC unit. No damage inside but smoke and possibly small amounts of water in the restaurant that was under the fire.

  4. Rough day like that deserves a hand getting out to the car.

    "We don't need no water, let the motherf&*!er burn!!!" ;)

    Or the Jewish version:

    "Da roof, Da roof, the Fiddler on the Roof is on Fiyah - We don't need no water, let the goyem burn!!!"

    Music or pop culture is never far away ;)

  5. They're emptying out around Atlanta too.

  6. Anonymous9:16 AM

    We've some dead malls around here, too. Dead or dying. One of them has been halfway converted to a large Baptist (or Methodist? Hmmm... not sure) church. The other two simply die slow, agonizing deaths while the shopping centers steal away all the larger stores and the customers.

    I'd be cool if one of them could be converted in that way. I wonder who started the process there and how.

    You crazy people, staying when there's a fire! (I probably would have stayed too, if I'd been there. ^_^*)


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