I went to American Dream, the behemoth New Jersey mall with 2 theme parks and ski slope, and saw the devastating effects of the pandemic on retail

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

  • American Dream opened in October 2019 after more than 20 years of planning and development.
  • Just after it opened, however, the pandemic hit, and the mall was forced to close.
  • I visited American Dream and saw how badly retail has been hit during the pandemic with the rise of e-commerce and the fall of in-person shopping.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
In the shadow of New York City is American Dream, a 3-million-square-foot mall and one of the largest in North America.

American Dream mall

Read More: The American Dream megamall is finally opened after more than 2 decades. Here’s how the 3 million-square-foot complex went from an idea to a reality.

More than 20 years in the making, the mall opened in October 2019 only to come to grips with a worldwide pandemic that would accelerate the decline of in-person shopping while boosting e-commerce to unforeseen heights.

Going inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

But with COVID-19 on the ropes, American Dream is once again a reality and its doors are open to shoppers, adventure-seekers, and the host of other visitors to whom the infamous mall caters.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

I stopped by American Dream, conveniently located off the New Jersey Turnpike right next to MetLife Stadium, on my way to Newark airport. Here’s what I found.

MetLife Stadium from American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

I entered the mail from the retail parking lot on the south side. At first, the three-level structure seemed deserted despite a crowded parking lot on the weekday of my visit.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

But it wasn’t that the mall was empty. American Dream is so massive that it just seemed empty by comparison. There are around 100 stores and retailers at present, around a third of the mall’s capacity.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Besides its size, though, there was nothing special about the mall part of American Dream. There wasn’t much here that I couldn’t find in my local mall, for example, and it lacked a lot of the high-end retailers found in nearby malls like The Mall at Short Hills.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

That may change, however, in September when more than 20 luxury retailers are slated to open.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Source: WWD

Many of the stores that were open – like Primark, Best Buy, and Zara – were cavernous in size. Some were even two levels.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

I was truly impressed with how deep some of them were, including Urban Planet. It’s a testament to the mall’s size.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The lack of patronage, however, has forced some of the larger stores to scale back. It’Sugar, for example, is scaled down to one floor.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Speaking of the confectionary, this was the first time I’d been in a self-serve candy store since the pandemic. Patrons are required to wear gloves when making their selections.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

It’s a fair COVID compromise that lets customers experience the joy of scooping up their own candy.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Despite the mall’s size, however, it doesn’t have that Mall of America feel. I attribute that closed-in feeling to the lack of natural light in the mall.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

There are not a lot of windows or skylights in the main shopping areas or even the atriums.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The best parts of the mall, I found, were the spaces with skylights so that natural light could come in.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

This luscious gnome garden, for example, was my favorite part of the mall and a natural attraction.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

This was also the only spot in the mall that had the true communal feeling of a mall. The only problem was that it was flanked by bare walls.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Some of the areas of the malls that hadn’t been filled were walled out from public access completely.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The food court featured many mall favorites and eateries like Kelly’s Cajun Grill, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

There were some higher-end food options, like Grisini, but they hadn’t yet opened for business during my visit.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Being an amateur mall food enthusiast, I had to try the staple of any mall food court: bourbon chicken, from Kelly’s Cajun Grill. And to American Dream’s credit, it was spot on.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

I continued my journey and found the main atrium, another centerpiece where the mall’s size truly shows.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

But once more, I didn’t find it to be too welcoming. A few couches were laid out in lieu of a grand centerpiece in the way other malls have.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

In addition to good food court food, American Dream also featured the other two staples of a mall: a Hot Topic…

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

And Spencer’s.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Some stores that I’ve never seen in my local malls can be found in American Dream include the Beef Jerky Experience‚Ķ

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

And a Korean-themed store, which proved to be one of my favorites.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Masks aren’t required for vaccinated shoppers but each store can have its own rules, as this one did.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

BTS was a major theme, unsurprisingly, and I couldn’t help but hear the song “Dynamite” in my head while browsing.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Kakao Friends, pointed out to me by former Seoul resident and Insider’s own Rachel Premack, was another big theme on display.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

I also got a glimpse at Korean apparel, a style that I never really had seen promoted in my local malls in the past.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Another mall staple that American Dream can boast is animal rides. I fondly remember riding on these in my youth.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Attractions are truly where the mall shines and there’s no shortage of them. Big Snow is the massive indoor ski slope that offers year-round snowboarding.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Two hours on the artificial slope, with rentals included, starts at $69.99. Without rentals, it can be as cheap as $34.99.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Attractions for children are the bulk of the offering, however, and include Legoland…

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Sea Life Aquarium…

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Angry Birds-themed miniature golf…

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

And Out of This World miniature golfing.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

There’s even an ice skating rink that doubles as a hockey rink. Prices start at $25 for those ages 10 and up.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

For more thrill-seeking kids, Nickelodeon Universe and DreamWorks Water Park are the two main amusement parks in the mall.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Nickelodeon Universe offers roller coasters and standard theme park attractions while DreamWorks Water Park offers water slides, wave pools, and tube rides.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Masks are similarly not required in DreamWorks Water Park as “there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas,” American Dream claims.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

It’s no secret that mall patronage is in decline following the rise of internet shopping, as Taylor Swift notes in her song “Coney Island,” and these attractions give consumers a reason to come to the mall that isn’t shopping.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Read More: Taylor Swift threads one of the biggest business stories in 2020 into her music, as the retail apocalypse emerges as a crucial theme through ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’

But these attractions aren’t cheap. A standard adult ticket for Nickelodeon Universe is $75.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

DreamWorks Water Park is a more expensive $99 per adult.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

So far, the inner 1980s teenager in me wasn’t overly impressed. Unless you’re willing to pay up, there’s not much that this mall has to offer after visitors get bored marveling at its size.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

But American Dream definitely does try to tap into that 1980s-era nostalgia.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

There’s even a DeLorean replica a la “Back to the Future.” Marty McFly, however, would quickly note this isn’t the average Twin Pines Mall.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

In some areas, American Dream does a great job of papering over the cracks – in this case, its lack of stores – but other places seem bare.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

American Dream hasn’t yet reached its full potential and one can hardly blame it as the pandemic accelerated the downfall of malls and the continued rise of the e-commerce giants that are making malls obsolete.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Once more stores line its hallways, American Dream may very well be the premier shopping destination that it has always wanted to be.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Until then, at the very least, there’s Cinnabon.

Inside American Dream - Visiting American Dream 2021
Inside the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Read the original article on Business Insider