On Sept. 1, 2021, Markus Batchelor—who, according to his Twitter bio, is an advocate, activist and deputy director of Leadership for People For the American Way, a progressive nonprofit fighting for equal rights and constitutional liberties—chose inspiration.
At 8:42 a.m. ET, he tweeted, “If Iverson Mall is still making it, so can you. Keep grinding.”
I was moved, both to figurative tears and to laughter. Viewing Iverson Mall, one of the Washington, D.C., area’s “How Is It Still Open” shopping malls—officially renamed The Shops at Iverson—in Hillcrest Heights, Md., as the Little Engine That Could is hilarious on many levels. Every so often a statement of purpose cuts so perfect that all who can relate get it and appropriately and immediately find the humor and understanding. Such was this tweet.
On my Instagram stories, I shared the tweet and said that it was “an inspirational speech like a MFer.”
But is it? Hmmm. I decided to head to Iverson Mall, which is a less than 10 minute drive from my home, to investigate. Is Iverson Mall making it? Can I use Iverson Mall as inspiration for my own life? Inquiring minds would like to know.
But first, some background. According to the world’s most accurate information source—Wikipedia—Iverson Mall opened in 1967 as the first enclosed shopping center in the Washington, D.C., area. Iverson Mall is located on Branch Avenue in Prince George’s County (PG County), one of the most wealthy majority minority counties in America. I would say that Iverson Mall is pretty much just a local mall patronized only by people who live in the immediate area and some parts of Southeast, D.C. The reason I would say that but can’t is because Iverson Mall had a moment of pop culture celebrity when Katt Williams decided to do a whole bit on Iverson Mall.
Katt took a few liberties that I think were done purely, but inaccurately, for comedic effect. For instance, Iverson Mall absolutely does not look big from the outside—it doesn’t even look like a mall. Nor is it built in a circle. In fact, the random but unique thing about Iverson Mall is that it’s actually split by Iverson Street on the bottom level; in order to get to the other side of the bottom level, you must literally cross Iverson Street to do so.
My first time hearing about Iverson Mall was when I was in college; Morehouse College (and all of the schools in the Atlanta University Center) enroll a significant amount of students from the Washington, D.C. area, many (if not most) from PG County. And Iverson Mall, much like Atlanta’s Greenbriar Mall, has a certain reverence that even if you haven’t been there, you know what to expect based on conversations about it. My first time going to Iverson Mall would have been probably on my first trip to D.C. somewhere in like 1999 or 2000. And it did not disappoint, but in the way that only a place that I expect to sell shoes, baby clothes and locality specific cultural items to not disappoint. It was very D.C. to me, at least for my perception of D.C. at that time.
I’ve lived in D.C. for over 20 years now, making it the longest I’ve lived anywhere in my life. In that time I’ve folded myself into the cultural fabric of D.C. institutions and Iverson Mall is one of them, but not for shopping—for snickerdoodles. You see Iverson Mall (and Forestville Mall—an entirely different talk show) are basically known at this point for their snickerdoodles—cinnamon sugar cookies. In fact, 99 percent of the time, if I actually get out of my car at Iverson Mall it is to get a pound or two of snickerdoodles. That is literally it. The shoe stores I might actually go into—Foot Locker, Foot Action and DTLR—have all relocated across the street to the plaza between Iverson Mall and Marlow Heights Shopping Center, where the Kemp Mill Music used to be so all of my shopping at Iverson Mall is for snickerdoodles. I realize that last sentence was hyper-local. Kill, moe.
I think that’s enough background; the question at hand is this: Is Iverson Mall making it? Should you use the making-it-ness of Iverson Mall as inspiration for your own life?
After some investigation, I suppose that depends on a few things. For starters, what do you view as success? If you live to be 80 and then have an illness that takes you out, will you view that as success? Because the reason that tweet resonates is that there really is no good reason for Iverson Mall to still be open. At this juncture it’s barely functionally useful inside of the mall. It’s anchored at this point by a Shoppers World and Forman Mills, two discount AF stores.
When Iverson Mall opened, it was anchored by major department stores. Until a few years ago, I believe, Burlington Coat Factory was an anchor. Iverson Mall has two levels; the bottom level is more than 60 percent empty storefronts. I was told recently that you can’t even open up new stores there because of issues with the inspections, but then again, why would you even want to? The main level (top level) is a mixed bag of urban apparel stores like Last Stop and Dazzle (basically Last Stop with a different name), Shoe City, Jimmy Jazz and a an assortment of cheap-ish clothing stores, a dollar store and an eyewear store, among jewelry kiosks etc. There are several barbershops and hair salons.
The outside though, that’s the magic. Iverson Mall now houses a Chipotle, Quickway, Tropical Cafe, Wingstop and Charleys Philly Steaks. There’s also a Bojangles, which has been there for quite some time. So, yes the mall has some things but like, if you don’t live around there is there ever a good reason to go there? There’s NOTHING at Iverson Mall that you can’t get at other malls of similar pedigree that probably have more destination stores in them. I’d wager most people in D.C. who know of Iverson Mall probably haven’t actually been there in quite some time because there’s really no good reason to be there. Even if you live in this area, at least Forestville Mall has a Target attached to it.
So, like, if you view “making it” as still being around despite there being no reason it should be? Then sure.
On the other hand, though, there are big plans for Iverson Mall. As I said, it is now called The Shops at Iverson (similar to how Prince George’s Plaza is now The Mall at Prince George’s), and there is an actual marketing campaign that is curious in it’s...marketing. The website looks better than the mall, trust me. Also, I think the plans for Iverson Mall’s promise have been in the works for quite some time, and well, let’s just say I’ll believe the progress when I see it. Then again, I enjoy my DoorDash deliveries from Wingstop. But, that is one way to make it, have folks invest in your area in a way that promises it can or will become an actual destination again. When you look at it that way then yes, Iverson Mall is still making it and thus worthy of use as inspiration for your life. When you think you can’t make it, just remember that Iverson Mall has actual redevelopment plans that hope to bring a veritable cornucopia of ethnicities and creeds to frolic from shoe store to shoe store to get New Balances and the last pair of Parasucos in existence.
So is Iverson Mall still making it? I suppose it is.
Now let me go get me some snickerdoodles.