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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That may change, however, in September when more than 20 luxury retailers are slated to open.
Many of the stores that were open — like Primark, Best Buy, and Zara — were cavernous in size. Some were even two levels.
I was truly impressed with how deep some of them were, including Urban Planet. It’s a testament to the mall’s size.
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.
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.
It’s a fair COVID compromise that lets customers experience the joy of scooping up their own candy.
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.
There are not a lot of windows or skylights in the main shopping areas or even the atriums.
The best parts of the mall, I found, were the spaces with skylights so that natural light could come in.
This luscious gnome garden, for example, was my favorite part of the mall and a natural attraction.
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.
Some of the areas of the malls that hadn’t been filled were walled out from public access completely.
The food court featured many mall favorites and eateries like Kelly’s Cajun Grill, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell.
There were some higher-end food options, like Grisini, but they hadn’t yet opened for business during my visit.
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.
I continued my journey and found the main atrium, another centerpiece where the mall’s size truly shows.
For more thrill-seeking kids, Nickelodeon Universe and DreamWorks Water Park are the two main amusement parks in the mall.