Union Station in the Holiday SeasonDecember 21, 2009
Yesterday I went to Union Station to shop for some last minute Christmas Presents.
I had been to the Galleria earlier in the day and it was just too packed for me even to breathe. I anticipated Union Station being significantly less crowded than the Galleria, but had no idea how much of an understatement “significantly less crowded” would actually be. Union Station seems almost abandoned (as opposed to completely abandoned). The Fudgery, which in my memory was the most popular attraction at Union Station, had four employees working and of the five or six times I walked past them, only once were there more spectators than employees. I remember coming to Union Station no more than ten years ago (well maybe a little longer ago than ten years) and having to wait forever to get a sample of fudge. Now the employees get excited when anyone even shows interest in a free sample, much less in actually buying something. As I walked around the mall and went into a few shops, I found that I was alone in almost every store with the exception of employees and the few friends I had brought along with me. I don’t even know how the few stores left manage to stay in business if at the busiest time of the year the whole mall is devoid of customers. I was very happy to see stores advertising that they accept the new Downtown Gift Card, and hope that a lot of people find them in their stockings this Christmas (or whatever holiday presents people get), but more needs to be done. I often notice STLtoday.com commenters complaining about the fact that parking is not free at Union Station. If free parking is what it takes to attract people to Union Station, I’m all for it. This Sunday the parking lot was mostly empty and none of the stores that I shopped at offered validation.
Despite the sad state of the mall at Union Station, my experience was very positive. I never waited in line once and never felt the slightest bit crowded (maybe a bit lonely at times). The employees at Union Station are so glad to see any customers at all that they are extremely polite and helpful. The food court has many good options including several non-chains that offer delicious food with the added benefit of supporting a local business thrown in, something much more rare at other area malls. There is also no lack of fun things to do. On the second level close to the main entrance there is “Galactic Glow Putt” similar to one in the St. Louis Mills Mall, which looks like it would make for a great time. Who doesn’t like putt-putt golf? Another fun installation in Union Station is “Jump in the City”. This attraction consists of four trampolines with bungee cords connected to harnesses positioned over each of them. This allows people to safely jump extremely high and get lots of air time to do flips and appear to be having tons of fun. I wish I had brought my camera because I saw some serious fun going down.
Overall there are many reasons to visit Union Station without even mentioning its HUGE historical significance for our city (Union Station was the largest and busiest train station in the world when it opened in 1894). Despite the fairly large number of vacant retail spaces, the lack of visitors are the only aspect of the visit which makes it seem abandoned because very interesting exhibits about the history of Union Station have been installed in the empty stores. Union Station is worth visiting just to look at, but actually going inside and giving it a chance may end up turning into a very enjoyable experience. Give it a chance!