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The Land of Misfit Toys

Batman finds kinship with a beer-drinking stuffed armadillo adn chili-shaped cookie cutters on the third floor of Galleria Dallas.
By Trey Garrison |
MAN OF STEAL: Only on the third floor would you find a Superman with a bat on his chest.
photography by Kevin Hunter Marple

Chasing my toddler the other day through the aisles of a store called Amazing Toy Creations on the third floor of the Galleria Dallas, something catches my eye and stops me dead in my tracks.
It’s Superman. And he has a gun.

He also has no cape. But he does have gloves and a sword. On the front of his box, it says: “Collect Them All Supermans.” Beside that one is another Superman, this one with a helicopter and a Hummer. He has an outsized head and a hand-lettered “S” on his chest that looks like it was painted over something. Unless I’m mistaken, this Superman led a previous life as Batman. The back of the box clears it all up, though:

“The Superman is in several years the trial return to the home towns and did not succeed, hence re-return to New York, but unfortunate is he discovers that own lover Louis silk has already had the male friend and a child the …”

The shelf is stocked high with—well let’s call them “undocumented” action figures. Spider-Man wearing a cape and riding a dinosaur. A purple Batman. A vaguely Latina-looking girl bearing resemblance to Dora the Explorer. (Her cousin left behind in Guadalajara?) They’re all straight out of the Island of Misfit Toys. Or, more likely, a black market toy factory in Tianjin.

That’s the allure of the Galleria’s third floor. Remember how back in the 1980s, Pizza Huts were dimly lit and almost felt a little shady, in a way that was weirdly cool and adventurous? That’s the Galleria’s top level. The place has always given off a different vibe than the rest of the destination mall. Amazing Toy Creations is just one small part of it. The hodgepodge of third-floor stores reminds me of the bar scene from Star Wars. Normally in a building, the toniest digs sit at the top, but the Galleria inverts that height-to-haute relationship. The three blood kin retailers at the south end spell it out: Banana Republic on Level One, The Gap on Level Two, and Old Navy at the top. Its neighbors are places like PacSun and Aeropostale. Notably, there is no entrance to the Westin Galleria hotel from the third floor.

Angie Freed is a spokeswoman with the Galleria’s management company, General Growth Properties. I asked her about the third-floor tenants. She said, “They are stores that”—and here she paused to find the appropriate words—“don’t fit with the peer groups on levels One and Two.”

Management refuses to comment on lease rates at the mall, but brokers will tell you that third-floor rents are about a third of what they are on the first floor. If you want to rub shoulders with Versace and Cartier, it’ll cost you. That’s why there aren’t any other malls in Dallas that dare to have a third floor: it’s a hard sell.

Foot traffic thins with altitude. We’re a people far more threatened by Type 2 diabetes than terrorism. We jockey for the closest parking space when we drive to the gym. So of course even with escalators, the idea of going up to the third floor seems daunting.

It’s really a shame, though, that more people don’t venture up here to the top floor. With its unblocked view of the domed ceiling, the third-floor world feels futuristic, like a location set from Logan’s Run. The third floor is always warmer during the cold Christmas shopping days. And the Saks art gallery up here is a pleasant diversion from the toil of shopping. You won’t be entirely lying when you tell friends you spent the afternoon browsing art instead of browsing pop art T-shirts at Hot Topic.

A few years ago, management did what it could to entice people to the top of the mall. They—what else?—installed a food court. The playground that came with it is hardly ever less than wall-to-wall rugrats. But the food court itself—well, the Sbarro has been replaced by an unfamiliar Italian place, and the one decent Indian restaurant is now a Taco Bell. Still, since General Growth Properties took over leasing in December 2002, they’ve increased occupancy on the third floor by 44 percent.

There’s something to be said for lower rates and the opportunities they create. You can deny it, but there are occasions in your life when you really need a collection of five flavors of salsa in a gift basket, a handful of chili pepper-shaped cookie cutters, and a stuffed armadillo on its back guzzling a Lone Star beer. Bingo, your store is Destination Dallas, third floor. Or maybe you just decided you’re an Oakland Raiders fan, and you desperately need a black Raiders cap—in March. Your store is Lids, which carries hats, hats, and more hats. You’ll find it on the third floor.

Then there’s the customer-service to consider. On the third floor, it becomes an adventure, too. These stores are generally staffed by kids who are attempting for the first time in their lives to deal with people outside their cliques. So they’re either frighteningly overeager or they’re just deliciously surly and sarcastic. The Journeys shoe store is as good a place as any for them to find out what it takes to make a buck.

But the third floor isn’t just a proving ground for youngsters making minimum wage. It’s a proving ground for new retail ideas. Amazing Toy Creations is run by Pari Murad, an Indian immigrant who is getting her shot at the American Dream right across from the third-floor playground. In the extra space she could afford, Murad installed rides in her store, a safari train with robot-animal cars that run on a track. (Robot animals that have their power switch in a most unfortunate place, by the way.) Murad also has a whole area set aside for birthday parties, and there’s space to do arts and crafts, too. For some events, she partners with her next-door neighbor, Slappy’s Puppet Playhouse. Contrast that with the corporate impersonality of the Toys “R” Us experience.

Maybe Murad’s ideas will work. Maybe not. All I know is that thanks to her and the glorious third floor of the Galleria, now I’m the only comics fan my age with a Superman action figure that has a membership to the NRA.

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