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Small Town Mall: Falling for Fall

Updating windows and contemplating malls as places to host events and temporary retail




📷: Phil Chwalinski

THE SCHOOL SEMESTER has begun here in Arkansas, so I know fall is around the corner – even though this week will have high temps above 100. Thinking of fall’s cooler weather and all things pumpkin but not yet wanting to give up summer, I’m also thinking of all things watermelon. Nothing better than a cold, sweet and juicy wedge on a hot day – or a watermelon lemonade cocktail! I love this time of year when the weather cools and so much is happening in Hot Springs, Ark.

“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” created by cartoonist Charles Schulz, is a favorite of mine – and everybody else’s – so creating a window display around Linus’ quotes is a perfect way to jump into fall. This is not just any pumpkin patch; this one’s pumpkins are painted white (and yes, I own that many white pumpkins!) with a blue and white “great pumpkin” floating above them.

My day and night landscape paintings hang on the back wall, full blue moon included. The male mannequin stands on a magic carpet, ready to travel through the air with his bag of toys for all the children of the world. His blue and rust outfit ties in with the colors of the rug.

The torn paper wall is recycled from packing paper and has pattern shapes and logos if you look closely enough. I love telling a story, or, in this case, referencing a great one, with window displays, and having original artwork makes it more special. Even the handwriting, instead of fancy calligraphy, helps move the story along with Linus’ childlike wisdom.

Small Town Mall: Falling for Fall



I usually find something in a flea market or thrift shop I can use later as a prop. In this case, it was a watermelon patio umbrella. I can for sure do something with that!

My first idea was to take it off the frame and iron it flat to hang on the wall, but after ironing it, I realized it would make a perfect fashion statement – so I made it into a dress. All I did was cut a neckline in the middle to go over the mannequin’s head and small holes for the arm brackets to go through, and voilá – a dress is born.

Black velvet, chunky heels and a beaded collar finish the outfit, along with the faux watermelon wedge purse.

Small Town Mall: Falling for Fall

📷: Phil Chwalinski


I lucked into finding a roll of watermelon slices printed on a paper table runner for that tall column on the right. I painted eight watermelon slices in acrylic on canvases to hang on the plaid wallpaper. Since then, I found watermelon slice tablecloths at the dollar store to develop the idea further. This window is how I imagined it in my head. It’s watermelon fashion, y’all.


In other “mall” news, I recently attended two events hosted at the Uptown Mall in Hot Springs, Ark. The question this brought to mind: Could the future of malls be in event hosting?

The first event was the 40th annual M*A*S*H Bash Blood Drive July 21, led by the Arkansas Blood Institute. I was there first thing before work to participate. The event took over the old Sears anchor space with 30 workers on the first shift and plenty of stations – including a pickleball court and a “mess hall” with food. Hot Springs Animal Services also attended to host pet adoptions. Vendors sold arts and crafts, candles, lotions and jewelry.

I donated blood, and Jasmine, my attendant, was very nice and professional. I haven’t given blood in decades, and it sure has changed. After drawing blood, saline solution was pumped in, and this cycle was done three times. (It was a busy day because it was also opening day for the “Barbie” movie, and I got the last ticket!)

The second event was a crafts fair over a “tax-free” weekend. I went Aug. 6 and was surprised by the amount of new vendors participating. I ended up with a crocheted axolotl salamander from Sweet River Toys. Clothing, jewelry and food were all well-represented over the weekend.

Small Town Mall: Falling for Fall

📷: Phil Chwalinski



If an event needs space, why not host it at the mall? After speaking with the general manager, more events could be coming to Uptown Mall with the possibility of a local farmer’s market hosted in the Sears anchor location during winter – no more braving freezing cold to get your fresh produce! Who knows, a local mall near you could soon become the event hall of the future.

With my experience in managing special events, I realize malls have plenty of parking, plenty of “back of the house” storage space, bathrooms, electricity and open floor space perfect for events. Some of the most memorable events I’ve attended were in warehouses that were a blank slate, where unique spaces and experiences were created. Just imagine what you could do with a little or a lot of creativity! All those nooks and crannies, and columns, just beg for a little attention … A little excitement, and a little surprise around the corner.

📷 Phil Chwalinski

After working as a catering manager in Arkansas, Florida and California, Phil Chwalinski reinvented himself as a food and wine expert with the help of the Culinary Institute of America Greystone in Napa Valley, Calif. He soon became a full-time caregiver to his mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and 10 years later, Phil made the move back into retail. Holding a BFA in Design from the Memphis College of Art, Phil has worked as a landscape designer, picture framer, florist – and now, he designs window displays for his local, small town mall.



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