Not anymore. At this point malls offer little more than expensive clothing for the young and angular, jewelry stores (why so many jewelry stores?!), hideous shoes, and unreasonable underwear for high school girls. I don’t really fit into any of that (so to speak). On the rare occasion Toney drags me to one of those places I almost instantly lapse into a semi-catatonic state. Here’s an Instagram account that does a great job documenting this phenomenon; these are my brothers.
It wasn’t always this way. As impossible as it might seem I can recall a time when I didn’t object, or even secretly groan, when somebody suggested a trip to the mall. There was stuff for me there, things I didn’t mind checking out. Do you remember? What happened?! It would be easy to blame it on the age difference, but I don’t think that’s it. The 1983 Jeff Kay would’ve been bored as shit with the current malls too. Oh, he might’ve been young and angular, but hip and shockingly expensive clothes was never an interest. No, a time-traveling me would be equally despondent. ‘Cause there’s nothing there for me now.
Here’s some o’ the stuff that used to make it kinda fun:
Record stores. At the Town Center Mall in Charleston there were two: Camelot and National Record Mart. Camelot was fairly lame — a standard mall record store. But NRM was fun. I genuinely liked exploring in there, and found some surprisingly cool things on their shelves. The NRM in the Huntington Mall, also not far from where I grew up, was even better. For whatever reason they had an AMAZING cutout bin. Cutouts, in case you’re unaware, were albums that had been discontinued by record companies, and were being sold at a very low price. Sometimes just a dollar, but usually $2.99 or thereabouts. Most of it was garbage, of course, but there were treasures mixed in if you had the patience to look. And mister, I had the patience. I discovered some of my favorite records of all time in the NRM cutout bin at the Huntington Mall: the first two Undertones albums, All Mod Cons and This Is The Modern World by The Jam, and the original Nuggets compilation. That shit was electrifying!
Book stores. I mean, they weren’t the greatest, but they weren’t bad. We had the two standard offerings at the Charleston Mall: B. Dalton and Waldenbooks. Both had a ton of magazines, which I always enjoyed. If my girlfriend wanted to do a deep-dive on clothes shopping, or whatever, I might wander over to one of the bookstores and check out their roughly one million magazine titles. Sometimes I even bought a few of them. I was always a magazine guy, especially anything to do with music. But also baseball, National Lampoon/MAD, photography, travel, and anything else that caught my eye. I liked those stores. I bought a bunch of books there too.
Pet store. I know these are frowned upon nowadays, but my girlfriend and I always made a pilgrimage to the pet store at the Charleston Mall. We used it as nothing more than a dog zoo. Ya know? But it was enjoyable to walk over there and take an extended gander at all the puppy-mill cuteness. I don’t remember any cats at the zoo, but there might’ve been some. I’m all about the hounds, and always have been. I think my mother bought a dog at one of those places once, on a complete whim. She named him Tojo for some reason, and he later turned into a diarrhea cannon. He could shit thirty feet, on a good day.
Heaven. This is an obscure one, but a few of you might know what I’m talking about. It was part of a chain, and there was one in the Charleston Mall during the early days. They sold rock t-shirts and kitschy things. All very hip and cool. In retrospect… seems like an odd choice for 1984 Charleston, WV. In any case, I loved that place. They sold retro candies, from elevated candy counters. They were way up in the air, so you could feel like a little kid looking up. Get it? And they sold stuff like Zotz, which you didn’t see all the time. Also, in the back they had a small selection of vinyl LPs. There I discovered a record label that was totally new to me at the time: Rhino Records. Again, electrifying! I bought a surf rock compilation that blew my mind, and a collection of songs by the 1960s garage rock band The Standells. I believe I purchased an album by the Chocolate Watchband there too. Do you see why I didn’t object to going to the mall then?! Here are some pictures of a young Sharon Stone sporting a Heaven sweatshirt.
Food court. I was wildly sheltered as a youngster, when it came to food. Even Americanized chain restaurant Mexican felt like the complete outer limits of exotic back then. So, when they opened that crazy food court at the Town Center Mall, with all those different offerings, it was amazing to me. They had a Greek restaurant up there, and Chinese, maybe even Indian. All sorts o’ things. They also had a Chick-fil-A and a place that made really good cheesesteaks, called Steak Escape. And they had all those mysterious places like Corndog on a Stick (WTF?) and Orange Julius. Oh, it was mesmerizing. It felt like a trip around the world every time you went to the third level of the mall. Fun stuff!
Arcade. I was never a big video game nerd, but always loved pinball machines. So, this wasn’t a huge draw for me, but I enjoyed the fact that arcades existed. The downside: it was always very hot, and there were too many asshole 13 year old boys in there. Also, it never smelled very good, probably on account of the two things just mentioned in the previous sentence. So, not my favorite. But the fact that they existed made me happy for some reason.
Today? Nothing. Unless you’re in the market for an over-priced diamond bracelet, or a pair of banana-yellow skinny jeans. You can’t even get those giant chocolate chip cookies anymore. Man! There’s nothing for me there anymore. And I reject the notion that I’m outside the demographic now. It’s just boring. Oh, I used to like to watch dipshits climb into that hurricane machine. That was just a couple of years ago. Have you ever seen one of those? It’s a booth that you climb into and experience hurricane-level winds. That was fun. I always hoped someone would totally freak out and turn the whole thing over, but it never happened. Now it’s gone too. Oh well. And there’s still Spencer’s, which is shockingly trashy. I went into one this past weekend and couldn’t believe some of the stuff they sell in there. Trashy!
What’s your current relationship with the mall? Do you buy anything there? I do buy shirts from JCPenney sometimes, and maybe sneakers at Shoe Depot, or whatever that place is called. But other than that… nothing. What about you? Tell us about it, won’t you? Also, if I’m forgetting anything from the old days, please remind me. Like Chess King? Ha! Ludicrous.
I need to call it a day, my friends.
I’ll see you again soon!
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Most of my records came from Camelot. And I still have them and books from Walden Books. As well as some clothes from Chess King. One of the first jobs I ever had was putting together those kiosk things at the mall. My mall was the one in Fairmont. Which is in he process of being totally redone. I used to get shirts at Sears but they closed. And now JC Penny is gone from the Mall in Morgantown. So I have not been there in quiet a while. Due to what is going on in the world – I do all my shopping online these days.
I was already an adult when the Great Mall Explosion occurred, so it was never a thing for me. Hell, when we moved to Virginia in 1959, Tysons Corner was nothing but the meat locker plant and a general store. Think I was last at a mall about 20 years ago – there was no there there.
Okay, I confess to taking the bus to 7 Corners in the ’60s because they had a Brentano’s. I remember that being a decent book store.
Never like malls, and I still don’t. The record shops I frequented were free standing, as were the video game stores. Some sold both. The only time I go to the mall these days is for the Lego store at KOP, or if I’m buying something electrical and expensive in Delaware to avoid the sales tax.
Root 66 says
When we first moved to the Columbus, Ahia area in the early 80’s, the trend was leaning toward local ‘mini-malls’ that weren’t nearly as large as the others, but still had quite a variety of stores. The one near us had a movie theater on one end and a Gold Circle (anybody remember those?) on the other. My mom and I would go down there frequently and she would shop for clothes for hours but I would hang out at Aladdin’s Castle until I ran out of quarters! The record store and the pet shop were also some of my favorite haunts there as well. We really enjoyed those times.
In high school my girlfriend worked at Cary Towne Center Mall. At the time it was brand new and it seemed amazing. And it’s been going downhill for 20 odd years now. All that anchors have closed up and last time I was in there was the saddest most depressing thing I’ve seen in a while. And this week it was announced that Epic Games was going to make it their corporate headquarters. https://www.polygon.com/2021/1/4/22213102/epic-games-buys-mall-new-headquarters-cary-towne-center
Growing up in the land of malls (NJ), it was a hangout place to meet girls. And it had A/C, and photo shops, Radio Shack, and Spencer Gifts. And all the rest you mentioned.
I only go now if the wife drags me, or I need a watch battery replaced. I always think I’ll enjoy trying on sneakers or shoes, but between the loud hip-hop music and pushy salespeople, no thanks.
There’s not much reason to go to the mall these days, even if it weren’t for the Plague.
I’m pretty sure I went to Fair Oaks Mall sometime in the last five years, although I can’t remember why. Back in its heyday they had, as has been mentioned, records and books and normal clothes for normal people. Radio Shack was already worthless. They also had a smoking area, which has now been converted to a play area where little kids can trade boogers and fecal colorforms.
In the early 1980s when I was working overnights at the TV station, I would stop on the way home at Latham Circle Mall to play video games at the arcade. This was shortly after it metamorphosed from Latham Corners Shopping Center.
By the time the mall rat phenomenon appeared, I had aged out of it. Kinda like Sesame Street.
I went to the mall once to see a taping of the tv game show “Truth Or Date” but two pothead losers came and ruined it. I did get to meet Stan Lee that day, though.
Stan Lee! So the day was not completely wasted, even if the pothead losers were.
No Magic Eye poster?
Those things are a scam! I stared at it for days and could never see the boat!
It’s a schooner
A schooner of beer.
The Yodler says
The schooner the better.
I often went to Heaven, at the Charleston Town Center. I purchased The Blue Book there. I am not a book person, but I really like that book. Another time, went to the food court, drunk, and high as fuck, with some friends, and I sat down next to, who I didn’t realize, my Uncle Chuck. Then I got a dose of reality, and him basically telling me that was not a way to be in my life. Saw him at my mom’s funeral several years back, and he brought it up again.
My first job as a kid was dressing up in a donut costume and handing out donut holes while saying “Jack n Jill is up the hill” – Jack n Jill is a donut place here in Texas and there was one on the 2nd floor of the mall. It was me and a girl from school, her mother managed the mall. The donut costumes were absurd. They were heavy as hell, hot, they hung off our backs – you’d have to look at us from the side to tell we were donuts – like a lowercase letter ‘q’. The girl was smaller than me and really had trouble on the escalators, on the count of her having a giant beanbag strapped to her back. Her donut was always dragging the floor so a guy from one of the toy stores gave her a skateboard to put under it so at least she didn’t have to drag it. And of course we were ridiculed again and again by everyone that entered the mall, regardless of sex, age, or creed. We lasted four days before her mother finally put a stop to it. She ended up giving me money out of her purse rather than mess with taxes and blah blah. There was a store in there full of absurd swords shaped like dragons and what have you. Even as a kid I scoffed at the middle aged white guys buying that crap. We had a movie theater in ours. And the pet store was a favorite for us too.
Only now do I see what’s hiding in plain sight: the Eighties Big Hair in the photo!
The guy in the black jacket with red sweater underneath looks like a young Ben Affleck.
Yet with no shopping agenda.
Mountaineer Mall had a cool record store called the Record Bar. I still have a few cassettes with the stickers inside. I remember hanging out there before going to The Underground Railroad to see Black Flag. This was my first punk rock show and I remember my cousin ( who later worked for Rhino) introducing me to Henry. I just sat there, with my skateboard between my feet, listening to his tales from the road. I also remember Marsha Faber letting me into the over 21 show. Her disappearance is still unsolved to this day. 80s West Virginia was cooler than folks would think.
Ferber..not Faber. Sorry..
I know I’m jumping in very late to this post (blanking covid, blanking impossible work schedule) but I used to frequent one of not only the state’s outdoor malls. Cross county center, in Yonkers,New York hosted what was then referred to as the only outdoor mall. You pulled in on top and parked at the anchor department store, John wanamkers. You descended the escalate and walked outside to Woolworths and bookstores and record stores and restaurants to be met by the other anchor, gimbels department store… Cross county is still there but of course changed dramatically. I love it. And miss it.