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Sunday, August 06, 2017

Shopping Mall Memories


When I was a kid, it seemed like one of the busiest places to go to was the local shopping mall.  And in the 1980s and early 1990s, that seemed to be the case for everybody who lived in town.



I mean, let's face it, when you live in a small town like I do, you really need a space that can act as a sort of community hub.  And certainly the local shopping mall was exactly that.  You had restaurants for families to dine in.  You had clothing stores and record stores for teenagers to spend time in.  You had women in acid wash clothing singing songs in the middle of the food court about how they love going to the mall...



...oh, wait.  I'm thinking of that Robin Sparkles song from "How I Met Your Mother".   Though, I'm not lying about the acid wash fashions.  Everybody wore them back in the late 1980s.

Lately though, some malls are really struggling to stay open, and some have even been knocked down completely because they've deteriorated into eyesores that cannot be saved.




Dixie Square Mall, anyone?

I suppose I can understand why this is the case.  Over the last ten years, online shopping has become a business all on its own.  With Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and Craigslist, online shopping is a billion dollar market.  As long as you don't mind paying the occasional shipping fee, all you need to have is an address and a credit card and you can buy almost anything you want.

Except for the Brooklyn Bridge.  That's not for sale.  A model version, yes.  Actual Brooklyn Bridge...no.



Still, it is quite sad to see shopping malls having a hard time staying open.  In particular, the mall in my town has been having a rough go of it the last decade.  The latest nail in the coffin is the closing of Sears, which other than Shoppers Drug Mart is the only anchor store our mall has.  When Sears closes up shop for good this fall, it's anybody's guess as to what the future of the mall will be. 

And as someone who used to love going to the mall when I was a kid, it's a hard reality to swallow when things you used to love don't stay the same. 

So, I thought that I would use this post to talk about shopping mall memories.  I'll show you examples from my own town mall, and then I'll open up the floor to all of you to tell me some of your own mall memories.  After all, the malls may not be thriving in your area, but at least on this blog, the memories will stay alive.



All right.  So, in my town, we have two shopping plazas.  But one is more or less on the verge of extinction, so I'll talk about the other one, which is the Thousand Islands Mall.  The name comes from the nickname that my hometown has associated with it - The City of the Thousand Islands.  I don't know the exact year it opened as it was way before I was born, but since Woolco (now Walmart) was one of the first stores in that location, and I know Woolco came to my town in 1973, I'll just say that the mall has been around for at least 45 years.  Initially, the mall was relegated to just a few stores, but I am old enough to remember that the food court and upper level was added in 1986 or 1987.  I only remember that because there was a party to celebrate the opening of the new wing and every kid that came in got free colouring books and balloons.

So, what else do I remember about our mall circa 1980s/1990s?  A ton of stuff. 



One of the first memories I have is riding the rocking horse ride that was situated outside of a grocery store called Steinberg's.  Until it closed up in the late 1980s, it was one of the two grocery stores my family would shop at.  Back in those days, the groceries were bagged with paper bags, the sodas came in glass bottles, and you could actually pay for your stuff with personalized cheques!  Imagine that!  Of course, I didn't really care too much about the store...I just hoped that Mom had a quarter left over so I could ride the horse ride.  That was really all that I cared about back then.



$1.44 Days at Woolco were a lot of fun as well (mainly because I didn't have to work them).  They were almost always held on Mondays (typically the slowest day of the week retail wise), and they had a lot of things on sale in the store for $1.44.  Of course, most stores would go bankrupt nowadays with inflation being the way it is, but back in those days, it was a lot of fun.



I also miss the idea of having a music store in the mall.  Just looking at all of the album covers inside stores such as Music World was almost considered to be as much fun as actually purchasing a record.  I do understand why music stores are going under.  The mp3 player and the iPod have more or less killed the industry.  Nevertheless, I still have fond memories of going into the music store and seeing who the top artists were.



I have a really fuzzy memory of this next place, but we used to have a restaurant inside the mall called Howard Johnson's.  I don't remember too much about it except that a Chinese buffet is now open in that spot, and that I remember there being some sort of pick-up window where you could order ice cream cones.  I could be mistaking that with Laura Secord as well, but something tells me that I am on the right track with that one. 



Speaking of eating, this is what our food court looks like now, but back when it first opened, we had a lot of other restaurants that served a variety of tasty goodies.  At the far left next to the Top Deli store was the A&W (which we have two locations in town).  Where Top Deli is now was a place called "Treats", which served up baked goods, coffee, and lemonade.  The #1 Wok was known as Asian Wok, but is essentially unchanged when it first opened - well aside from the name, that is.  There's an empty storefront in the corner where Mrs. Vanelli's Pizza was.  It turned into a Subway after that store closed, and now it's just an empty space.  And where Jack's Fish and Chips is now used to be a New York Fries location.  And, I'm really surprised I remembered all that!

As for personal memories that I have...well, I do remember the time that I entered a mall contest and won a Cabbage Patch Kid.  I think I was only three years old at the time.  Have no idea where that doll ended up, but I did own one. 

I seem to remember the mall hosting trick-or-treating inside with all the stores handing out candy.  I think that tradition still goes on, even though it has been close to 25 years since I last went out on Halloween.  But years ago, the mall held an annual costume contest, and I made it to the finals during Halloween 1990.  Unfortunately my Ninja Turtle costume lost to a kid dressed at E.T.  Though, I have to admit, their costume was pretty stellar looking.

Christmas shopping at the mall was an awesome experience as well.  I still remember the proud job I did in selecting my sister's gift.  She came with me and she waited outside of Coles bookstore while I walked through looking for something to get her.  I was freaked out about how I was going to hide it, but luckily the SoapBerry Shop offered free giftwrapping, and I was like...YEAH!  The little things that get an eleven-year-old excited.

Finally, one sort of embarrassing moment that I had while at the Thousand Islands Mall...I accidentally smashed a plate inside of Rob McIntosh's China Store and ran out of the store as fast as I could before the sales staff could catch me.  It was definitely an accident and to be fair, I was only twelve at the time, but as long as that store was in the mall, I couldn't bring myself to go back inside.  Call it survivor's guilt, or the fear of knowing how much it cost...not my finest moment.

Of course, the Thousand Islands Mall is still open, but it's hurting.  And honestly, I don't know what can be done to bring people back.  I always thought the best way of keeping people coming back is to make the mall as much for entertainment as it is for shopping.  Obviously, stores need to appeal to all ages and demographics, and I'd support bringing in an Old Navy or a Toys R Us.  But when Sears closes up, I think a brilliant way to use that space would be to create some sort of amusement area.  It would be a perfect space for an indoor ice skating rink, or perhaps if you really wanted to throw it back in time, a roller skating rink!  I mean, our old Zellers store is now a paintball and laser tag arena.  It could definitely bring people in.



Also, I like the idea of pop up stores.  Quite a few of them pop up during the Christmas holidays.  Calendar Club, Hickory Farms, craft and artisan shops.  That's great for the winter, but why not do the same for summer?  Have shops dedicated for fun in the sun that sell beach towels, sunscreen, and pool toys? 

Whatever the case, I think that there is a case to save the shopping mall.  Two of the largest malls in the world - The West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, and the Mall of America in Minnesota have survived and thrived because they have that successful balance of shopping and entertainment.  



I think that's the key.  But, what do I know?

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