I remember my first memory of going to the mall. It was 1982 and I was six or seven years old. We were living in Houston then, and my father took me to a very large mall in the area with an expansive food court with everything from a Luby’s Cafeteria (or was it Piccadilly?) to a fast food restaurant that sold all sorts of potato items (fries, baked potatoes, stuffed potatoes, you name it). The name escapes me, but I remember my dad selecting this as the place where we would dine that evening.
The Great American 80’s Mall–oh what a time. The majority of my shopping in the 80’s and 90’s revolved around the mall. Growing up in Phoenix (where we landed after Houston), the Metrocenter was the place to be, and I spent hours there with my friends shopping at stores like Contempo Casuals, 5-7-9, Camelot Music, Spencer’s Gifts, and Waldenbooks. Our parents would take turns dropping us off and picking us up, and occasionally when I was a little older, we’d take the bus from Glendale to Phoenix to hang in the mall. We’d look at boys, scope out the latest fashions and spend time skating in the ice skating rink which was located near the food court. It was also known as a car cruising spot where teens and young adults would post off and cruise the lot showing by off their rides.
As kids of 80’s malls, our lives revolved around this activity. Most of the money earned by babysitting or odd jobs would end up in a mall’s cash till at some point. If I needed school clothes, I headed to the mall. A gift for a friend’s birthday? We went to the mall to buy it. Bored on a Saturday? No problem, let’s go to the mall and make sure to stop by Orange Julius dressed in our Guess jean overalls or Esprit sweater and Keds.
Another Arizona favorite was West Valley Mall, which at one time housed a Bob’s Big Boy, Montgomery Ward, and a movie theater which had $1 movies on special days. That theater is where I saw Dirty Dancing umpteen times alongside She’s Having a Baby, Heartburn, Under the Cherry Moon, and dozens of other movies that I can’t at this time remember. I recently googled West Valley Mall and it is no longer there.
Have you seen my childhood?
Mall life was everything back then. It was the common bond that connected us as youths. No matter what city, state, or town you lived in, being a mall rat at some point was par for the course.
Now, getting what you want only takes a WiFi connection and a few keystrokes. Malls across America have become desolate wastelands of invisible tumbleweeds, broken mannequins, and dusty kiosks which never found another home. Here in St. Louis, there are several malls that are currently abandoned, with no concrete plans of how to reuse the land or the structure. They sit there to remind us that they used to exist.
I sometimes pass by them and wonder about the memories that happened there. The joy. The excitement. The promise that maybe never came to be. It’s a relic that I wax poetic about during my downtime as I reflect on how much time I spent at malls during my formative years.
St. Louis still has several major malls that are still thriving including West County Center and The Galleria. They all have food courts with stores like Bath and Body Works, Sephora, The Body Shop, and Victoria’s Secret. Anchor stores like Macy’s and JCPenney are still staying alive, albeit barely. When I walk through them now during an occasional visit, I muse about how so much has changed. But I still observe teens in groups laughing while holding bags of their goods, and I’d like to think they are making memories of their own, too.
I reminisce on my youth and the carefree spirit that came with it. I miss going to the mall with my Christmas or birthday money spending it all because I didn’t have any bills to pay. I miss the innocence and the careless era of the time when malls reigned supreme.
Were you a mall rat? Come mosey on down memory lane with me and share your 80’s mall stories.