In this regular column, JT Rozzero and Jen Engle usually exchange emails reminiscing about the greatest decade in history: the 1990s. JT & Jen have been friends since 1997 and have been trading emails and instant messages about 90s nostalgia since the day they met. However, with Ms. Engle on sabbatical, Cowboy Morrissette and Andrew Flanagan have stepped up to take over the reigns! But they then got busy with their own respective duties, so in stepped Chris Jordan! If you have suggestions for future topics, please email us at the addresses below!
JT: What’s up CJ! Hope you had a great holiday my red haired compadre. With 2016 here, one of our many resolutions is to get this column into regular and consistent rotation so let’s get to it!
Sure it still exists but it’s not even close to what it was back in its 90s heyday. The stores. The food court. The arcades. The meet-ups and hangouts. Music and Movie stores. Santa. Security. The whole shebang.
How many malls were in your immediate vicinity? Extended easy-to-travel-to vicinity? How frequently did you attend? We can start there.
Chris: First off, glad to hear from you, JT. My holidays were fine and fun and I hope you and yours were the same. I’m wondering if you hit up the mall for your Christmas shopping. I sure didn’t. I have one here locally, but every time I go there, it’s filled with teenagers and college kids wandering aimlessly. I think it’s because they don’t have an arcade. Without an arcade to serve as a distraction, you’re lost and without any reason to actually be there.
I had a mall about 20 minutes from where I lived. My hometown wasn’t big enough, so we hopped on the bus or, when we were old enough, drove to the mall. It served the purpose of a Saturday afternoon hangout. My friends and I would hit the arcade and play rounds of Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter II and WWF Wrestlefest. Our mall didn’t have much of a food court, so if we needed a break we hit up Tim Horton’s or Orange Julius. There was a Walmart attached to our mall; we also had a Foot Locker so we could go drool all over the Air Jordan’s before being kicked out. It was awesome. My favorite stop was the record store because I was (and always have been) a music junkie.
The mall was also the place to be if you wanted to get into a rumble with a group of kids from another town. Back parking lot, right after your game of Afterburner was done.
JT: We had two malls down the street from each other. The Rhode Island (Midland) Mall and the Warwick Mall. During my youth in the 80s and early 90s, the RI mall was the main hot spot. It had a banging food court, a really big Aladdin’s Castle and was two floors. The Warwick Mall was a dump. Then the tide changed when they overhauled the WM. They put in a nice food court and Old Navy joined the fray. For a while they both went head to head, but the RI Mall was eventually whittled down to an empty husk that finally shuttered in the 2000s. There is a Walmart, Kohl’s and Sears still attached there today, but the mall itself is gone.
The malls did share some stores. Like my favorite as a kid: K.B. Toys. During those years we also had Toys R Us and Child World as standalone toy superstores, but the charm of KB was they seemingly crammed so much greatness into one tiny shop. Barbies packed on top of GI Joe, stuffed next to board games that were piled on Transformers. It was like Santa’s Workshop if he was confined to a barn. And it was glorious. Of course I always made a beeline to the wrestling section to check out the figure selection, but they also had the used game bin that was a hot stop too.
Which toy store did you prefer and was KB as hot for your idea as it was in mine? Also, I loved Child World, but their commercial AND mascot were creepy as fuck.
Chris: Well, I’m originally from Canada, and in my neck of the woods in Nova Scotia, we didn’t have KB or Toys R Us. I know, I know….we were sad little children. Our mall (Mayflower Mall) had three unofficial sections: the front of the mall, which contained the arcade, Tim Horton’s, the record store, the inside entrance to Walmart, and the book store; it basically was the hub of activity for kids to hang out. Then there was the middle section. This was where all the clothing stores were: Foot Locker, the sporting goods store, men’s formal wear; the hang out crowds started to thin out down in this section. The Orange Julius was also down this way, which was good for a drink. I remember it being pretty tasty. Then you end the end of the mall. This was called the “ghetto” because it was usually empty of people and some of the stores were shuttered down that end. The only thing that was open down there was a dollar store. If you were seen walking down there, people claimed that you would never come back.
So for me, my “toy stores” were the arcade and the record store.
I could tell you about the small strip mall that was a few miles up the road from this mall. It also had a Tim Horton’s, but it also had an A&W and a bowling alley. You were not going to get any business if you didn’t have a Tim Horton’s attached to your building.
JT: Yeah this is completely Dunkin’ Donuts territory, so Timmy wasn’t allowed on mall premises. Orange Julius first showed up when Providence Place Mall opened at the end of the decade, but I don’t recall Warwick or RI Mall having one.
When RI Mall was the… ahem, “place to be,” there was a fantastic restaurant that had a buffet, which included a carving station. My grandparents took us there often and I enjoyed it every single time. Any other restaurants attached to your mall? Or just the kiosks like you mentioned?
Kind of sad that you didn’t have K.B. up your way, feels like you were really deprived. But you did have music stores, so tell me about those. How many were in there? Which ones? Any specific memories? I swear we would make the same lap around and look at the same stuff each and every time we went in there. Just thinking about it brings the smell of the store right back.
Chris: We had a restaurant inside the mall. It was called Jasper’s and it was a local chain that had several other locations. It was really a homestyle-type menu, nothing fancy, but it was very delicious. It was where we all went after prom. Needless to say, prom + kids = drunk kids which is not at all inversely proportional to the amount of vomit that needed to be cleaned up in that place. A little math lesson for the youngsters there. Other than the Tim Horton’s, the only other place to eat would have been the McDonald’s inside the Walmart that was attached to the mall.
When you mention music stores, you speak to the heart, man. We had a store called A&M Records which was my go to place for stuff from Big Daddy Kane and Chubb Rock. I hate to admit that I went through a hip-hop-exclusive phase in the early 90’s. The other shopping center had a Sam the Record Man, who was a bit of an icon in Canada. I remember the prices being crazy over my budget back then, but if I begged enough, I got the dough I needed. Usually, it involved some sort of manual child labor in return.
The other store I frequented was a sporting goods store called Rudderham’s. Jerseys and Starter jackets, son! That’s where I got my Celtics winter jacket, even though I wasn’t a basketball fan. You can thank House of Pain for that.
JT: FYE was the main music store in Warwick Mall and was definitely one of the main attractions for me too, mainly because they had movies and music as well as some video games. You could eat up a whole lot of time in there.
Both malls had plenty of sneaker sports stores but never really had a sports memorabilia/gear place at that time. I used to have to get my starter cap fix though Olympia Sports or Foot Locker, which was never really easy.
What were the main anchor department stores for you? Ours ran the gamut between both malls from G. Fox to Filene’s to Jordan Marsh (!) to Macy’s and eventually Old Navy, which was a huge deal when it finally showed up.
Chris: For our big mall, the anchor store was the Hudson Bay Company, or The Bay as it was commonly referred to. It was a high-rent Walmart, until the actual Walmart moved in at the opposite end. I had a credit card for The Bay, and I remember buying a Sony Discman. Remember those? I bought all the car hook-ups for it and everything because I was starting college and my wheels only had a cassette deck. I also bought a Weezer CD on that card, and then a bunch of munchies. I maxed it out after three trips.College kid debt, FTW!!
Our other much smaller mall was anchored by Zellers. This is a Canadian version of Walmart. I remember Christmas shopping in there and bought my younger brothers one of the old Galoob WWF action figures. I think it was George “the Animal” Steele. I was 13 at the time, so I used my allowance money on one gift and then a cheeseburger from the A&W inside. At the opposite end of this smaller one was a huge bowling alley and later on our high school graduating class used it for a big grad bash. I had never seen so many drunk minors before that.
JT: Hell yes I remember the Discman! Shit, I held on to my Walkman until the mid 2000s! (I also currently own multiple VCRs). The car hook-ups were awesome but always so damn cumbersome. As was the giant book of CDs you had to tote around, unless you had one of fancy ones that hooked onto your overhead mirror.
Did any of the stores in your mall double as a Ticketmaster outlet?
And since we have pretty much run through all of the stores, any unique stories about mall visits? Such as meeting a celebrity? A brouhaha? Petty theft? A dalliance with an older lady? ANY OF THESE?
Chris: On occasion, the record store would sell tickets to concerts in the area. I remember one time when Rod Stewart came to town. My mom was a big Rod Stewart fan. She was such a big fan, I swear I thought she was the Rod Stewart equivalent of a ring rat. Anyway, I was about 17 at the time, and I hung out in the mall almost every weekend. She gave me some money to buy her ticket for the show. The guy behind the counter gave me the ticket and told me to enjoy the show. “IT’S NOT MINE, HONEST!” The guy just looked at me, shook his head and went “MmmHmmmm”…
When I was a kid, around 8 years old, the mall was rather new, and they had some people there posing as Star Wars characters, signing autographs and taking pictures. When I saw them, I knew they weren’t the real actors. I had a notebook with Darth Vader on it, and I gave it to Darth Faker to sign….and he scared the bejeebus out of me. He pointed at the picture on the notebook, then pointed to himself and all I could muster was a meek nod.
I haven’t stolen anything from the mall, but one time I got an ear piercing for free. I was just trying to be cool and impress some friends. I was 18. There was also this one time where I was walking directly toward an ex-girlfriend in the mall and all I could hear was “Shit, turn around. TURN AROUND!” as she apparently wanted to avoid me like the plague. The mall is a great place to have an awkward situation.
JT: Warwick Mall as also a Ticketmaster spot and my most memorable trip there was purchasing my tickets for the 12/29/98 Raw in Worcester. Of course as the legend goes the money to fund that venture came after WCW refunded us our full ticket price because Goldberg couldn’t make the show.
I actually purchased those house show tickets on a whim at the Mall because I had just planned to tag along with some buddies to meet DDP that morning. I got sucked into the excitement, felt the bang and bought in. Little did I know that me and DDP would get to know each other a whole lot better 17 years later.
I also went to meet Bret Hart and a couple of Nitro Girls one time too. I know Spice was there (slamming) but I forget who the other was. Of course I totally clammed up with Bret and our conversation went something like:
Bret: “Hey, how’s it going?”
JT: “Great Hitman, thanks. How are you?”
Bret: “Great, and you?”
JT: “Great… You?”
< Awkward Silence >
Love the mall.
In later years, Andrew Flanagan and I used it as a pure time-killer before going to wreck the Chinese buffet. It almost became a tradition. Do a bunch of laps and people-watch and then go take down seven pounds of General Tso’s Chicken.
How often do you frequent the mall these days? We go regularly thanks to the kids; they love it. It’s like a mini-amusement park now. There is also a pretty great vintage toy store that I check out every time. Tons of wrestling figures and video games to waste the hours away.
Chris: Man, you make the mall sound like an awesome place right now. When I was younger, it was the place to be on a Saturday but that was another time, and I look back at it fondly. Now that I’ve moved here to Texas, the Post Oak Mall here in town is really a young person’s place to hang out. I’ve been there to buy Christmas gifts and things like that and have just marvelled at how these teens can just hang out there without an arcade. THEY WILL NEVER KNOW! It’s filled with trendy, expensive clothing stores. The food court is awesome. No Chinese buffet to wreck, but there’s a pizza slice place, a Nestlé Toll House stop, and a Sonic. They have a GameStop, but not being a huge gamer, I rarely consider walking in there. They use to have an FYE store, but that closed up. JC Penney and Macy’s are the anchors of this place now. There is also a Mexican food place called Case Olè. The Mrs. and myself visited there one time on a whim, but once she caught site of a cockroach, we had to leave. You see, the Mrs. is deathly afraid of cockroaches.
The mall also doubles as a racetrack for the old folks as they get there laps and contemplate hip replacement surgery. They tend to walk faster than the young people, believe it or not. Oh, I should also mention the shifty guy who sells the shady watches from a kiosk smack in the middle of the place. I enjoy letting him talk me into a sale, then when I reach into my pocket for my wallet, I tell him I left it in the car and I’ll be right back. That’s when I grab my slice of pizza and head out.
Man, I miss sitting in the Afterburner cockpit.
JT: We could talk malls all day my man, but we should probably take this one home. We covered a whole lot of nostalgia and shared some cool stories. Any final thoughts before we check out and head home?
CJ: Kids coming up now have no idea how fun malls were when we were kids. Arcades, cooler stores, better food. Relationships created, relationships ended. The mall was our West Beverly High, and we were Brandon Walsh or Steve Sanders or Dylan McKay or David Silver. Except when our moms picked us up.
I think I’ll hit up Chuck E. Cheese for some Wack-A-Mole.
JT: Longfellow couldn’t have said it better himself. Come pick me up at Aladdin’s Castle on your way to see the mouse!