Retail stores, especially in malls, are slowly becoming extinct thanks to the likes of Amazon and other online shopping venues. Almost weekly I see articles about storied bricks-and-mortar retailers that are reporting declining sales and profits, if not closing their doors. Just as video killed the radio star, online shopping is killing the mall star. In retrospect, this was inevitable. Technology has made it easy for us to shop virtually from our sofas, beds and offices and passively receive the goods at our doorsteps. No need to fight the crowds for products or parking. No need to stand in line to pay. No need to be disappointed that every size is there but yours.
While technology-fueled advancement is all but assured, where are the voices that bemoan dwindling retail stores? Besides the loss of jobs and a physical form of entertainment, there are other reasons to lament the gradual loss of bricks-and-mortar stores. For example, trying on clothes before buying them – or more generally, inspecting products before purchase – is a compelling benefit of retail stores. I’m not really a fan of shopping online for clothes because it’s a crapshoot – I never how things will fit. And if something doesn’t fit, I then have to make the trek to the FedEx store or the post office to return it, which I loathe. I guess I am still a little old-school when it comes to shopping, but that’s OK with me.
As I read about the slow demise of retail stores and shopping malls, I cannot help but think back to the days when both were in their prime. Being a child of the ‘80s, I was lucky enough to enjoy the glory days when malls were everything. Although I was only a little kid, the time I spent hanging out at the mall with friends or with my supercool teenage babysitter remain powerful memories.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
Even though malls and the entire shopping experience in general have drastically changed over the decades, there is one mall in particular that I will never forget.
When I was growing up in Phoenix, Metrocenter was considered one of the best and biggest malls in America. With 1.4 million square feet of retail space, this place was unlike any other because it was more than a just mall – it was a destination, and it was the place to be. You could easily spend a whole day at Metrocenter and not even realize it. It really was a shopper’s paradise!
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Featuring more than 100 stores (because fashion was everything in the ‘80s), Metrocenter had anchor stores such as The Broadway and Goldwater’s along with an abundance of iconic trendy stores for teens and young adults like Casual Corner, The Wild Pair and Judy’s. One store I remember vividly was Babbage’s, which was a computer and video game store. My brother and I clocked many hours there since Nintendo was life for us when we were young.
When I think about it, the variety of retail stores offered back in the day was so much more diverse compared to what is available today. I remember there being a lot of nonclothing stores to choose from. Like candles? Well, you were in luck, because Wicks ‘n’ Sticks had you covered. Or if you wanted to make your own lotion or perfume, there was Lotions & Potions. Also, there were plenty of toy stores, such as Imaginarium and Kay-Bee Toys, which you don’t see much of today in malls. These days, it seems like specialty stores are few and far between and that everything is pretty much a clothing store inside malls.
Aside from the retail overload, Metrocenter also had an entertainment area for those who didn’t want to shop. Located underneath the food court was a large ice skating rink, which was always crowded. If Metrocenter was known for one thing, it was this.
Around 1990, the ice skating rink was converted into a giant arcade and indoor amusement park with rides that would make any kid feel like they were in heaven. I can only imagine the tantrums parents had to deal with when they tried to pry their children out of there. It was such a fun place that kids didn’t want to leave.
Then there was The Alley, which was located in a dreary tucked-away part of the mall. Inside was a weird little studio in the corner where you could get old-time photos taken. This was popular with the teenagers, but I never got to do this since I was afraid of The Alley and the people who hung out at the shops there. When I think back, those people were just hipster teens of the ‘80s who were nothing to fear, but I was scared of everything when I was little, so no surprise here.
Fun fact: If anyone remembers “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” parts of the movie were filmed at the mall.
However, it wasn’t all about shopping or hanging out at the arcade. Metrocenter’s food court was the place to be and represented what was then the ultimate ‘80s teen hangout, where social networking was done in person. On any given day, you would see groups of teens socializing and having a good time. Today, mall food courts have merely become a place to have a quick bite to eat and then get back to your shopping.
From Orange Julius to 1-Potato-2 to Pizza D’Amore (my brother and I still talk about their pizza to this day), Metrocenter’s food court was full of iconic staple vendors people still remember fondly. However, you know that any ‘80s mall food court wouldn’t be complete without a Hot Dog on a Stick. Back then you could eat a hot dog without any judgment and enjoy their delicious, freshly squeezed lemonade. I remember my friends and I would make fun of their cheesy circus-striped uniforms, but deep down we secretly wanted to work there.
As I sit here waxing nostalgic, I cannot help but think about how much shopping has changed and that a part of me wishes that it never did. I feel lucky to have had a place like Metrocenter because it was more than just a shopping mall; it was a place of memories from my childhood. It is unfortunate that, because of the digital age that we live in, kids and teens will never experience shopping malls the way people from Gen X and Gen Y did.
Seeing the rate at which many of my favorite brands are closing their retails stores, I guess I’ll just have to give in to shopping online and start accepting FedEx and the post office into my life.
It can’t be that bad. But I will miss the malls of days gone by.