A Return To The '80s Mall Of Our Youth

by Nicole Johnson
Originally Published: 
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I recently took my daughter and her friend to the local mall. As I watched them pull each other in and out of stores, I was reminded of my own days as a teen. Back then the mall was everything. It was there that we did the most important things ’80s teens did—shop, gossip, work, eat, and chase boys.

Our mothers dropped us at the front entrance as we did our best to ignore their calls of “I love you” and “Meet me back here at 4!” For us, the mall was freedom, a home away from home, a place some of us knew better than we knew ourselves.

We would meet up with friends in the food court, a glowing, electric neon wonderland. The options were endless. We could grab something at Mickey D’s, Sbarro or the local pizza place—the one with the jukebox that played the oldies like Donna Summer and Blondie as well as the new stuff by all our favorite hair bands. After lunch, we’d hit Mrs. Fields to grab a cookie or head over to Orange Julius or TCBY where at least one of the kids we knew from school worked.

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And, of course, we would shop. The mall had everything we could ever need or want. First we’d hit Waldenbooks where we’d head straight to the magazine section and pick up Tiger Beat or Bop magazine to check out what the two Coreys were up to. Maybe the academically inclined would head to the teen section and pick up the new Christopher Pike mystery or the latest in the Sweet Valley High series, or perhaps a bit of V.C. Andrews for those of use with more mature tastes. Of course we’d have to hide those from our moms who were reading them too. And if it was close to summer, we could always grab that book from our summer reading list.

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Next, we’d head to CVS to look through the nail polish, and maybe pick up a bottle of Sun-In, a banana clip because our last one broke, or most important of all, lip gloss, a Kissing Potion, Bonne Bell Lip Smackers, or Village Lip Lickers—they all smelled so awesome. At the checkout line, we would pick up some gum, either a pack of Freshen-up or Fruit Stripe, because we wanted fresh breath just in case we ran into a cute boy.

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And the mall was chock full of them. Most of the guys we knew hung out in Spencer’s Gifts. With its diverse product range, we could grab everything from cool pins for our jean jackets to posters, magnets, and fake ice cubes with bugs in them. The back was our favorite though, with the racy sex toys most of us had to ask our experienced friends or older sisters about. If the boys weren’t hanging out at Spencer’s, we could always find them at Chess King usually checking out the latest pair of Z Cavs or SKIDZ.

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What mall trip would be complete without a little clothes shopping? A pair of ripped jeans for the school dance or a shirt from Benetton for the Friday night party. If we had saved up allowance money from babysitting or mall jobs, maybe we’d stop by Contempo Casuals. 579 was great if we wanted to be matchy-matchy before that was even a thing. There we found the shorts that matched the socks that matched the vest that matched the scrunchie.

And if those stores didn’t have what we were looking for, there was always The Gap, Lerner, or for those of us who had birthday money or had snagged mom or dad’s credit card (and a signed note), we could hit The Limited. If the dance was a semi-formal, there was always Deb. The dresses were cheap and the shoes were dyeable, which was great since we’d need to tell our date so he could match his cummerbund and the flowers for our wrist corsage. And if Deb’s didn’t have any heels we liked, there was always Thom McAn, Bakers, or Kinney Shoes.

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After we got our clothing and shoe fix, it was either Perfumania or the perfume counter at that big department store where we could pick up our favorite scents: Love’s Baby Soft, Navy, or Liz Claiborne. Which color triangle bottle to choose—red, blue, or yellow? Our friends would help us pick. A quick glance at the Swatch watch—3:00 already? We still had to get a picture with our BFFs in the photo booth by the food court. A trip to the bathroom to tease our hair, spray with Aqua Net, and reapply our Kissing Koolers lip gloss, and we were ready. Then just a few minutes to wait for our pictures to develop, and we headed to run the one errand we couldn’t forget. RadioShack would have those headphones for our Walkman.

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Finally, it was off the the record store, maybe Sam Goody or Tower Records, where we had to get the latest cassette, or for those who didn’t want to commit to a whole album by one artist, the cassingle. And who wanted to just listen to music when we could make it ourselves at our favorite recording place? Our voices singing over the tracks to our favorite songs kept our dreams of becoming a famous singer alive. Maybe we’d see Tiffany in the mall, and we could slip her our tape.

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When our time and money ran out, we would pull a dime from our shoe and head over to the pay phones to call our parents for a ride home. Or we’d meet them at York Steak House for dinner. The day had worn us out. While we loved the mall and all that it had to offer, it was tiring. Little did we know, all these years later, the nostalgic feelings a trip to the mall could stir up in an ’80s kid.

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