“…Bikini’s small, heels tall, hanging all day at the beach and the mall.” – Salt-N-Pepa, Bring Back The Time, 2022
In one line, the queens of hip hop along with New Kids on the Block, Rick Astley, and EnVogue bring back a rush of memories so Jersey-typical you can almost taste the Taylor Ham/pork roll, egg, and cheese. It goes without saying that Jersey shore beaches and boardwalks have provided iron-clad memories for those fortunate enough to be a part of its heyday.
It’s not that beaches and boardwalks aren’t fun anymore. I guess they have their moments that appeal to the current generation, but overall, the shoreline amusement industry has become expensive, overcrowded, and chock-full of immeasurable douche baggery. Basically all the crap that by the time you hit your 40’s, you’re simply over it.
There are only so many times you want to see cheap, heat-pressed T-shirts that say, “My Pen Is Huge” and “Two in the Pink, One in the Stink”. In fact, I’m not sure I know anyone who wants to see those shirts flapping in the wind for children to see. To be transparent, and at the risk of sounding like one of the bags of douche I just talked about, I’d kind of like to keep it that way.
But at least life remains. The boardwalks and the beaches, which rose above a devastating hurricane in 2012, show no signs of crumbling into the sea – even though there were parts that did exactly that.
I wish the same could be said about the malls.
It’s common knowledge that online retail giants have thrown a wrecking ball into brick and mortar malls and shopping centers. The COVID-19 pandemic and the overall state of the economy have added more gasoline to the inferno that was once traditional shopping and socialization. For some, this is a jagged pill to swallow because a substantial amount of Gen-X can credit the mall as the hands that shaped their youth.
How many first jobs, first dates, first cigarettes, and first kisses took place in or near the mall?
How many family, friend, and holiday shopping memories wouldn’t exist without that Mecca of teenage angst and consumerism?
The deterioration of the shopping mall cuts deeper than any knife giveaway at JCPenny’s.
Personally, I am not exaggerating when I say the entirety of my childhood took place at the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, New Jersey. The sheer volume of vivid memories I have at that mall with friends and family throttles anything I was supposed to remember from an hour ago. When classic stores close their doors and when parking lots remain empty even during the Christmas rush, little pieces of that emptiness and finality creep into my heart as well.
Monmouth Mall is now the dirt, dead, or ghost mall depending on who you ask. Every day there are reports of an overpriced indoor amusement park and/or unaffordable luxury apartments eventually taking over the space. Basically, the elite powers-that-be want to do to my mall what was created in the Meadowlands – The American Dream Mall – which is failing miserably because moms and dads have to get third jobs just to put their kids on the Ferris Wheel.
Now, I know not every mall is suffering, and these are simply the times we live in – who can resist “Add to Cart” on Amazon days? Hell, I can’t and I’m here bitching about the problem I’m willfully contributing to. Nevertheless, when malls shut down, our hearts and souls feel clearanced out, expendable, like the lives we lived and savored when we were young didn’t matter.
This may sound a little overdramatic, but once again, I’m here to say the things we’re too embarrassed to admit – because what’s nostalgia without plenty of face-palms. There’s a lot of generational change that sucks more than being stuck in the hardware department at Sears with your old man. We can’t avoid all of the changes that continue to occur in commerce and entertainment, and in a lot of ways, we have to embrace and adapt to change for sanity’s sake. But similar to when your Mom took you school clothes shopping at Caldors instead of Merry-Go-Round, nobody says you have to like it.
No matter what, and as the latest New Kids, Salt-N-Pepa, Rick Astley, and EnVogue song says, at heart we are still “the same kids we were back in ’89.” Though it would still be nice to buy a cassette at Sam Goody one more time.
In Part II we will go down a few retail rabbit holes that were 80’s and 90’s kid staples – Sam Goody of course, Orange Julius, KB Toys, Waldenbooks, Tom McAn’s, Afterthoughts, and the immortal Spencer’s gifts.
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