The same mallrats we were back in ’89 – Part II

Goody Got It!

For anyone unfamiliar with the late music store empire that was Sam Goody, the store was basically a go-to for all things pertaining to the melodies and beats which shaped our worlds and emptied our wallets.

In general, the “record store” as we know it is almost completely obliterated. MP3’s and streaming services have given us more depth, control, and convenience when it comes to having an extensive music collection at our finger tips.

Despite our assumed need to justify why we have boy bands mixed with Pearl Jam and Metallica, our ever-changing audio culture has gifted us the ability to shut off the world around us. We pop in our ear buds, hit shuffle, and our tunes keep rolling until our batteries die. Gone are the days of flipping through multiple plastic sleeves of CD’s to find that one album with your favorite break-up song.

Unfortunately, this has also lead to the death of, not only corporate music stores, but the demise of the mom and pop record shops as well. I’m a huge advocate for shopping small, especially when it comes to art, books, and music. Unless you live in East Bumblefuck, you probably have a record store, a book store, or an art studio within driving distance of your home. Sometimes you can find places that magically combine two or more of these lifebloods.

If you’re ever in the Lake George, New York area, check out The Shirt Factory. In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, browse the artsy goodness for sale at The Banana Factory. Both places bring together everything creative, vintage, and artsy. I’m on a quest to find more places like this nationwide, even if I never visit them. No matter what, you’re supporting a student and/or a multi-talented artist keep their head above water.

Now, you may be asking, “Why are you lamenting over the loss of a big company like Sam Goody while pulling for small businesses at the same time?” Well, the answer is simple. It’s my God given right as a consumer who maintains a balance of idealism and realism. Yes, I’d love to feel the joy of going into a music store again. But at the same time, I have to accept that some day soon that will be impossible. As a golden rule, you have to accept the things you cannot change – the way we get our music is one of them.

My absolute favorite part of going into Sam Goody when I was a kid was the cassette singles. My mall’s Sam Goody had a massive wall full of them and when I picture it in my mind now, it was a work of art. I always knew when new tapes had been stocked. The changes in color patterns was hard to miss. Nothing was more satisfying than buying $2 or $3 radio singles when you were unsure if it was worth buying the entire album.

We might have captured our favorite songs on mixtapes and felt like Olympians when we were able to catch the one song we needed at the right time. But there was something about that red lettering on the spines of cassette singles, like going through a list of family or friends you haven’t met yet. Plus, most of us couldn’t afford full length albums all the time, so the singles helped fill the void of having no money or watching our mixtapes get eaten by our boomboxes.

Sam Goody and its structural masterpiece that was the cassette singles wall closed permanently in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. Personally, music hasn’t been the same since.

Tiffany, New Kids, Paula Abdul, Salt-N-Pepa, and TLC all made their way into my cassette tower. Sam “Goody” Gutowitz, who sold records out of a toy store in New York City and eventually opened his own shop in the 1940’s, will always be one of those names that goes unrecognized. Yet without him, so many of us would have had one less place to stretch our early teen mallrat wings.

Orange Julius – I don’t have a clue what they put into an Orange Julius drink that makes a lot of other smoothies look like fruity-colored bile. Honestly, I never want to know. The first Orange Julius drink was made by a guy with an orange juice stand in 1926. His buddy Bill couldn’t couldn’t drink orange juice because the acid messed with his stomach. So Mr. Julius Freed concocted this lovely, frothy beverage to weaken the acidity. That’s it. That’s all I want to know because God knows what they put into those drink machines now.

Regardless of what’s in them and how they’ve changed, not much beats the creamy, juicy concoction that literally felt like sunshine in a cup. My mother used to call my morning glass of OJ my “morning sunshine”. Sorry, but I am pretty sure that was the only time my mother was wrong.

My mall had its own Orange Julius store for years, and I remember cases and cases of stacked oranges. It took me forever to realize they were fake. Mom and I regularly made a Julius and hot dog stop on our many trips to the mall. Yes, since they are owned by Dairy Queen, I can get one anytime I want, and I do from time to time. But somehow it doesn’t taste the same. I’m not sure how much of that has to do with the ingredients.

Waldenbooks – It’s odd how we went from small chain book stores, to massive chain bookstores, to pretty much no bookstores except for Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. Back in the Gen-X mall days we had Waldenbooks that seemed to fulfill the needs of the general reading population. Then the big guys like Borders and B&N came in and swallowed the smaller competitors. Once again, I am all for small mom and pops – the small indie bookshops in all those quaint little towns, and the used bookstores that are like sex to avid readers. Our patronage should certainly concentrate more on the small shops doing all they can to maintain this American Dream, whatever the hell that consists of now. However, there seems to be a bit of a Catch 22 because if we continue to let Amazon dominate the book market, the big name bookstores we have left will disappear. Amazon continues to throw daggers at the little shops and the big shops because why leave the house for a good read when we can order titles that will be at our doorsteps the next day? Nobody wants to pay twenty bucks for a book that Amazon is selling at fourteen, and Kindle deliciously fulfills a reader’s need for instant gratification.

As much as I’ve accepted this reality, I miss the Waldenbooks and the B Daltons of the mall days. When Mom and I would go on our weekend shopping sprees, Dad would be in the bookstore sifting through history titles. The Waldenbooks at my mall was where I met Sweet Valley High, The Babysitters Club (which never made me want to babysit by the way), and the immortal Judy Blume.

I didn’t meet my first literary mentor, Shel Silverstein, until 6th grade, and that was at the school library, where a big-haired, hot-pink blazer wearing, Tammy Faye Baker-type of woman told me I was going to be a writer one day.

The only bad experience I had at Waldenbooks was when my mother had to take me on a Friday night to pick a book for a book report due on Monday – that coming Monday. I guess I spent too much time at the cassette singles wall at Sam Goody.

KB Toys – Well, what more can be said about this. The end of toy stores as we knew them really sucked. When I saw a picture of Geoffrey the Giraffe with his suitcases packed, waving goodbye at the camera, I cried like a kid with a skinned knee for a half an hour. Amazon almighty as well as Walmart and Target kicked toy retailers such as KB and Toys R Us right in the balls. Every time another one closed, we heard the signature sound a kickball makes when it smacks you in the face. Attempts have been made to reignite the love for old toy stores but with minimal impact.

Remember when your Mom would take you with her to get a gift for an upcoming birthday party? Remember when she learned that was the worst idea in the world? My one meltdown over a Playdoh set shot that horse right in the face.

Afterthoughts – This was what Claire’s Boutique was to the early 90’s mallrat. If you needed your fill of cheap earrings, charm bracelets, slap bracelets, scrunchies, banana clips, T-shirt clips, Luv’s Baby Soft perfume, chokers, and Caboodles cases, Afterthoughts was the place to be. I went through an obsessive earring craze in the 90’s, and I loved Afterthoughts because everything seemed to be priced at $7.99 which worked perfectly for a girl on a $20 a week budget. I’d grab a pair of 14 carat gold overlays, nothing too dangly since my hair was often Demi Moore-in-Ghost short. Then I would head over to DEB and grab a top that was too small for my early-developed rack.

Afterthoughts (aka. Claire’s) played a huge role in my transition from New Kids-obsessed preteen to a 90210 worshipping, attitude-copping teenager. 90’s accessory fads were a blast and I’m tickled pink to see some of them quietly making a comeback. I never thought I’d see the day when today’s teens would embrace elastic chokers, thick headbands, and knee socks. The only thing I cannot get behind is the high-waisted Mom jeans. Never have they ever been a good idea, nor will they ever be, in my humble opinion.

Spencer’s Gifts – Today we can still walk into a Spencer’s and get a kick out of the obscene T-shirts, the inflatable penises, the lava lamps, and the sex toys. It’s no big deal and it offers an escape from all the screaming coming from Build-A-Bear. But when we were kids, walking into Spencer’s felt like wandering in the Garden of Eden. All of the forbidden fruit was there for our naive little hands to grasp, and we felt energized with impending adulthood. Thanks to Spencer’s, lot of us had this wacky image of what being an adult was all about – freedom, sex, anger, and swearing – which isn’t completely off base. At least the anger and the swearing part makes sense, but most of us probably have a lot less sex and freedom than we pictured back in 1992.

My favorite purchases at Spencer’s included snarky keychains, a fiber optic flower in a plastic display case, and a Magic 8 Ball. I didn’t try buying the naughty stuff until I was old enough to do so. No seriously, I didn’t. 😉

In my research I was surprised to learn that Spencer’s has been around since 1947 and started off as a mail order catalog selling clean novelty gifts. When and how it eventually evolved into pink dildos, fuzzy handcuffs, and candy G-strings, I don’t know. What I do know, which doesn’t surprise me in the least, is that the first brick and mortar store opened in…you guessed it, the great state of New Jersey!

Needless to say, I miss the old mall days, and I mourn the loss of these establishments that, for better or worse, taught us valuable life skills in regard to consumerism – we’re never going to stop buying shit we don’t need, so at least be smart about it and maybe make some memories while doing it.

My only regret in all of my visits to Spencer’s was sticking my face in those framed pin art things. Then I would stick out my tongue to boot. God knows how many times I swapped sweat and spit with total strangers – long before I even knew what sex was. Cie la vie.


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