The Shopping Mall was once an essential destination especially for those of us who grew up from the late-70s through the ’90s. The shopping aspect has been more-or-less replaced by online retailers, but the social aspect cannot be so easily replaced. For those of us who spent a good portion of our formative years in shopping malls, certain stores bring back positive memories. Though you can still stop in a Spencer Gifts or a Foot Locker and get an Orange Julius or Hickory Farms beef log, there are countless other stores that we’ll likely never get to shop at again.
The purpose of this feature is a quick walk down memory lane remembering those shopping mall favorites from the ’80s and ’90s that are now gone forever. This is not focusing on all stores in general, but ones that were primarily located within shopping malls. I personally grew up in the Midwest, so some of these might be more or less memorable/sentimental depending on what region of the country your malls were located. This is by no means a comprehensive list and encourage you to leave any I have missed down in the comments section. I will break the stores into a few categories and give you a little history on most of them while also declaring my personal “Mount Rushmore of Defunct Mall Stores”. So, without further ado and in no particular order, remembering our favorite Mall Stores of the ’80s (and ’90s) that You’ll Never Shop at Again:
VIDEO GAME ARCADES – There were many places that offered coin operated Arcade games to play from bowling alleys to skating rinks to restaurants, but there was also the “Arcade” which in some cases was located within a shopping mall. Hearing all of those games playing at the same time is one of my favorite nostalgic sounds of my childhood. The Arcade at my mall was called the “Gold Mine” and I remember another mall had one called “Aladdin’s Castle“. It looks like there were over 100 locations of Gold Mine at one point across the U.S. and that the last one closed in 2009. For Aladdin’s Castle, at it’s peak, there were 450 locations throughout the U.S. but the last location in Quincy, IL closed in May of 2022. I’m sure there were other arcades in other cities and there are still some free-standing retro arcades to be found, but since these were in malls but were not technically stores I wanted to at least include them as an honorable mention.
MUSIC, MOVIES OR BOOK STORES –
Musicland / Sam Goody – Musicland was founded in 1955 and this was my main mall music store in the Midwest as a kid growing up in the ’80s and ’90s. I spent countless hours flipping through the records or cassettes or eventually CDs at these stores. Musicland actually purchased the Sam Goody chain in 1978 and the stores became almost identical other than the name on the outside. Combined and with continued growth, Musicland peaked at over 650 music store locations and, in 1997, they decided to rebrand them all to the Sam Goody name. As consumers moved away from purchasing physical music on CD or any form, the writing seemed to be on the wall for the traditional music store. Best Buy purchased Musicland in 2001 with a plan in place, but it did not achieve what they wanted and was sold again in 2002 to Sun Capital and proceeded to file for bankruptcy in 2006. At that point, a large number of the Sam Goody stores were closed before Trans World Entertainment purchased the remaining locations. Trans World then gradually converted all of the Sam Goody stores to FYE with all but two Sam Goody locations going away by 2016. So whether you grew up shopping at Musicland or Sam Goody, sadly neither will likely be shopped at again. Musicland earns one of the spots on my Mall Store Mount Rushmore.
Camelot Music – Founded in 1956, the chain would eventually grow to 455 locations across 37 states. That includes acquiring Philadelphia-based record and music retailer The Wall, taking over 153 of their mid-Atlantic chain-based stores in 1998. Camelot was eventually acquired by Trans World Entertainment in 1998 and, like Musicland, all of its stores were either closed or converted to FYE. Some other mall-based music stores that were also converted to FYE through acquisitions include The Wall, Spec’s Music, Strawberries, Record Town, Coconuts, DiscJockey, and Saturday Matinee.
Tape World – Founded in the ’80s, Tape World is another of the mall-based music stores that was acquired by Trans World and closed or converted to another name. I always thought that Tape World’s name was a little limiting choosing to only focus on cassette tapes and was particularly not prepared as the compact disc began to take over as the more popular form of music. This could be why Tape World went away and was absorbed by a more well-rounded mall music store.
Record Bar – Founded in 1960, the chain grew to 180 locations including some operated under the Tracks name. In 1993, the company was sold to Blockbuster Video which converted all locations to Blockbuster Music Stores. The same fate happened to Turtle’s Records & Tapes which had been founded in 1977 and grew to 125 locations prior to being sold along with Record Bar to Blockbuster.
Suncoast Motion Picture Company – Founded in 1986 and originally called Paramount Pictures until 1988, the chain was owned by Musicland focusing more on movies. It reached a peak of about 400 stores and, with Musicland, changed ownerships several times before filing for bankruptcy in 2006 and closing nearly all locations by 2009. Technically, there still are a few Suncoast stores open, but for the majority of us we will not get a chance to shop in one again.
Media Play – Founded in 1992 and also owned by Musicland, the store sold movies, games, books and music like four different stores under one roof. Hundreds of stores were slated to be opened, but only 89 ever actually were. Most of these were free-standing stores, but there were some connected to malls. Along with Musicland, it changed ownerships before filing for bankruptcy in 2006 and closing all remaining Media Play stores.
Waldenbooks / Borders – Founded in 1933 and named for Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Waldenbooks was first a book rental store until 1962 when they opened their first bookstore. By the mid-80s, Waldenbooks was the largest bookstore chain in the U.S. and would eventually grow to over 1,200 locations almost all exclusively located in shopping malls. This was my personal bookstore that I browsed in regularly every time I visited the mall and also enjoyed perusing the magazine rack to find the latest Wrestling, Sports or Entertainment offerings. In 1984, Waldenbooks was actually acquired by Kmart (but operated separately). In 1992, Kmart also acquired Borders (which had been founded in 1971) and in 1994 they spun their bookstores off into Borders-Walden Group. Beginning in 2004, many Waldenbooks locations were rebranded as Borders Express stores while many more were closed all together. In 2011, Borders Group filed for bankruptcy and closed all remaining Waldenbooks and Borders stores. Waldenbooks certainly earns another one of the spots on my Mall Store Mount Rushmore.
B. Dalton – Founded in 1966, the chain grew to 798 stores in 43 states at its peak. This was the main competitor to Waldenbooks within mall-based bookstores. B. Dalton was actually acquired by Barnes & Noble in 1987 and they operated the stores separately. B. Dalton was a longtime sponsor of the PBS television series The Reading Rainbow. By 2010, all but two of the B. Dalton locations were closed (and those last two closed by 2013). For some reason, Barnes & Noble rebranded its Oviedo Mall (Florida) location in 2022 as B. Dalton, reviving the brand. So unless you visit that suburban Orlando mall, B. Dalton is another store you likely won’t shop at again.
Hastings Entertainment – Founded in 1968, the chain sold books, movies, music, and video games and also functioned as a video rental shop. Hastings was among the first chains to offer books and music within it stores. They eventually expanded to about 150 stores across 23 states with many of those located within shopping malls. Declining sales in their core categories forced the company to shift its primary focus to collectibles and comic books in the 2010s. Despite efforts, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2016 and ultimately liquidated with all stores closed by the end of that year.
TOY, ELECTRONIC OR GIFT STORES –
Kay Bee Toys (or K-B Toys) – Founded in 1922 as Kaufmann Brothers (thus the K B) wholesaler, it became known as Kay Bee Toy & Hobby and mall-based retailer starting in 1973. Kay Bee became the main competition to Toys R Us which was usually found as a free-standing toy store. The company grew to over 1,300 locations including purchasing Circus World and K&K Toys locations along the way. Kay Bee’s owners would first file for bankruptcy in 2004 closing about half of those locations at that time and then ultimately all of them by 2009. For me, Kay Bee Toys was a must-stop any time we visited the mall and would definitely earn one of the other spots on my Mall Store Mount Rushmore.
The Sharper Image – Founded in 1977 as a catalog only business, The Sharper Image opened 12 retail locations in 1985 eventually expanded to 187 retail stores in 38 states. If you had a Sharper Image store in your mall, I am sure you remember the massage chairs and other high-end futuristic gadgets that they allowed you to try out within the store. The owners filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and all retail locations were closed at that time. The brand was sold off and still exists, but the stores no longer do.
RadioShack – Founded in 1921 as an amateur radio mail-order business, it was purchased by Tandy Corporation in 1962 shifting its focus to electronics. At its peak, there were over 8,000 RadioShack stores in the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Though not all, many of those locations were located within shopping malls. As the consumer electronics industry grew rapidly in the ’80s into the ’90s, so did RadioShack. They went through multiple owners and bankruptcies, RadioShack closed most of its stores in 2017 and currently operates primarily as an e-commerce website with a network of independently owned and franchised RadioShack stores. So there is a small chance you could still shop in a RadioShack, but very unlikely that store would still be located within a shopping mall.
Babbage’s – This store technically still exists, it is just called GameStop now. Founded in 1984, this computer software and video game store changed ownership several times and took on its current name of GameStop in 1999. Even though you can still shop at a GameStop which has over 4,400 locations, we will still remember the name Babbage’s as one you cannot.
Brookstone – Similar story to The Sharper Image, Brookstone was founded in 1965 as a mail-order business and began opening physical location in 1973 selling unique gadgets and gifts. By the late ’90s, Brookstone had 150 stores in 32 states plus more than 100 kiosks, but by 2018, they filed for its second bankruptcy and subsequently announced the closure of all storefronts within shopping malls. They still operate Airport stores as well as their website, but shopping in a Brookstone store at the mall is not going to happen again.
Things Remembered – Founded in 1967, this store specialized in personalized gifts. In particular, they specialized in engraving almost anything. Many of us likely wandered through these stores at least a couple times looking for a birthday or maybe Mother’s Day present. At one point, they had over 800 locations but went through bankruptcy in 2019 and ultimately decided to close all retail locations in 2022 (though they continue to have an online-only presence).
Zany Brainy – Founded in 1991, this chain owned by FAO Schwarz sold educational toys grew to over 180 locations nationwide. Many of those stores were located within shopping malls. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and closed all of its retail locations by 2003 (though it was revived as an online only store in 2020).
Warner Bros. Studio Store – The first store opened in 1991 and the chain eventually peaked with about 130 locations. They primarily sold Looney Tunes and DC Comics merchandise and was very similar in format to Disney stores. In 2001, after the Time Warner-AOL merger, the Warner Bros. were put up for sale, but with no takers the decision was ultimately made to close all remaining locations which was completed by the end of 2001.
CLOTHING OR SHOE STORES –
Merle Harmon’s Fan Fair (later called just Fan Fair) – Founded in 1977, Merle Harmon, a longtime radio announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers, went into business opening Merle Harmon’s Fan Fair, a chain of retail stores devoted to licensed sports merchandise. It became the first sports fan gift shop franchise, and grew to 140 stores nationwide before he sold the business to Pro Image in 1996. Pro Image is one of the nation’s largest licensed sports apparel gift shop chains operating under several different store names but apparently no longer use the Fan Fair name since 2011. Fan Fair was the store you could go buy sports licensed hats, jerseys, Starter jackets, sweatshirts and all other apparel. This was a must stop for me every time I went to mall and thus Fan Fair receives the fourth and final spot on my Mall Store Mount Rushmore. There are certainly other sports apparel stores as well as online options, but Fan Fair is one store that sadly I will never get to shop at again.
The Limited – Founded in 1963, this chain focused on clothing targeted at younger women. At its peak, there were over 800 store locations for The Limited. Over its course, the company spun off other stores that still exist like Express (which was originally Limited Express in 1980) and Justice (which was originally Limited Too in 1987). But the core store The Limited began to struggle and its successful run eventually came to an end. In 2017, they filed for bankruptcy and announced that all remaining The Limited store locations would be closed.
Merry-Go-Round – Founded in 1968, this chain focused on fashions and fads with the younger demographic. At its peak, it operated almost 1,000 stores across 39 states almost exclusively located within shopping malls. Unfortunately, Merry-Go-Round filed for bankruptcy in 1994 and began liquidation sales closing all store locations in 1996.
Chess King – Founded in 1968, this men’s clothing retailer grew to over 500 locations located within shopping malls. It focused on more trendy fashions which worked well in the ’80s into the very early ’90s, but could not sustain. Merry-Go-Round actually acquired Chess King in 1993, but as just mentioned Merry-Go-Round itself ended up filing for bankruptcy in 1994 and all remaining Chess King stores closed in 1995.
Structure – Founded in 1989 as a men’s brand from The Limited Stores, the stores were all closed and the brand was sold to Sears in 2003.
Benetton – The brand was founded in 1965 in Italy and became relatively popular in the ’80s thanks for its bright color palettes and socially conscious “United Colors” advertising campaign. The first U.S. store was opened in 1980 on New York’s Madison Avenue and this was followed by retail stores opening in trendy, usually more upscale shopping malls in the ’80s and into the ’90s. Still popular in many other countries (Benetton still has over 5,000 stores in 120 countries worldwide), the brand failed to maintain that success in the U.S and, by 2017, had shuttered all of its U.S. locations.
County Seat – Founded in 1973, this chain specialized in denim jeans and casual attire. At its peak, there were at least 740 County Seat store locations within shopping malls across the country. This store carried Levis as well as all of the latest trendy blue jeans of the time like Guess. The company filed for bankruptcy first in 1996 and began to close some stores before filing again in 1999 when all remaining locations were closed.
Gadzooks – Founded in 1983, the chain evolved into a mall-based clothing store focusing on the teenage customer. The chain grew to over 400 locations across the U.S. In 2004, the company filed for bankruptcy and this was accompanied by closing about half of its stores. In 2005, the company was purchased by Forever 21 with the remaining stores either permanently closed or converted to Forever 21 locations.
Contempo Casuals – Founded in 1962, the chain was sold to Neiman Marcus in 1978 and eventually peaked at 239 stores. In 1995, the store was mentioned specifically in the film Clueless and Contempo Casuals was also acquired from Neiman Marcus by Wet Seal. Starting in 1998, Wet Seal converted many Contempo Casuals stores to their other brand Arden B. and by 2001 any remaining Contempo Casuals stores were converted to Wet Seal or closed. Wet Seal then filed for bankruptcy in 2016 and by 2017 all Arden B. and Wet Seal stores have been closed. The Contempo has since been relaunched as Contempo Tees.
J. Riggings – Founded in 1970, the men’s clothing retailer was sold to Edison Brothers in 1987 and expanded to about 295 locations all within shopping malls. In 1995, Edison Brothers filed for bankruptcy and closed several locations before filing for bankruptcy again in 1999 and this time all remaining J. Riggings stores were closed.
Oaktree – Founded in 1976, this chain focus on more urban and trendy fashion looks for men and was also sold to Edison Brothers in 1979. By 1995, Oaktree was very unprofitable and they tried to mix in more conservative, mainstream, less trendy clothing, but this was too little, too late. All Oaktree locations were closed by 1999 through the company’s bankruptcies.
Payless Shoe Source – Founded in 1956, it was a shoe store that strived to offer affordable options for the whole family. At its peak, the company had over 4,000 locations in more than 40 countries around the world. In the U.S. many of those stores were located within shopping malls. In the ’80s, Payless became known for its Pro Wings line of discount sneakers. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and closed many stores during the reorganization, but then filed for bankruptcy again in 2019 this time closing all remaining U.S. stores. They continue to operate stores outside of North America and re-launched an online store in 2020 which dropped the Shoe Source part of their original name. They also announced intentions to open stores in North America again, so this might be one that saying you’ll never shop in one again could be false.
Thom McAn – Founded in 1922, it became the largest U.S. shoe retailer by 1969 with over 1,400 stores. The chain began to struggle in the ’80s into the ’90s. Thom McAn was down to about 400 locations in 1992 and then decided to close all remaining retail stores by 1996. Around that time, Thom McAn shoes began appearing in Kmart stores and in 2003 in Walmart stores. By 2008, Sears Holding (owner of Kmart) acquired the Thom McAn brand name.
Kinney Shoes – Founded all the way back in 1894, it peaked at around 1,400 retail locations under the Kinney Shoes name. Foot Locker began as a division of the Kinney Shoe Corporation in 1974 (before becoming its own company in 1988). By the early ’90s, several Kinney Shoes locations were closed or rebranded until 1998 when it was announced that all remaining Kinney Shoes stores would be closed. The brand is still owned by the Foot Locker division.
PET STORES – Now there are big Pet Store chains like PetSmart and Petco, but many Shopping Malls used to have a small Pet Store. How could you resist walking by the cute puppies or kittens in the window? Or checking out some exotic reptile or fish? I am sure many kids begged their parents to buy them a fish or bird or even a puppy at a mall pet store. The one I remember I believe was called Petland. In addition to the general loss of traffic at shopping malls, some of these mall pet stores were negatively impacted by rumors regarding where their supply came from. Petland in particular appears to still be in business with less than 80 locations down from their peak of over 230 stores as recently as 2008, but I do not expect many if any of those are still within shopping malls. I am sure there were many other smaller chains or independent pet stores located in malls back in the day, but not one that we will likely shop at within the mall setting anymore.
DEPARTMENT STORES – As of today, you can still shop in a Macy’s Department Store along with a few others that continue to hang on. The Department Store used to be a crucial anchor for every shopping mall. Between an online giant like Amazon or big box stores like Walmart, the department store is slowly going extinct. Early on, many Department Store names went away as a result of mergers and acquisitions (similar to banks). Most stores with a Macy’s nameplate hanging on them today were known by a different name in those markets at one point in time. Then there were other Department Store chains that just couldn’t remain financially competitive and went away as a result of bankruptcy. I was personally impacted by this when the Bon-Ton Stores group (which operated stores under the Boston Store, Carson Pirie Scott, Bergner’s, Younkers, Herberger’s, Elder-Beerman and Bon-Ton nameplates) closed its doors in 2018. So we will remember the Department Store nameplates from the ’80s and ’90s that no longer exist for whatever reason. Some of these may only be familiar in certain regions throughout the country and there are so many of them I apologize ahead of time that I probably will miss some. More are bound to join this list, but here is the current Department Store graveyard:
|A&S||Founded||1865||Changed to Macy’s in 1995|
|Ames||Founded||1958||Closed due to bankruptcy 2002|
|Bergner’s||Founded||1889||Closed due to bankruptcy 2018|
|Bon-Ton||Founded||1898||Closed due to bankruptcy 2018|
|Boston Store||Founded||1897||Closed due to bankruptcy 2018|
|Burdines||Founded||1896||Changed to Macy’s in 2005|
|Caldor||Founded||1951||Closed due to bankruptcy in 1999|
|Carson Pirie Scott||Founded||1854||Closed due to bankruptcy 2018|
|Dayton’s||Founded||1902||Changed to Marshall Field’s in 2001 then to Macy’s in 2006|
|Donaldson’s||Founded||1883||Changed to Carson Pirie Scott in 1987|
|Elder-Beerman||Founded||1883||Closed due to bankruptcy 2018|
|Famous Barr||Founded||1911||Changed to Macy’s in 2006|
|Filene’s||Founded||1881||Changed to Macy’s in 2006|
|Foley’s||Founded||1900||Changed to Macy’s in 2005|
|Gimbels||Founded||1842||Closed and sold stores in 1986|
|Gottschalks||Founded||1904||Closed due to bankruptcy in 2009|
|Hecht’s||Founded||1857||Changed to Macy’s in 2006|
|Herberger’s||Founded||1927||Closed due to bankruptcy 2018|
|Hess’s||Founded||1897||Closed and sold stores by 1994|
|Hills||Founded||1957||Changed to Ames in 1999 who then went bankrupt in 2002|
|Hudson’s||Founded||1881||Changed to Marshall Field’s in 2001 then to Macy’s in 2006|
|Kaufmann’s||Founded||1871||Changed to Macy’s in 2006|
|L.S. Ayres||Founded||1872||Changed to Macy’s in 2006|
|Lazarus||Founded||1851||Changed to Macy’s in 2005|
|Lord & Taylor||Founded||1824||Closed all stores by 2021|
|Marshall Field’s||Founded||1852||Changed to Macy’s in 2006|
|McRae’s||Founded||1902||Changed to Belk in 2006|
|Meier & Frank||Founded||1857||Changed to Macy’s in 2006|
|Mervyn’s||Founded||1949||Closed due to bankruptcy in 2008|
|Montgomery Ward||Founded||1872||Closed due to bankruptcy in 2000|
|Proffitt’s||Founded||1919||Changed to Belk in 2006|
|Rich’s||Founded||1867||Changed to Macy’s in 2005|
|Robinsons-May||Founded||1993||Changed to Macy’s in 2006|
|Sears||Founded||1892||Only 17 remaining locations as of May 2023|
|Shopko||Founded||1962||Closed due to bankruptcy 2019|
|Sterns||Founded||1867||Changed to Macy’s or closed in 2001|
|The Bon Marché||Founded||1890||Changed to Macy’s in 2005|
|Venture||Founded||1968||Closed due to bankruptcy 1998|
|Younkers||Founded||1856||Closed due to bankruptcy 2018|
|Zayre||Founded||1919||Closed all stores by 1990 or changed to Ames|
It’s a little sad to think that all of these stores no longer exist, but hopefully it brought back some good memories. For us who grew up anywhere from the late ’70s into the ’80s and through the ’90s, the shopping mall was much more than a place to buy stuff. Yes, it was great buying the latest record by your favorite band, a brand new toy or video game, or a sweet new outfit to wear to school. But often times it was even better having a place to hang out with friends, to see and be seen. It didn’t cost anything to just browse and made a great meeting place. It was a crucial hub within our social lives. I believe that is why so many of these stores hold so much nostalgia to many of us. It is great to be able to compare and buy with a couple clicks at your computer or on your phone and have your purchases delivered to your doorstep within a day or two. But I will always remember the smell of a real bookstore, flipping through stacks of records to find the one you’re looking for, joking with friends while eating in the food court, throwing a penny into the fountain near the escalators, and the independence of spending your own allowance or hard-earned money on anything you wanted among so much else. It’s one of those things that you had to experience back then to fully appreciate. Please share your favorite shopping mall memories in the comments section below as well as any stores I may have missed or which ones would make your Mount Rushmore. As a reminder, here is my Mount Rushmore of Defunct Mall Stores, let us know what would be on yours…