TRN Round Table: Our Favorite Stores at the Mall

Hey retro lovers, welcome to our first TRN Round Table.  The Round Table is where several creators from the TRN Bullpen get together and share their thoughts on a common theme.  In this first edition, we’re looking back at our favorite stores at the mall from our youth.  All of us came up in slightly different eras, and in different parts of the country, so it’s a varied look at the malls of our youth.  It’s a really fun look back at some days we may never see again, and we hope you enjoy the trip down memory lane.  When you’re done reading our picks, leave YOUR pick in the comments!

Warner Brothers Store

Warner Bros. Studio Store

There’s only one establishment that comes to mind when I think of mall stores that mattered to me in my childhood and that’s the Warner Bros Studio Store. Sure there were lots of Tasmanian Devil shirts and Bugs Bunny mugs on the shelves, but it was so much more than that. In the center of the store was a Marvin The Martian spaceship playhouse with built-in TV screens playing old Looney Tunes shorts, as well as an animation cel studio where you could buy actual framed art from Animaniacs or Batman: The Animated Series for outrageous prices.
Most important of all was that in the wake of the Bat-Mania brought about by Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 these stores were filled with DC Superheroes merchandise you couldn’t find anywhere else. But I rarely bought anything, I was just there to stare at the decor. On the ledge of one wall made up to look like the Daily Planet, they had life-size statues of the Justice League which made me long for live action movies that were as comics accurate as those 3-D sculptures. That made the WB Studio Store was my number 1 stop for any trip to the mall.

Kay Bee Toys

Kay Bee Toys

I grew up in a world of department stores like Kmart, Ames, and Montgomery Ward. Going to a toy store was a real treat. The mall about 30 minutes away had a Kay-Bee toy store that seemed like heaven. A whole store dedicated to kids. There was no mistaking it’s Utopian atmosphere even when you approached the entrance to the store and heard mechanical sounds of a ferret rolling a ball. My favorite was the little penguins climbing their escalator and sliding all the way to the bottom just to climb up again.
Kay-Bee always seemed like a storage room for the local department store’s toy section. There were so many figures, games and toys crammed into each aisle that it always felt like I probably missed something yet I always came out satisfied. Sure, it was always fun to visit the mall’s arcade and I always enjoyed the atmosphere of the record store, but Kay-Bee would be the one I’d love to experience again.

Aladdins Castle

Aladdin’s Castle

I spent many, many hours at the mall when I was in junior high and high school so this was hard to narrow down. Waldenbooks? When I was in junior high, my friends and I would go in there just to read the dirty joke books. Later on, I’d go in there to read the music rags. Corndog 7? I could score free food but not technically a store. The Brass Buckle? I didn’t go in there to shop so much as I went in there because the girl I had a crush on worked there. Hastings Records and Tapes? Bins right down the middle of the store full of LP’s. Walls lined with tape cubbies. Poster racks in the back. “Now Playing” album rack hanging on the wall by the cash register. I used to love to thumb through the heavy metal albums just to see how weird they were. But I digress. I’d have to say my absolute favorite was Aladdin’s Castle. Although not technically a store, I did spend many a hard-earned dollar there. I spent more time in that establishment than anywhere else in the mall. Every trip would start and end there. Like a heroin addict, getting a fix before I walked the mall then back later for more. Before you could drive, your parents dropped you off and picked you up there. If you’ve seen the arcade scenes in Stranger Things season two then you’ve seen me.

Eric Vardeman


Spencer Gifts

 

Spencer Gifts

Where I grew up in rural southwest Virginia, we didn’t have a lot of options shopping wise.  We had K-Mart, Roses, and Magic Mart, but that was really about it.  There were no real specialty shops around, except for at the Bristol Mall, which was a 45-minute ride, and that wasn’t a trip we made too often when I was a kid.  Early on, I fell in love with the Spencer Gifts store there mainly because it seemed taboo with some of the more exotic items they sold.  But it was also the only place around where you could get a t-shirt featuring your favorite band, or cool belt buckles, and those awesome black light posters.  We couldn’t even find places to order that kind of stuff from around here, so having that one place we knew for sure would have those unique items was great.

Mickey Yarber


Wig Shoppe

 

The Wig Shoppe

While I am tempted, of course, to go with something refined and elegant like Spencer’s Gifts— I mean, who doesn’t love an apron with fake plastic tits on it, after all?— or decadent and gluttonous like Mr. Bulky’s candy shop, I will instead blow your mind with my dark horse pick of The Wig Shoppe. That’s right, The Wig Shoppe. Fake mustaches? Check. Wigs? Double check. Crazy owner-lady of ethnically ambiguous origin who verbally assaulted you without reason upon entering her store? Triple check. That’s what we call a wig shop trifecta, friends. Dark, spooky and always completely void of customers, The Wig Shoppe was scarier than any manufactured Halloween haunt. And like a cockroach, it lived forever; according to Wikipedia, it was one of two tenants remaining (GNC being the other, natch) when Metro North Mall closed for good in April of 2014. And some people say if you stand in the empty lot where the mall once stood, you can still hear the rustle of wind through a beautiful horse-hair wig and a voice softly screeching “YOU GOING BUY SOMETHING NOW OR GET OUT!”

Brandon Leftridge


Now that you’ve read our selections, don’t forget to leave us a note about YOUR favorite store at the mall in the comments.

 

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About Mickey Yarber 53 Articles
Sometimes referred to as The Retro Rambler...I was born in the '70s, grew up in the '80s, and came of age in the '90s. I love to share all the fun stuff from those years via articles and videos, and occasionally make un-needed appearances on various podcasts. I can also catch quarters off my elbow. Email to book me for your next corporate event.