Maul Ratz

My friend recently mentioned she had no mall memories, having grown up in the city where going to the mall just wasn’t a thing.

(If you don’t know what mall life was like, may I recommend some media? DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), STRANGER THINGS season 3, MALLRATS (1995), and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982).)

I grew up in the ‘burbs, or at least in a small city outside of Boston. I was in high school late 80s/early 90s – prime Mall Rat days. I definitely looked down on The Mall scene as a teen, yet wound up hanging around at the local ones now and then with my buddies, just for lack of better things to do I guess. Plus, we had friends who worked there. I think we usually showed up after school, but I admit to a terrible memory.

We were punks at the mall before the days of Hot Topic and the internet, when we had to make or modify our own clothes. Yet we were drawn to the fashion and social scene at the mall. The “coolest” mall store at the time was Benneton (which was really not very cool). Reed, the cool and fashion forward kid who went to some local prep school, worked at Benetton where they sold admittedly nice wool v-neck cardigans that worked well over our Smiths t-shirts. Too rich for my blood, but I was inspired to look for similar ones at the thrift shops; I found and bought some excellent lambswool grandpa versions. Reed was a peach. I didn’t know him well, but he was a cool (gay, I assumed) kid our age. Where is he now? (Oh thanks, internet, now I know and wish I hadn’t asked.)

Our male friends liked to check out chicks at the mall (and presumably everywhere else). I assume they secretly liked the big-haired girls, although there were probably plenty of run of the mill girls to ogle there too; it was just that the bouffants stick out in my mind. The Mall Rats, Trendoids, Bouffantists.

Some of our punk friends worked at the Liberty Tree Mall. Erik worked at the shoe-shine stand. I would go in with my beat-up combat boots and he would shine them to mirrored, Army regulation if business was slow. Deborah (“De BOR ah” to you) a goth sort of arty girl a few years my senior worked at the unbelievable fiber optic light kiosk. I found the lights so cheezy and fascinating, and wondered why anyone would want to work with them, but really it was just a job for her, not a career or anything. John “Joe Man” worked at Lids, a kiosk that sold only baseball hats. I found that pretty funny, but he was really into baseball so I guess it sort of added up.

Picture a mall kiosk that only sold different versions of this, all of them lit up at once.

We went in a lot to visit our friends at work, kill time, meet up with people, and to purchase the occasional thing. I don’t recall buying much at all, but I do recall window shopping at Express quite a bit – which was a cheap fashion store that catered to the sluttier look – lots of spandex and cut-out mini-dresses in bold 1980s colors and skimpy designs, the kind of thing you’d see in a contemporary music video – a perennial favorite. I never bought anything there, but loved it nonetheless.

There was a Strawberries Records & Tapes shop where I suppose I must have spent money. I’m certain I bought Chuck Taylors at the mall. I distinctly remember buying new purple towels to take to college at Marshall’s, and wondering why my parents never bought new ones, considering how inexpensive and luxurious the new ones were. (Still true.)

We walked around, in full-on punk garb, looking for like-minded folk. We eyed all the freaks & weirdos, not that there were many. I suppose we met them all – it was a small scene. Maybe our friends ripped the hood ornaments off luxury cars in the mall parking lot. I recall Mercedes and Cadillac hood ornaments were held on by small cables that were easily cut by bolt cutters or whatever. The Jaguars were welded to the hood. Not that I’m admitting to anything, you understand.

We ate/snacked at the food court. Always pretty gross. I think we ate pizza and drank caffeinated sodas. For me it was all about caffeine, very little about food/nutrition, although I was already a longtime vegetarian.

The last time I went to one of those malls, I stopped in on the way to my parents’ house to get my license renewed; the DMV had moved in! It was convenient and quick. I took a look around – no more record store, no more fiber-optic lights, no more shoeshine stand, and honestly, very few stores. The mall is dead. Long Live the Mall!

recent photo of the mall. note the empty store fronts until you get to Kohl’s.

Coda: I vaguely remember this tree being in the Liberty Tree Mall. Here it is on display on the Boston Common before it was moved to the mall.

This was at the center of the mall in the old days. We would meet up under the limbs.

ps if you want to buy your very own 80s mall, I hear the one from Stranger Things may be available.

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