Starcourt’s Stand-In

The summer has been all abuzz with the arrival of the 3rd season of Netflix’s Stranger Things. The show lives up to its promise of 1985 nostalgic fun, filled with monsters, mayhem, murder, mad scientists, and …a mall.

Malls took off in the 1980s but now, thirty years later, they’re quickly turning into massive crypts, remnants of time passed. The power of internet shopping and corporate greed have turned many malls into the modern monumental equivalent of a long lost friend, in most cases remembered fondly, but growing ever distant.

There are two reasons I write about this–and I won’t dwell because Johnny... is about genre-adoration, not retail commerce.

One is that I have been in retail management most of my career… for some giants that are no longer with us–Borders and Waldenbooks, in particular. But it doesn’t take an insider to see what has been happening in the last decade. Just google and you will find a vast wasteland of former retail giants, empty malls, and those barely hanging on… Sears, JC Penny, Circuit City, Toys-R Us… and the list continues to grow.

So, some of the nostalgic pangs I feel for a terrific show like Stranger Things are bittersweet, hindered by melancholy for things remembered… erased.

Gwinnett Place Mall–the set for the Starcourt Mall of Stranger Things— is practically empty today. I live close, have shopped there, and my husband, Dennis, used to manage a Bentley’s Luggage Store there in the 1980s (near the food court where America’s favorite kids battled the reinvented, blob-esque Mind-Flayer). He pointed this out to me last week while we were watching.

“When’s the last time you were there?” I asked.

“A long time,” he replied.

So we went there today.

Outside one of the entrances, there were a handful of people taking pictures (as we had planned)… making memories of a television show set for their digital photo albums. Inside, there was practically no one. Though there are still a few stores and kiosks, the giant stone structure resembles nothing short of a tomb… well-maintained, but a grave nonetheless. The food court is barricaded (no photos allowed) with a security guard, presumably being preserved for next season or, perhaps, some other production… but mainly empty.

It is sad… really sad.

So we took some photos that I will post here for anyone curious.

The second reason I write is to leave you on a higher note… I want to assure you that my Dawn of the Dead fantasy reel was rolling full-force. There’s nothing like being in an empty shopping mall to quickly transport you even farther back than Stranger Things to the post-apocalyptic wasteland of 1978 and George Romero’s zombie epic. I found myself contemplating where side corridors led and what it would be like to drive a car around a mall filled with the undead. Would this place be the ultimate fortress? Probably not. As Peter said…

“They’re after the place. They don’t know why, they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here.”


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