Quick Lists — January 20, 2014 7:24 pm

7 Mall Stores That Defined The 90s Shopping Experience

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As technology and cultural changes shift people out of the real world and on to cyberstores, malls are becoming vacant.  Online shopping makes it fairly easy to obtain any item you could ever dream of, but it hasn’t always been that way.  If you wanted a hot item cassette tape, you may have had to trek to all ends of the mall, scouring shelves at three or four music stores before finding your new tunes.  Not an item regularly kept in stock?  You had to order it, which could take anywhere from next week’s shipment to two months.

Despite today’s shopping convenience options, here are seven mall stores that defined the 90s shopping experience.  Sadly, several of these store’s logos seem lost to time.

7 – Kay Bee Toys

This commercial isn’t 90s enough.

In the early 90s, Kay Bee Toys was the place to go when a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure was hitting the market.  Despite the major size difference between the mall store-sized Kay Bee Toys and a mega building like Toys R Us, they usually had a pretty good selection.  Some of my most memorable purchases included Super Shredder and a Virtual Boy.  How could anyone forget the cage full of self-propelling Weazel Balls at the front of the store?

6 – Suncoast Motion Picture Company

Whether you wanted the latest Robocop movie on laserdisc or an Evil Dead t-shirt, Suncoast was the long-reigning movie nerd paradise.  Unlike a few other stores on this list that are completely gone or were swallowed in mergers, Suncoast stores still exist at select mall locations.  This place had a great reputation for being able to track down hard-to-find movies.  I will never forget how excited I was the day I found out my specially ordered copy of UHF on VHS arrived.

5 – Service Merchandise

Ghosts shopped at this place, apparently.

When it came to checking out high-end gadgets, jewelry, and suitcases, Service Merchandise was the showroom to hit.  The stores could not have looked any more 80s if they tried, even throughout the 90s.  Unfortunately, the chain closed down retail operations in 2002.  A new owner eventually took over the company’s identity and brought it back as an online store.  As a gift back in the day, I received a Pioneer stereo receiver from Service Merchandise that still takes up half of my living room.

4 – Tape World

Do you remember when tapes came in long plastic security handles?  Tape World had shelves of tapes literally piled on top of one another!  Anything from Milli Vanilli to Vanilla Fudge adorned the walls of this much missed store.  Though the store name never changed to CD World or MP3 World, they did eventually carry other forms of media including Super Nintendo games.  I once scored a copy of F-Zero in the discount bin!

3 – Walden Books

One word:  Goosebumps.  R.L. Stine couldn’t crank those books out fast enough for kids to enjoy in the mid-90s.  Occasionally, you could get a special version of the books that came with a bonus bookmark or AA-operated clip-on reading lamp.  The Beast books we covered a while back were purchased at Walden Books.

2 – Babbage’s

It didn’t matter if you owned a Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, or even a 3DO, Babbage’s had your game of choice covered!  Well, actually it did matter if you had a 3DO because the joke was on you.  Before most of the game stores merged, you could find some great competition at the mall.  My local Babbage’s was just across from an Electronics Boutique, which made bargain hunting convenient.  My shopping instincts did not prevent me from buying two Sega 32X CD games.  What was I thinking?

1 – Woolworth’s

Someone bought Mario Paint at Woolworth’s.  That someone was me.

Chances are you got your first something at Woolworth’s.  They sold it all from gift wrap to comic books to boring adult stuff to more comic books.  My first real watch came from the big W.  Looking back, I realize it was just a cheap sports watch, but the Indiglo knock-off back light was pretty impressive at the time.  The last time I ever went to Woolworth’s, the store had been walled off beyond the first ten feet.  In that area, they stuffed the last of everything that location had.  Knowing I would never see an active Woolworth’s again, I felt obligated to purchase something.  I ended up with a novelty noise stick that I still own today.

Honorable Mention:  Tilt

Before the home console market took over, Tilt had all the latest and greatest arcade and pinball machines.  Stepping through the entrance felt like an adventure as you journeyed into the dark room lit with neon pink fixtures, the glow of arcade screens surrounding.  Tilt is still around in some areas.

If you want to fall down an interesting, but endless, Wikipedia rabbit-hole, look up dead malls.

Did we miss some of your favorite mall stores?  Tell us about it in the comments below!

8 Comments

  • Aw man! Some good memories, here! I actually was wondering the fate of Suncoast just the other day. Back in my high school anime-obsessed days, we used to make pilgrimages to hours-away malls just to pick through their anime VHS and shirts.
    And man, Kay*Bee toys. I once scored a Sega CD there when the system was on its way out. I think it was like, $30. Total bargain, even if I never did find legitimate copies of Lunar or Snatcher to play on it. I also was lucky enough to snatch up every single Ronin Warrior toy there for $5 each or less(which unfortunately I sold a few years back for nothing…).

  • Great post.  KB was my go-to for toys back in the day but I remember their video game section being outrageously overpriced, went next door to Electronic Boutique for those.

    I have a lot of great memories from Service Merchandise. They were one of the few stores that had playable gaming systems on the showroom floor. Kids would sprint from the door for a chance to play the newest Sega Genesis game.

    Waldenbooks was great. I got many of my comics, Toyfare, Wizard, and wrestling mags there which were not available anywhere else. 

    The mall kicked ass!

  • MisterZero Kay Bee was a great source for close-outs.  I got a Virtual Boy there with a handful of games for $70.  Actually, I’m not sure got the better bargain on that one… me or them?

  • PopRewind MisterZero Yeah not sure who got the better deal. It is cool to have for nostalgia sake (if you do still have it).

  • crookedninja Some of the clothing department stores at the mall had playable consoles, as well.  I still remember playing Hotel Mario at one of those places!

  • crookedninja One of the screens is scrambled now which causes even stranger migraines than it originally did!

  • Great post. I really miss the mall experiences of the 80s, 90s, and even the very early 2000s.

    Was all about the arcade = Boardwalk Boulevard, Games People Play, etc…
    Stop by the toy store = KayBee Toys.
    Food = Sbarro Pizza, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, The Cookie Store, Hickory Farms was a classic.
    Spencer Gifts & Hot Topic for the random oddities and t-shirts.
    The Dollar Store for random cheap novelties, VHS tapes.
    Media Play was also in the Mall parking lot vicinity in the 90s. Always a great stop.
    Camelot Music was my mall record/tape/cd music store. Great stuff.

    I have some great mall memories of our era from a kid in the 80s, teenager in the 90s, and young “adult” in the early 2000s.

  • Tilt. That name sounds familiar. I can’t remember if that was the arcade place that used to be at the mall in my area, but I DO know there used to be an arcade there when I was a kid. Dark room, lots of games, got tickets to spend on prizes, though that might be a totally different arcade. A different arcade (brightly lit with yellow walls albeit. YUCK!) was built in its place, and now, it’s a glow-in-the-dark mini golf place with a few arcade machines scattered around it.

    I DO know there used to be a toy store at my mall that was basically a Toys-R-Us in a smaller scale. The name was something Toys. Can’t remember the whole name. I remember buying the Lego Friends CD-ROM back in the day. I was in grade school then.

    I never went to the mall that much as a kid, but I definitely miss the days when I used to play in the arcade, look in the toy store, and when stores used to sell VHS tapes and games on CD-ROM. EB Games used to sell PC games, SNES games, and N64 games. The only place I can get CD-ROM games now is at Walmart. But it’s not the same anymore. :/

    Thanks for posting. 🙂

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