The year… 1985. You’re a teenager. It’s Friday afternoon, and you’re eyeing the clock waiting for six o’clock to arrive. The time is nearly here. You’ve been waiting for it all week.
The time has come to walk around the mall for three hours.
The 80’s favorite pastime has recently been brought back to life in Netflix’s Stranger Things. For those who lived it, the nostalgia makes us long for the evenings our parents dropped us off at the main entrance of the mall. It was long before cell phones, so we had to have a meet-up place set with our friends before heading out. Usually, it was near the fountain. That was the starting point of the routine. First, you make a few laps around to warm up. Next, it is on to Camelot Music, Peaches, Record Bar, or Sound Shop (remember that annoying warranty sticker Sound Shop slapped on all purchases) to check out the latest music. In the 80s, the record store ruled the mall.
All that music makes you hungry. The next stop is the food court for a slice of pizza or a “hot dog on a stick.” If you are lucky, the food court is on an upper level in the mall, and there is an opening that allows you to people-watch lower levels while you eat.
The rest of the evening is spent making laps, flirting, and catching up with people you haven’t seen since school let out a few hours earlier. At ten minutes to nine, the dreaded announcement, “The mall will be closing in ten minutes” cuts off the music reverberating through the speaker system, so you make your way to exit and catch a ride home with your parents. But fear not.
Tomorrow is Saturday, and you can do it all over again.
If you were lucky enough to be a kid in the 80s, the “mall experience” and its memories are something you will always treasure.
Let’s go back in time and visit the mall culture in Danville.
The Piedmont Mall (Now, Danville Mall) opened in 1984 and was managed by Hull Property Group. The original anchor stores included, J.C Penney, Hills, Belk-Leggett, and Globman’s. Brad Tate remembers the mall opening, “When Piedmont Mall came to town, it was like Elvis came to town, everyone and everything was there.” This was also a time where popular movies were taking place in malls, such as the cult classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Commando. So, Piedmont Mall certainly brought a sense of pop culture to Danville.
Several Danville residents remember their first jobs being at the mall. Melissa Layne’s first job was working at Hills Department store in 1984. “I had only worked as a babysitter prior to the big mall announcement. Hills had what I would consider a cattle call, where we all went to the Squire Armory to apply for jobs. I told the interviewer I had no experience other than babysitting, he told me that was great, because I was a blank slate. I’m not even sure how many years I worked at Hill’s, but I loved it. We were all like a family. The management always had the best parties for the holidays and we all just enjoyed working, even in the busy Halloween and Christmas seasons.”
Although Hill’s is no longer with us, the snack bar made a lasting impression. The sweet aroma wafted through the store as you shopped tempting you to come buy some popcorn. Here’s a fun fact, you can buy Hill’s snack bar-scented candles today. Grab one, light the wick, close your eyes, and go back to 1985 as your house fills with the smell of popcorn, slushies, and pretzels.
With Danville already being a small community, those who worked at the mall in the 80s sort of became celebrities. Layne remembers, “After Hills, I worked at Globman’s in the office, I was wrapping a gift when a guy walked up sporting a Mohawk haircut. I saw the face first and registered it was my brother, but then I noticed the hair. He worked at Sound Shop, and being he had the first Mohawk in Danville, people would come to Sound Shop just to see his hair. His musical knowledge and his friendly demeanor then charmed them and they usually made a purchase. His name was Shaun Murray, and he has since passed away.”
Layne says, “In that first year the mall was open, it seemed like everyone was family. I have lasting memories of going to the food court with friends from work for lunch, going out for Thanksgiving dinner after working on Thanksgiving Day, meeting with our managers for a drink after work at Charlie’s, which is now Santana’s. My brother and his friend once went into all the shops in the mall, using an old-fashioned video camera, asking silly questions of the employees. The food court folks got to know the employees from various stores, Belk’s had their yummy restaurant, and the employees got to know us, and what we liked to eat there. Karen Johnston from Karen’s Hallmark would know us by sight. We all had our own little mall community.”
Cindi Fisher went to the mall in the 80s and worked at Paul Harris in the 90s. “I was in the fourth grade when Piedmont Mall opened. Belk-Leggett and Globman’s department stores were my favorite shops. I also liked going to the music stores a lot. I would save my allowance to buy tapes at the Sound Shop. I went with friends and watched them get their ears pierced at Claire’s. As I got older, it was popular to go to the mall on the weekends and play games at the arcade, hang out in the music stores, and look at the animals at Pet-Go-Round. One of the best things about going to the mall in the 80s and working at the mall in the 90s was meeting people. Social media links peers now, but we all bonded over music and other commonalities in person at the mall. It was often how I would meet people from different schools.”
Mall culture has changed through the years along with life and technology. In the 80s, social media wasn’t a term. But, weekend evenings at the mall was without a doubt the most popular social network of the 80s. Those fortunate enough to have been around to social network at the mall have an abundance of good memories and friends they met through mall walks on Friday and Saturday nights.
A few of us still have cassette tapes from Sound Shop with the warranty sticker.
The warranty has long expired. The memories never will.