(the open atrium/courtyard of Metro North. To the left, at its prime. To the right, during its demise)
The closing of Kansas City’s Metro North Mall earlier this week sparked up plenty of nostalgia. After all, it was among the very first malls in this area that I became with familiar with, even before I moved out here full-time. Over the years, I had a lot of good times in Metro North. Browsing inside Shark’s Surf Shop. Enjoying the sounds coming from the games inside the Fun Factory arcade. Grabbed plenty of bites to eat there including Kelso’s Pizza, the Gold Fortune (chinese buffet), Amigo’s (mexican), a meal or two at Greaser’s Diner, and even had my very first In-A-Tub experience there. I bought my first Chiefs merchandise in that mall, stocked up on Topsy’s popcorn, and even met several WWE wrestlers over the years. I also got my hair cut by a girl who would take care of WWE’s John Cena whenever he was in town and needed a quick clean-up. I visited a touring animal sanctuary exhibit that stopped in to the mall, and got to hold and cuddle a baby tiger. I admired the open atrium/courtyard with a water layout, complete with inflated balloons that would rise up and down mimicking hot air balloons. During the holidays, a train was set up that would take children around a loop, and volunteers were set up to offer gift wrapping to shoppers. There was an older gentleman who operated an awesome tablet setup near that courtyard that had all sorts of vintage tin/metal signs and related memorabilia. So many great little details could be found within that mall.
The writing was already on the wall by the time I first set foot through its doors, though. The in-mall AMC movie theater had already shut down by my first visit, and they’d opened up the outer-mall facility (which only remained in operation for a handful of years). The long-term vision of a food court never came to fruition. Over time, businesses (including anchor tenants) started to disappear from the mall as new locations opened up east at Shoal Creek, and west at Zona Rosa. In its final years, Metro North seemed to be a better place for people to go for indoor walking/powerwalking than it did to shop. Now, 38 years after opening its doors for the first time, they’re closed for good.
(Metro North Mall’s lower fountain. Behind it, on the corner, was Original Pizza. To its left, The Whig Shoppe. To its right, the Fun Factory arcade)
Metro North became the latest mall to join my memories as nothing more than that – memories. Two years ago, only a handful of miles away, Antioch Center suffered the same fate and was demolished. My only solid memories of Antioch were the standout design of their food court and seating area, and the FooKee Chinese buffet. Sorry, Antioch – I never really got to know you. (FUN FACT: The very first ShowBiz Pizza location was opened in Antioch Center on March 3, 1980, and the Rock-afire Explosion band made their debut)
Of course, many memories of mine will be tied to places from back home, such as Northwest Plaza in St. Ann MO. I’ll always remember that mall best for the time I spent in its massive lower-level arcade and entertainment facility, “Tilt!”. It’s also where I went with my best friend Adam to get myself a pager back in the day. In its later years, it went downhill quickly. Businesses bolted. Crime went up. Structural integrity was compromised. At the least, parts of it are nothing more than rubble and remnants – I’m not sure if any of it still remains, but I plan to drive by its site when I’m out that way next weekend.
Jamestown Mall in Florissant MO is likely to be the next. It’s in the middle of its own dilapidation, including shutdowns in both November and December of 2013 due to low temperatures/no heat. My best entertaining moment of my times in Jamestown Mall was going into KB Toys to buy my Nintendo N64, leaving from there to go over to Adam’s parents house, and immediately realizing that the store still had my card (it was recovered the next day).
Times change, and so does everything that exists within time, although memories remain. My earliest mall memories are split between two places, one of which I know still exists, and the other I can’t confirm, but am fairly certain is long gone. The first of those two is Chesterfield Mall, which was my first real mall experience (well before Mid Rivers Mall ever existed), and I remember the ramped walkways, the fountains highlighted by multi-colored lighting, and the food court that I’d enjoyed places like Burger Chef, and my very first Chick-Fil-A. It’s been a while since I’ve spent time inside Chesterfield Mall (my most recent visit there was to the attached Cheeburger Cheeburger restaurant), but it’s still thriving to this day. For that matter, upon Northwest Plaza’s closing, it became the largest indoor mall in the St. Louis area. Upon Metro North Mall’s closing two days ago, Chesterfield Mall took over as the largest indoor mall in all of Missouri.
The other of those two oldest memory banks was Cottonwood Station, in Glen Carbon IL. It wasn’t the biggest by any means – 2 floors, essentially a ground floor and basement from what I remember – and I don’t think I ever recall it being at more than maybe 40% capacity. My parents and I would go out there periodically to do lunch with my grandparents (it was located close to halfway between where we lived and where they lived), and we’d always go to this good-sized restaurant and buffet, and then go wander the mall area afterwards. I know we’d go and visit several different stores in there, but the only two that I really remember were a pet store, and a small arcade by the stairwell. I also remember my father always looking for a parking spot underneath one of the large trees on the edge of the lot so that the car would be in as little sunlight as possible.
It feels like the only time that my mind isn’t red-lining with thought is when I’m asleep, and even then it’s not guaranteed. It seems to specialize in holding on to memories of what may seem like the most trivial of things. If it’s details of trips to shopping malls, so be it.