Part of me thinks I became a librarian because I am one that somewhat thrives in nostalgia. I love reminiscing, not in a crazy way, but for entertainment. I love history, researching, and technology. Sometimes however I think technology has come at a cost I don’t feel comfortable with. One of those is the world of online shopping. I shop online sure, but I don’t get everything online. I like going out and having human interaction and experiencing new things outside my ordinary everyday environment.
Perhaps that’s why the topic of the American shopping mall has always interested me. Historians, archivists, and librarians here in South Florida know that I am the person to come to for retail related histories for the area.
Growing up in the Boynton Beach area of Palm Beach County, I spent a great
deal of time at the Boynton Beach Mall. The mall, which opened in 1985 and was built by the Edward Debartolo Corporation of Youngstown, Ohio, was a perfect example of the world South Florida was in the 1980s and 90s. It was light salmon pink color inside, echoing to the Miami Vice tones so appropriate at the time. A gold lining ran along the wall contributing to popularity of art deco seen around South Florida at the time. The center of the mall had a massive fountain featuring a 1500 pound monarch butterfly surrounded by brass reeds and a unique waterfall that fell in special burst making an unusual sound, so powerful it made the wind in your hair blow if you got close. Neon signs illuminated from nearly every store front; Waldenbooks, Scribbles, Camelot Music, B.Dalton, Burdines, Lechters, Jordan Marsh, Spencers, Barefoot Mailman, Morrison’s Cafeteria, Sunglass Hut, KayBee Toys, are among just a few of the 135 stores that filled the mall. It was central/south Palm Beach County’s main shopping mecca.
Maybe it’s even more bittersweet since I often remember a one in awhile weeknight routine my late father and I had where we would visit MasterCuts for our haircuts. Afterwards we headed to the food court and would always be bombarded by the free sample lady in front of ManchuWOK (who knew that was still at thing?!). We would always take some and then head over to Sbarro. We each would get a slice and sit right in front of the lady that gave us the free sample. After we would split, he would head to Barnies Coffee & Tea Company and I would head to Electronics Boutique (EB). It is that store I focus this article on.
For a young boy, this store was amazing. In its life it existed in two locations in the mall. Originally near the west entrance where H&Ms store front is now. That store was tiny but packed full of stuff for your Macintosh, Windows 3.0, Amiga, etc you get the picture. They even sold computer parts in the store. I had purchased my first copy of the original Sim City in this location. Later, perhaps around 1995 when the mall reached its 10th anniversary and leases rolled around it relocated to an area in the center of the mall next to the food court.
By the 1990s EB was selling everything from computer hardware to virtually
every software title in as many categories you could think of. More and more game systems bounced back into popularity with the Sony Playstation, SuperNintendo, SEGA Genesis, etc. We got our first home computer in 1993 and I was always drawn into checking out the latest titles and strategy guides. I can’t even count the amount of times I remember begging my dad for a game I found. Carmen Sandiego’s Great Chase Through Time, Titanic:Adventure Out of Time, The Sims, Maniac Mansion, Bad Day on the Midway, Dust; A Tale of the Wired West, Myst…those are just a few of the amazing titles that took me into a world of my own that I was immersed into when I would get home. I was almost always able to get one title though!
The feeling of anxiousness and excitement reading the box while we drove home is a feeling that I likely will never have again. Today, most software is downloadable, even if you’re a console gamer. I did dabble with some consoles back in the day, mostly portable. I had a SEGA Game Gear, Genesis, and later Nintendo 64. EB always had a colorful catalog available that I would take with me to excitedly plan my next visit.
As with all good things though, progress happens. EB eventually went away and became Gamestop (moving from their roots and merely selling console gaming stuff and gaming memorabilia), I grew up, videogames faded from my life, and my dad is no longer around. Having worked at an Apple Retail store for 4 years, I did get some discounts on games I still will jump into occasionally like the new Sim City, but for the most part, work, homeownership, and grad school took more of my time.
Though my father is gone, I still get my haircut at that particular MasterCuts, I still get my Sbarro slice, and I still stop in that Gamestop and browse around what is new. Something comforting came from my routine, perhaps it put me closer to my father and all those trips we did there together. I can’t say I bought anything at that Gamestop in the last year or so. I dont even own a modern gaming console. The shelves, while I could picture the exact spot I found so many titles I still own today, are completely unrecognizable in content. Gone are the PC gaming boxes, replaced with WiiU and XBox One titles. I just accepted the fact that the baton had been passed along to a new generation.
This memory was shattered from me the 3rd week of January 2016. I was doing my usual routine only to walk by Gamestop to see signs that said “we’re moving!” I was puzzled since there are in the middle of the mall and there probably aren’t many better locations in the mall. Upon walking in I was told by the young girl behind the counter that they were merging locations with the location across the street. I thought about it for a second thinking how could they do that if they are cleaning this store up…then it hit me…OH you’re CLOSING this store basically. She responded “yeahhhhh the rent is like kinda high here.”
This was very surreal to me. The once mighty Boynton Beach Mall I knew as a kid
has been eclipsed in recent times by other modern concepts….the mall, while still quite bustling, shows signs of disarray, particularly at the north end. Gone are most of the neon signs, gone is the monarch butterfly sculpture, and the mall was completely simonized in 2001 eliminating most of the facets that made it special. About 10% of the mall’s space is vacant. Though it’s clear the staff operating the mall are dedicated. Events happen every week and new stores like H&M will continue bring in modern crowds. But still…why would they price out a retailer like Gamestop? I realize Gamestop is not a modern example of a successful company, but a quick search on the internet shows that their mall locations are among their most profitable. Plus, other area malls, such as The Gardens Mall, where I worked at Apple, charges far more in rent than Boynton does but Gamestop remains there. I went outside the store and sat down since I was a bit beside myself in that a store that brought so much joy to my childhood would soon be gone.
It took me a few days but I knew I wanted to write about this and get it out of my system. I realized I’m not the only one with this sense of nostalgia either. I found an online retrospective by a guy called Hughes Johnson who recounts his time working at another EB during the same times I visited mine. It is WELL worth the read and certainly jogged my memory so much, especially since I worked in retail as well. Read it HERE. The Irony here is he mentions EB CEO J.J. Firestone, well known in the gamer world back then and instrumental in the inevitable disappearance of the EB brand, who in his retired life lives right here in Palm Beach County.
I’m sure there are many others that have the same memories and feelings I have about EB and its competition back in the day; Software etc, Egghead, and Babbages (all now apart of Gamestop). What a great time to have grown up in. I kept many of the things I bought from EB over the years, even my Pokemon cards. What’s important to remember here are the memories I do have. They are mine, they belong to me, and nobody else would have lived them like I did. And yes, as long as MasterCuts remains, I’ll still go to that location to get my haircut, but next time I guess I won’t be stopping in Gamestop. As with all, time marches on and I just have to march along with it…