June 19, 2024


Youth trendy style

Ranking 2000s Era Mall Stores

I wish you could put an experience in a time capsule, because future generations should know about getting your ears pierced at Claire’s.

You’ve probably seen headlines about how malls are “dying.” But why focus on that when you could focus on the era when malls truly lived?

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I’m referring, of course, to the early-to-mid 2000s.

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I’ve ranked 19 2000s mall spots from “just okay” to “changed my life and probably yours for the better through the power of affordable accessories.”

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This ranking is highly scientific, by which I mean it’s completely subjective and based on my personal memories of what it was like to wander around a mall in 2011. My top five are airtight, though. 


Any Kiosk

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Doesn’t matter if it’s computers, bath salts, or body jewelry: a kiosk isn’t the ideal place to buy it. 

Where’s the ambiance? The pizazz? A kiosk is just a store that’s been set adrift on the lazy river of consumerist ennui.

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Generic “Cell Phone Fashion” Stores

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In the mid-2000s, we thought your cell phone could reflect your personality. In 2021, we know that your cell phone is your personality.

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To be clear, that’s worse, but also, society never needed this many phone cases. 

That being said, we should bring back those rubber cell phone charms immediately.

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Case in point: No other accessory could so clearly communicate that someone both supports the European Union and loves Hello Kitty. 



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I refuse to believe that anyone ever bought anything from a Brookstone. (Who could afford it?)

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Instead, I think their entire business model was based on the mall paying them to provide a place for Dads to hang out while their families did the holiday shopping.

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Either that, or way more people own massage furniture than I realize. 


Any Store That Exclusively Sells Greeting Cards

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I don’t want to walk by a reminder that the thank you note I was supposed to send for that thing is now two years late.

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Yankee Candle

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I take no issue with the product, but crossing the threshold of a candle store is like walking into a brick wall of concentrated sugar cookie scent.

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It doesn’t matter that they sell other types of candles. The sugar cookie one will always be the strongest.

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Abercrombie & Fitch

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Imagine a store, but for some reason it’s located inside an empty can of Axe body spray.

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I wasn’t classy enough to casually walk into a Godiva when I was 12, and I’m not classy enough now.

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They do smell amazing, though. A Godiva is like a Yankee Candle but instead of sugar cookies, it smells like $9 milkshakes. 

Spencer’s is where the hierarchy of the mall dissolved into total anarchy, and that made it equally terrifying and alluring.

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Every middle school student who ever crossed that threshold thought they were about to be arrested. 

Their current tagline reads “Spencer’s: Body Jewelry, Graphic Tees, Lingerie & Lava Lamps,” and yeah, that just about sums it up.

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Tag yourself (I’m lava lamps). 


Wet Seal

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You saw someone carrying around one of those bright pink bags and you just knew they were now the proud owner of a sequined cardigan or a tattoo choker.

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Wet Seal dressed a generation of middle school students going to their seventh grade dance, and for that I applaud them.

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Rainforest Cafe

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You may think this isn’t a store, but let me ask you this: Is Rainforest Cafe a restaurant, or a gift shop that also happens to serve chicken fingers?

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But nothing is more disruptive to a peaceful chicken finger eating experience than hearing an animatronic stampede every 15 minutes or so.

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Bath and Body Works

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You want candles? They got ’em. Have a craving for tiny bottles of hand sanitizer? Come on down. Want to get a bottle of scented something that isn’t deodorant or perfume but is instead mysteriously labeled as a mist? Oh boy, do I have the store for you.

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Remember body glitter? Bath & Body Works does.

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Someone asked what Bath & Body Works wanted to sell, and they answered “yes.” 


Apple Store

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In the era where Photobooth was king, there was no better place to waste time than the Apple Store.

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Not quite as much opportunity for casual shopping, though. The Apple Store was there for dreamers: Maybe you, too, could one day own an aquamarine iPod.

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Build-a-Bear Workshop

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There was no such thing as a casual experience at a Build-A-Bear. You walked in and an employee was immediately like, “Would you like to choose a stuffed animal skin, fill it from a giant box of fluff, and imbue it with your essence and possibly your voice, before receiving a literal birth certificate for your creation, you God Amongst Bears?”

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And if you were a kid circa 2007, the answer was always “yes!”

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I do feel bad for any parents who weren’t familiar with the process and thought they were just getting their kid a toy, only to find themselves in a Macy’s, but for stuffed animals. 



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*possibly The Gap? I truly don’t know. 

Gap ranks slightly higher than it otherwise would because they have an extremely generous sale section, and that warms my heart.

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I never need another pair of short overalls but if they’re 85% off, you’re damn right that they’re coming with me, along with the two black t-shirts I actually went in there to buy.

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Borders was Barnes and Noble’s cool older sibling, but tragically, it went to the big mall in the sky in 2011.

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I don’t think the return of Borders would solve any of the world’s problems, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. 

In memory of this titan of retailers, please enjoy this photo of Borat signing his book there.

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2007 was a simpler time. 


Auntie Anne’s

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It’s not a store, you say. It doesn’t even have a gift shop, à la the Rainforest Cafe, you say.

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You’re completely right. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to leave it off my list and inspire the fury of its fanbase.


Barnes and Noble

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This bookstore is an oasis of calm in a chaotic world, and its armchairs were the most coveted real estate you could find at the mall.

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God help me, I love Barnes and Noble.

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I’m not saying I picture their alphabetized fiction shelves when someone tells me to imagine my happy place, but if my first twelve or so happy places don’t do the trick, B&N is lucky number thirteen. 



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Claire’s pierced the ears of a generation (mine included), and they should be honored for it.

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It’s an undeniably joyful shopping experience, one where everyone can find the perfect pair of studs that show off their love for unicorns or dinosaurs or the moon. It would definitely claim the top spot, if not for a challenger that emerged from the ’90s.

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Of course it’s Delia’s. It’s always been Delia’s. Also, I used their weird capitalization in the heading out of respect, but it’s just not a sustainable formatting choice. 

If you don’t remember it or never had a chance to go, Delia’s was a magical place where you could find a near-bottomless supply of graphic tees, along with this exact cardigan.

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Delia’s is probably best known for its catalogues, where young people could find the finest selection of bucket hats and inflatable furniture available in all of American retail. But I will always remember (and love) it for its brick-and-mortar stores. The one is my mall may have been the first place I realized that I could use the way I dress to reflect who I am, and which “It’s Happy Bunny” catchphrase I most identified with. And for that, Delia’s earns the #1 spot.

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Godspeed, you beautiful behemoth of 2000s fashion. 

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