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?
I’m referring, of course, to the early-to-mid 2000s.
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.”
Where’s the ambiance? The pizazz? A kiosk is just a store that’s been set adrift on the lazy river of consumerist ennui.
Generic “Cell Phone Fashion” Stores
In the mid-2000s, we thought your cell phone could reflect your personality. In 2021, we know that your cell phone is your personality.
That being said, we should bring back those rubber cell phone charms immediately.
I refuse to believe that anyone ever bought anything from a Brookstone. (Who could afford it?)
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.
Any Store That Exclusively Sells Greeting Cards
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.
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.
It doesn’t matter that they sell other types of candles. The sugar cookie one will always be the strongest.
Abercrombie & Fitch
Imagine a store, but for some reason it’s located inside an empty can of Axe body spray.
I wasn’t classy enough to casually walk into a Godiva when I was 12, and I’m not classy enough now.
Spencer’s is where the hierarchy of the mall dissolved into total anarchy, and that made it equally terrifying and alluring.
Their current tagline reads “Spencer’s: Body Jewelry, Graphic Tees, Lingerie & Lava Lamps,” and yeah, that just about sums it up.
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.
Wet Seal dressed a generation of middle school students going to their seventh grade dance, and for that I applaud them.
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?
But nothing is more disruptive to a peaceful chicken finger eating experience than hearing an animatronic stampede every 15 minutes or so.
Bath and Body Works
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.
Remember body glitter? Bath & Body Works does.
In the era where Photobooth was king, there was no better place to waste time than the Apple Store.
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.
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?”
And if you were a kid circa 2007, the answer was always “yes!”
Gap ranks slightly higher than it otherwise would because they have an extremely generous sale section, and that warms my heart.
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.
Borders was Barnes and Noble’s cool older sibling, but tragically, it went to the big mall in the sky in 2011.
In memory of this titan of retailers, please enjoy this photo of Borat signing his book there.
It’s not a store, you say. It doesn’t even have a gift shop, à la the Rainforest Cafe, you say.
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
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.
God help me, I love Barnes and Noble.
Claire’s pierced the ears of a generation (mine included), and they should be honored for it.
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.
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.
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.
Take a trip down memory lane that’ll make you feel nostalgia AF