Sunday, August 14, 2016

REMINISCING: Memories of the Lockport Mall

Who remembers hanging out at the Lockport Mall? It was the place to be on a Friday night, at least in those formative teenage years. From the time we were 12 or 13, we wanted to hang out at the collections of stores and eateries. We owned that mall. It was the one place besides school where we could all hang out together. And it was the place that was easiest to divide ourselves into various cliques.

Some of the time we spent at Aladdin’s Castle, but a majority of our time was simply strolling around and around and around the halls, checking out girls. It was only another year or so before we really discovered music. Then it was off to Cavages.
Courtesy Flickr -- Jack Thomas

 Cavages was the king of the music stores in the Mall. I remember walking in there for the first time without parental advisory. There were bins of vinyl (yes, vinyl) on the main part of the floor. Behind the counters were cassettes in shelves along the walls. They apparently were easy to steal, so they were protected. In the back corner was a tiny little bin with that newfangled invention for music, the Compact Disk. There weren’t very many of those.

The first cassette I bought for myself was “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been” by the Grateful Dead. It was a double EP, so it was much more expensive than most of the music I would normally buy, but I wanted an album with “Playing in the Band” on it. Of course, I could have just purchased Bob Weir’s “Ace” to get that song, or “Skull & Roses,” but I think we can all agree that the version on the album I purchased is superior.

Unfortunately, Cavages was replaced by Disc Jockey. What a mess that was. It was overpriced, had a terrible selection, and the clerks were not nearly as friendly as the cats at Cavages. Some were, but there was a lot of smug smirks if you requested something out of the norm. Obviously, I asked for a lot of non-mainstream music. I doubt there were very few people requesting “Old & In the Way” or Bobby & the Midnites.

One of the cool things about Disc Jockey, though, was the huge book. Every album released and its availability was in it. I asked for some weird music, and they just let me browse through it myself. It was pretty daunting to look at, but I did get some music that many other people were afraid to test.

Aside from the music store, another of my favorites -- and my eventual overall favorite -- was Waldenbooks. I could spend hours in there just reading the backs of books to see what the next book on the reading list would be. Again, I probably drove the employees nuts by ordering books that were just a little bit out of the norm.

The one thing I really miss about having an actual bookstore is that you miss out on picking up a book that you normally wouldn’t see. You lose that ability with online shopping. Sure, both Barnes & Noble and Amazon give you recommendations, but it’s not the same as having a book grab your attention simply by browsing along the shelves.

Who remembers Montgomery Ward? (Most people around here called it Montgomery Wards, or Monkey Wards, just like area people make Ames two syllables.) It was kind of like the Sears stores, but for a smaller mall like the one we had here in Lockport. They had a little bit of everything there -- furniture, clothing, electronics, jewelry, outdoor equipment, etc. I bought my first DVD player there when they first came out. You don’t want to know what that cost.

There were several restaurants in the Mall. Friendly’s was probably my favorite. I remember one time we went there with MeMe and PaPa and I wanted to know what a rootbeer float was. PaPa bought me one, and I loved it. I still love those floats. I once took a date to that particular Friendly’s location. I ended up splattering ketchup all over her, and that was the end of that in any way, shape, or form.

Garfield’s was directly across the hall from where Friendly’s was. It was one of the last places in the Mall before they closed. They took over the place where K-B Toys once had a store. While it was not there very long, it holds a special place in my heart. Wendy and I went out to eat there one night shortly after I was laid off from Adelphia. It was at dinner that she told me she was pregnant.

Hills could probably be a column all on its own. I quit a perfectly fine job at Peterson’s Drug Company to get a job at Hills. To meet a girl. Luckily, that girl and I have been a couple for twenty-five years and have four daughters. Quite possibly the two things that stand out in my mind about Hills were the snack bar hot dogs and the Bills game. Those hot dogs were sketchy, but they were cheap. When you were paying for gas to cruise, cheap was just fine.

As for the Bills game, the infamous Comeback Game in January, 1993, was not on TV. However, as word came in that the Bills were mounting an incredible comeback, the game was broadcast over the store’s intercom system. As the fourth quarter wound down, groups of customers and employees gathered beneath the various speakers throughout the store. In the end, there was a big cheer. Then, back to work we went.

After Wal-Mart came in, even though they were down the street, it seemed like all the joy had been sucked out of the Mall. Its best days were behind it, and once familiar stores boarded up and left, only to be somewhat filled by lesser quality and smaller outlets. Once the rumor that Wal-Mart was thinking about expanding, it was all over for the Mall.

Back in the late 1960s when discussions arose about building the Mall, there was considerable opposition to the project. At a July 16, 1968 public hearing, a majority of town residents opposed the project and subsequent rezoning. Added traffic along Shimer Drive was one of the biggest concerns. They also wanted a buffer zone between the shopping center and their homes.  At a follow up meeting on July 29th, the project was given the green light with the rezoning of property on either side of Shimer Drive along Transit. The north side would be the Lockport Mall, while the south side would be for David Heinrich’s new showroom.

Courtesy Flickr -- Jack Thomas
The Lockport Mall opened in 1971. It began with a cinema, Montgomery Ward store, Harvest Market, and Family Bargain Center. Harvest Market and Family Bargain Center were later replaced with AM&A’s. In 1984, an addition was made to the Mall to accommodate Hills Department Store. Late in 1998, Ames purchased Hills and renamed the store tacked onto the back side of the Mall. In 1999, Montgomery Ward closed its doors. The Mall finally closed its doors in 2006, and was demolished in 2011.

Some of the stores that were in the Lockport Mall:
Montgomery Ward
The Sample
Kinney Shoes
Radio Shack
KB Toys
Aladdin’s Castle
Jo-Ann Fabrics
Fashion Bug
AM&As/Bon Ton

Does anyone else have any memories of the Lockport Mall? Feel free to add in the comments section.

Craig Bacon still misses the Lockport Mall, especially Cavages and Waldenbooks. He walks around Wal-Mart but it’s not the same. Besides, Wal-Mart does not quite understand his brand of humor.