For the first time since moving back to Oklahoma City five years ago, I recently visited my old 90s-era stomping grounds of Penn Square Mall and was both shocked and saddened to see how much it has changed the past 20 years. I spent so much of my life there, first as a teenage mallrat who lived within loitering distance of the place and then as a sworn employee of Suncoast and then as a manager first at the Regal Cinema and then when it became the woefully begotten Dickenson Theater.
And as far as my time as a seasonal Hot Topic stocker, that’s probably best left forgotten.
I used to live, eat and breathe at Penn Square Mall, fully a part of the mostly sad mall culture that surrounds it—insider discount trades, constant endcap discussion, regional manager horror stories—but, to be fair, I was also a consumer who would do most of my shopping there whenever I had a break. As I wistfully walked through these air-conditioned halls of commerce, it was nostalgically startling to see how many of the places I frequented were long gone, the stardust dreams of long-filed Chapter 11 suits and much-maligned close-out sales. Here’s the five things I probably miss the most about Penn Square Mall…
While I have never been someone who could be considered a fashion-plate by any means, still, I actually loved the clothes they sold at Structure, the casual men’s clothing store that fully supplied me with suede vests, drawstring cargo-pants and the most cadence-driven of chest-baring poet tops for years, all at a reasonable enough price, especially with my mall-employee discount. Man, do I miss those pants…X-Pants, I think they were called, which is still pretty bad-ass.
Taco Bell’s Soda Fountain
Before I was a mall employee, I was a mall customer, often spending entire Saturdays loitering with pals and getting into all types of consumer-based shenanigans until we were forcefully asked to leave by the tired, world-weary security guards. The visit would always start off with a trip to Taco Bell which used to have not only 69 cent tacos and bean burritos, but their soda-fountain pointed outwards, towards the food court in a serve yourself, honor system kind of way, allowing us cheap punks to spend only a buck and have constant refills of Mountain Dew all day. It truly was a simpler time…that I’m pretty sure we ruined for everyone.
Suncoast Motion Picture Co.
While the bros who worked at the record store were always “too cool for school” and would ignore your mere adolescent presence, the movie geeks that populated the staff of Suncoast were always more than willing to make sure their cinematic opinions were loudly heard and staff recommendations prominently displayed. For a teen looking for the worst kind of acceptance, it was Mecca of sorts, hanging around the counter all day, trying to impress the college drop-out manager with bits of Evil Dead 2 trivia. Eventually, the desperate pupil would become the sad master as I eventually become a full-fledged employee and sometime assistant manager of the place, holding court and allowing teens of all persuasions to impress me with their Evil Dead 2 knowledge.
Yes, there was a short time in my girlfriend-less early twenties where I was someone who collected action figures—pass the McFarlanes, please!—and played Heroclix on the reg. While I should have been saving that money and putting it to a 401k or something, I guess I can’t feel too bad because seemingly every single toy that Kay-Bee sold was almost immediately marked down to an insane clearance, oftentimes finding a new fully-articulated Marvel Select First Appearance Grey Hulk for $3.88, to name one shockingly cheap treasure I’ve long since sold out of maturity. Of course, while there, you’d have to wade through the tornado of filth that was the store itself—no one ever seemed to pick-up the aisles and restock anything—and while I’m sure it was that barrage of junk that led to their eventual downfall, for a short period, it was worth it.
At the start of every said Suncoast shift, as soon as my timecard was stamped and good mornings were said, I would sleepily saunter over to the food court and start a long day of drinking nothing but soda by ordering a large Diet Coke and a breakfast sandwich from Potatoes Plus, a small corner eatery that, while nothing altogether special, would gleefully trade movie passes for food, creating a mildly sustainable economic system that kept them in first-run movies and myself in fresh-made baked (possibly microwaved) potatoes. Was it an abuse of power and privilege? Probably, but then again, those fully-loaded potatoes were really good.
What stores and restaurants do you miss from OKC’s mall heyday? Let us know in the comments.
Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler.