Remember the good ol' days of shopping in the '80s? You know, back in the days before the internet—when you'd hop in your car and physically GO to all your favorite stores? Many of these stores have come and gone, but I’d like to take a moment pay tribute to some old time favorites:
The discount department store was all the rage in the '80s. Stores like Ames and Zayre seemed to have EVERYTHING—including toys and the latest video game consoles we'd been dreaming about getting. Ames also had a pretty nice craft section, where I’d get some embroidery floss to make friendship bracelets, or the terry cloth loops that you could use with those red plastic weaving looms. (And, in case you’re wondering...yes, my mom did end up with an overabundance of pot holders in various color schemes, thankyouverymuch.)
One particular department store that I remember with great fondness was Hills. As soon as you walked in, the wonderful aroma of popcorn and roasted hot dogs filled your nasal passages. It was like you died and went to shack bar heaven. And they had ICEEs! Cherry, blue raspberry...and sometimes if you were REALLY lucky, the cola flavored ones! I always collected the ICEE points that were on the cups, but never quite had enough to send away for the official ICEE Bear t-shirt. But getting to have this delicious frozen drink made up for that.
As a kid, my favorite section of the store was naturally the toys. And let me tell you, the Hills toy department put others to shame. It was like a mini toy store right there inside the store. Heck, even their jingle let you know "Hills Is Where The Toys Are!"
Here’s me (no, that isn’t Punky Brewster!) hanging with the Pirate Parrot at our local Hills store. If you look closely, you can see blankets and stuffed animals of Spryte, the Hills mascot, in the background. He was the one who appeared in the commercials, telling all the children and parents about the amazing toys that could be found at Hills.
Few and far between these days, toy stores were obviously another childhood favorite! Here in Pennsylvania, we had the castle-themed Children's Palace (in other parts of the US, you may have shopped at its sisters store / counterpart, Child World.)The exterior of the building had turrets, battlements, and arched windows--all the details that made it look like a true palace. And it felt like a palace when you walked inside. An entire kingdom filled with aisles and aisles of toys as far as the eye could see!
The store’s mascot was Peter Panda, an anthropomorphic panda bear sporting roller skates and blue overalls. In later years, our Children’s Palace store was transformed into a Toys R Us, but it never had quite the same vibe to it. In my opinion, Peter Panda will always be cooler than Geoffrey Giraffe.
A day of shopping often makes one work up quite an appetite, which often meant we’d stop and get something to eat before heading home.Sometimes we'd be lucky enough to get to play games and eat pizza at Showbiz Pizza Place. It was a popular spot for birthday parties, too...and even had its own animatronic band called the Rock-afire Explosion! To this day, I’ll never forget going to a friend’s party in first grade, and rockin’ out to the Explosion singing the Beatles’ “Birthday” song, all while playing about 50 rounds of Ms. Pacman.
I could go on and on with the list of stores that have come and gone: Jamesway, Caldor, Gimbels, Kay-Bee, and Circus World, just to name a few. You get the idea. It makes me sad to think that my own children will never experience these places like I did. But somehow the fond memories of going to these places as a child in the ‘80s give me that warm fuzzy feeling all over again.