November 28, 2007

The Mall of Rhode Island

Anyone who's ever lived in The Ocean State for at least fifteen years is probably very familiar with the Rhode Island Mall. Or at least, its heyday. One of the smallest state's biggest landmarks is now an empty shell of its former glory. At one time, it was bookended by Sears and Filene's. Now it's bookended by Sears and a blank wall.

When I was a tyke, I always used to go there practically every Saturday with my mother. I liked this mall because it was right next to a Toys 'R Us. But there were many great places within to explore as well. Here's a run down of some of the stores that made up the mall at various times of its existence. These are only the ones I remember, and is far from a complete listing.

Stores that are closed

Tape World- just your standard seller of CDs, games and VHS tapes.
Walden Books- I bought the second Jurassic Park novel, The Lost World, there. Also some compilations of the Calvin and Hobbes comic.
Greenhouse Cafe- Food court comprised of Dunkin Donuts, sbarro, Kobe, and some others I can't remember. Early morning shoppers would usually wait here for the other stores to open.
A pet store- Don't recall the name. I purchased my first pet, a small gray mouse, there. Probably even some tropical fish. No trip to this mall was complete without a visit here.
Some kitchen accessories store- Don't remember a name for it, but I think you can figure out what they sold based on my vague description.
Camping store- Unknown name, but can you guess what they offered?
Newport Creamery- A few years ago, this New England staple of restaurants started closing locations everywhere, and this was one of the victims. Too bad, because no Saturday morning trip to the mall was complete without having their Belgian waffles for breakfast.
Filene's- This was eventually shut down after the nearby Warwick Mall expanded their own Filene's.
Foot Locker- Sold athletic footwear.
Athlete's Foot- Sold athletic footwear, and right next to Foot Locker. But I wouldn't want to buy anything there with a name like that.
Aladdin's Castle- Arcade. I think I still have tokens from there.
Saturday Matinee- Bought many Godzilla movies from here. When this store disappeared, the lot was used to showcase a huge selection of comic books. I was lucky to find a rare one I needed there.
Hallmark- Has a way.
Spencer's Gifts- One of the coolest gift stores ever.
Auntie Ann's
- Freshly rolled pretzels of many varieties, I would get a small discount for being a AAA member. Please note the extra "A", for I am not a recovering alcoholic.
Fredrick's of Hollywood- Victoria's Secret's sluttier cousin, and I don't mean that in a bad way. I used to sit on a bench near this store during break and watch the men that passed by it for their reactions. Would they avert their faces? Shift only their eyes towards it? Turn their heads for a second to give a quick look? Or just flat out gawk at it?
Kid watching service- There was a place where parents could drop off their children so they could be free to shop in peace. It was full of colorful furniture and TVs playing mindless kid drivel.
Kay Bee Toys- Where a kid could be a kid.
Claire's- Girl stuff.
Western Union- The fastest way to send money worldwide.

Stores still open as of this writing

Sears- Where I worked for four and a half years. I have many a tale to tell about this place, so stay tuned.
Gamestop, formerly Electronics Boutique- I purchased numerous games there throughout the years, and still do.
Tazi's Gifts- This guy sells really gaudy items, some that you can even have personalized/engraved for that special someone you don't like very much. A few people go in to browse, but no one comes out with anything. Everyone at Sears knew Mr. Tazi himself, as he was always stopping in to check out the clearance priced items and still try to bargain for a lower price. And as the guy who was responsible for marking down everything in Electronics/Home Appliances, it pissed me off. I guess I can't blame the guy. He probably makes nothing from his store.
Bellow's Leather- Open only seasonally. When I first entered my Dark Spirit phase, I went here to try on some leather pants to see if they would suit my new attitude. I determined they were not my style. But the very persuasive store owner did convince me to buy a leather vest.
Mr. B's Coffee Cafe- A small coffee/latte/cappuccino/frappuccino/snack bar. I would stop by here pretty much every afternoon for an ice coffee during my half-hour break. I was such a regular that I didn't have to state my order anymore, as soon as Diane saw me, she grabbed a cup and went to work.
Department of Motor Vehicles- The happiest place on Earth.
The Toy Vault
- I found many great treasures here, and still stop in to buy new comic books. They sell toys that you probably played with as a kid. Now you can buy them again at about five times the price just to keep it in the package with false hopes that it'll be worth big bucks some day.
Silver Dragon- Sells really neat jewelry, statues, and medieval weapons that nobody ever buys. I purchased a ring that has a coffin on it that opens to reveal A CORPSE. Funny thing is, it doesn't fit me, so I have to find a silversmith to make it fit. And I bought it YEARS ago.
Caren Charles- a woman's clothing store that has the misfortune of being at the far end of the mall. Does anyone even know it's there?
U.S.S. Saratoga Museum- Everything you wanted to know about a battleship named after a county in New York.
First Place Sports- Sells some sporting equipment, but mostly shoes, hats, and jerseys.
The Dollar Tree- Supplied Sears employees with snacks that they ate behind the checkout counter.

Why is the Rhode Island Mall still standing? It was actually purchased by Stop & Shop in an effort to prevent the bordering Wal-Mart from converting into a Super Wal-Mart. There was a brief rumor that another arcade was going to open close to Mr. B's, but that never materialized. But the wide open spaces are still used occasionally. The Easter Bunny and Santa Claus still stop by every year. The boy scouts have some annual event where they race tiny homemade cars. One year, there was some kind of talent show with participants singing and/or dancing. (No Paul, I don't think that babe dancing on stage in that slinky red dress was eyeing me as we walked by.) And then there was a fashion show which I declared to anyone that would listen that I would try to model in. Didn't make it. The mall's fountain is still there, but the water spouts very low nowadays. The escalators are always breaking down. The floor tiles are always popping up so they have to be replaced. Powerwalkers stop in every day to walk off their weight and avoid the horrible, horrible outdoors. Hmmm... the few years I worked there, they've always been around with no visible difference in their shapes.

When asked why existing stores don't pack up and go to another location, the owners reply that the rent at the Rhode Island Mall is cheaper. And every holiday season, Sears would rent out some of the empty lots and use them to store excess merchandise and store supplies. I remember helping set up one vacated lot with a TV, speakers, tables, and chairs to be used as a meeting room for the visiting suits and ties of Sears Holdings.

I always believed that new life could be breathed into the RI Mall before half of it was torn down to make way for Wal-Mart and Kohl's, but it would have required a ton of money that I don't think anyone would have been willing to invest. It's already in a great location and a couple of minutes from the Warwick Mall, which already gets fantastic crowds. If they offered a selection of stores that the other didn't have, revamped the look of the mall's interior, and launched a massive advertising campaign, they might have bounced back. And Sears still does a fair enough business for a store that everyone who has worked there recently knows is on its last legs, so that would be a decent amount of customers to venture out into the mall again. They in turn could spread the word. But that's all in the past now. The lighting is dark, its look is dated, and all the empty lots give it a somber mood. All the remaining businesses will probably disappear before any new one would open. Even if completely emptied, the mall will remain just to ensure that Sam Walton's evil empire doesn't expand to drive every other store in Warwick into the gutter. Sure, it's nice that the mall will stand as a piece of history, but it'll be a pathetic and useless hall of abandoned retail caves.

If there's one thing you can still give the mall credit for, it's that it's very clean and secure. There's usually at least one member of mall security that makes rounds in what must be the most mind-numbingly boring beat in the city. The best they do is keep idiot children from trying to run the opposite way on the escalators... when they're operational, of course. Then there is the maintenance staff. At least two of them patrol the mall at any given time to sweep up the one or two pieces of dropped trash a day, mop the floor that no one has walked upon in weeks, and wipe down tables immediately after someone has finished eating at it. Of course, the maintenance crew was noticeably absent during that time when all the illegal immigrants went on a nationwide strike...

For more info on the history of the Rhode Island Mall, check out deadmalls.com and do a search on "Rhode Island".
And I'll be damned, it has its own WIKIPEDIA PAGE!

And that's just the way it is.
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