Jim Kinney of The Republican posted a photo gallery of the Eastfield Mall earlier this year, which has since been followed up by a piece about the mall's future in the hands of Mountain Development, the New Jersey-based owner of the Boston Road shopping center.
As locals in the Pioneer Valley know, the Eastfield Mall was once a shopping mecca for Western Massachusetts, yet it now faces a fate similar to many malls across America.
For anyone alive in the 90s, a sense of nostalgia creeps into any conversation about "The Mall" -- once a beloved part of our earlier years. And for those who want more feels, here are some photos of the Eastfield Mall in all its glory and gust, alongside my unapologetically nostalgic meanderings. Enjoy.
This goddamn intersection. How many potholes to avoid? How many spots of cracked and bubbling pavement? How many people didn't realize that there were two left-turn lanes coming from the mall and going west onto Boston and cut me off EVERY TIME? How many of you took the shortcut through Stop & Shop to cut through onto Parker and avoid that terrible intersection by Walgreens?
I remember one time a beggar was standing on the snow bank just beyond the left-hand side of this photo. We had just gotten McDonald's and my brother was feeling generous, so he handed his fries to my mother, who then passed them out to the man. "Look, he just popped one right into his mouth!" Johnny said. That might even be us in the Jeep. Ah, them feels.
Hannoush Jewelers! If you didn't know or go to school with any of the Hannoush's, you are not from Western Mass. This Lebanese mega-family made it big in the region, and anyone who's anyone tried to AT LEAST drop a dime on their freshman girlfriend here. I remember my dad loaning me a hundred bucks so I could get my first a $150 diamond necklace for Valentine's Day. Pro tip: diamonds cost a lot more later on in life.
This photo is from another era, but them loafers are still killer! The store in background whose name we can't make out is Lechters Housewares, a chain of Kitchen Supply stores that reached its zenith in the early 90s, before losing out to competition like Bed, Bath & Beyond. Our Eastfield Mall didn't have no BB&B, but we definitely had that Bath & Body Works! Mmm.. cucumber melon.
Okay, I have a lot to say about this one. But first, a quiz: which stores are to the (Question 1) left and (Question 2) right of the Sears, according to this angle, as of publication? (quiz answers at bottom of article).
One may remember a little store adjacent to the pictured Sears that had a stint in the 90s called Born & Raised USA. They repped FUBU and Fila like a mfer. Anyway, some of you know where I'm going with this -- three of us good 'ole boys were walking into The Mall doors-left one morning, when a blur of jackets, jeans, hoodies and puffy coats came careening past us, through the exit, across the parking lot, and beyond. Fingers still crossed that those boys got away with that bold move -- our first sighting of a true snatch and grab -- ten points for effort and ten for speed, lads!
The other piece I remember is the Sears proper. They used to have a few Super Nintendo consoles inside, or maybe just one, and when Donkey Kong Country came out in 1994, my mom used to drop us off there to stand at the display console and play the game for hours. I can't remember if we had a saved game that we reloaded, or if we just started from scratch every time, but I do remember my mom, the saint, just doing laps around the Sears to kill the time and get exercise while we played our hearts out, taking turns on the single controller. I think she even got in trouble for using the escalator like a stairmaster one time. I also remember throwing a temper tantrum one day when she wouldn't bring me to play. "You have to bring me now!" I screamed at the top of my shitty lungs. She never yelled back. What a mom. <3
We used to call this the "sad side of the mall." Now, most of the mall can be described that way. Except for Hot Topic, of course. Stores came and went on this lane every season. But if you missed the craze that was Steve & Barry's then you were doing it wrong. Shoes, hoods, jeans, all under 6.99... I paid 6.99 for a 12 ounce smoothie yesterday. Just saying.
Question 3: Which of the following stores NEVER had a location on this side of the mall?
b. Radio Shack
A sign of the end, once this anchor store began to give way, this end of the mall met a dusty demise. They tried their hand with a Bounce playpen, a stuffed animal store, and different seasonal outlets, but a giant metal fence is a harbinger of doom to a retailer if I've ever seen one.
Question 4: Which retailer, pictured above, shuttered in 2011?
If you don't recognize this mall spot, then just get the hell out of here right now. It's the Food Court, of course! Once a sampling of the finest cuisines the world/Springfield had to offer, this famous foodie destination has been relegated to just a few clingers-on. An ode to you, Yum Yum Kitchen, the only place in the world I would order Chicken Chow Mein (made fresh) and where the fried rice recipe didn't change in 20 years. And to that taciturn and lovely lady who followed suit; an ageless wonder running the joint every hour open to close. Though a real piece of work! I remember seeing her give this guy 5 pieces of broccoli and 1 piece of chicken on the styrofoam plate for his chicken & broccoli order, and when he said "Hey can you put some more chicken on that?" she looked at him in the face and added ANOTHER piece of broccoli. I'm not kidding. The man walked away and she just poured the food back into the bin. I want to kiss her right now.
And an ode to the folks at Mykonos, who, in my later years, knew just what I wanted when I walked to the counter: "How are you doing, honey," she would say. "Grilled chicken over Greek salad? 10 minutes." Just enough time to grab a copy of the Pioneer Valley Advocate and watch the retired folks chat through their 2 hour lunches on Wednesday mornings. There is a poetry to this alive even now, as I write from 3000 miles away.
Are you still there, ladies of the court? Elders of the valley? And for longer still?
Question 5: Which of the following restaurants was NOT part of the food court rotation between 2000 and 2016 (you may select more than one)
b. Salsa's Mexicana
d. Donovan's Irish Pub
e. 99 Restaurant
When did they put these tables here?! Is Aeropostale still there? Let me tell you, if you didn't buy some last-minute weekend swag from Aeropostale in the Eastfield Mall then you really had a messed up childhood. And what is that, in yonder distance, the blue-green neon gleaming just so -- is it... could it be.. the RAVE CINEMAS?! Hell yeah it is. You guys remember when ChaChi sexed a girl in the back row of Cinema 12? Remember ticket passbacks? Buy 2 tickets, one guy comes out with two stubs and hands off to the third? Remember when Stewee snuck in an entire Subway footlong during our lunch break? Shiiit. I'm down to smoke a blunt and go here on Christmas, you know, for old time's sake, who's with me?
Things Remembered, some forgotten.
Question 6: Which bookstore, in extreme left of this photo, was a 90s mainstay?
A photo from another era. Men in suits walk in front of a Steiger's, circa 1967. The New England department store company featured a flagship store in downtown Springfield, before expanding to locations across the Pioneer Valley.
And my first memory of The Mall. A summer weekend, a Card Show. Sports trading cards and collectibles displayed on tables from Filene's to the Food Court. Hundreds of families walking about. The smell of pretzels, popcorn. Men gaffing over Upper Deck, signed Cal Ripken's, Celtics paraphernalia. A man in a kiosk sells Becketts. Another might be selling yo-yos, or keychains. In the hubbub, someone's dad is nudged towards the fountain. He clips his knee, slips his set-hand, goes head first into the water. He is soaked. The world spins on.
1) Currently to the left of Sears: Old Navy
2) Currently to the right of Sears: The Dollar Tree
3) c. Bebe was the store to never feature on the pictured side of the mall
4) JC Penney was the department chain to shutter in 2011
5) b. Salsa's Mexicana moved to its location at the X on Sumner in 1999; and e. 99 restaurant, while part of the Eastfield Mall, was never in the food court