Stranger Things 3- Starcourt Mall Stores, Reviewed

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(I’ve been informed that Time-Out was a real arcade chain. Apologies for the error. I am a gigantic fraud -John)

One of the things I miss most about my childhood was the huge role that local malls played in it. I’ve written about my love for mall store in the past, and I regularly check in on the progress of my slowly dying local childhood mall, Midway Mall, on YouTube. Since I love pretty much all things 1980s and 1990s, I’ve been keeping up with Stranger Things since it debuted, and one of my favorite things about the current season has been the central setting, the Starcourt Mall. Had this season eschewed the monsters entirely and just focused on the mall I can’t say I would have been too disappointed, which is why I’m not any TV show’s target demographic.

I will take any chance I get to talk about mall stores, so today I decided to review the stores in the Starcourt Mall. I’m going to split this up into actual and fictional stores.

Actual Stores

JC Penney

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Did My Mall Have One? Of course it did.

How Great Was This Store? Ask me as a teenager and you would have gotten a very different answer. JC Penney was where we went for most of our clothes shopping. It was cheaper than Kauffman’s and Dillards, and despite our family connections to Sears (grandma worked there) we didn’t go there often for clothes. I looked down on JC Penney even though it provided everything I needed, and it wasn’t like they didn’t have name brands. It was where I got my No Fear t-shirts and Levi’s with incredibly unflattering wide leg cuts. JC Penney was great, I just didn’t realize it.

Hot Sam

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Did My Mall Have One? Yeah baby.

How Great Was This Store? So great! Hot Sam was my introduction to soft pretzels, in my opinion one of only five perfect foods in the universe. The list of perfect foods is as follows:

  1. Cheeseburgers
  2. Curly fries
  3. Soft pretzels
  4. Dill pickles
  5. Green olives

And one bonus sauce: Arby’s Onion Petal Sauce.

Until watching season three of Stranger Things I had forgotten about Hot Sam entirely, and I just learned from the Internet that they went out of business in 2005. It’s a shame, because Auntie Anne’s and Wetzel’s cannot hold a pretzel to this mascot.

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Taco Bell (Coming Soon!)

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This was the location of the Taco Bell. Photo by Nicholas Eckhart on Flickr.

Did My Mall Have One? Yep, and it eventually came!

How Great Was This Store? Look, I have to admit something here. Obviously Taco Bell is great. Everybody knows that it’s great. The thing is, for whatever reason I didn’t try Taco Bell until my senior year in high school. I was a Taco Bell virgin almost as long as I was a regular virgin (sorry to my family members that read this website). Once I tried it I loved it, of course, and it was a go to at the mall for me for the remainder of high school and on visits home during college. The only drawback was the lines, which you’re gonna get because again, Taco Bell is great.

Hot Dog on a Stick

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Did My Mall Have One? No, and neither would Hawkins, Indiana. Hot Dog on a Stick Was a West Coast thing.

How Great Was This Store? Sweet uniforms. In the 1990s we had an A&W at the mall that sold corn dogs, and I remember an earlier similar store but I can’t stick the name, pun not intended but enjoyed nonetheless. I have always loved hot dogs but was wary of corn dogs. I ate them occasionally but didn’t particularly enjoy them. Now I never eat them but think they’re great. In summation, Hot Dog on a Stick is the world’s greatest restaurant. Or I’m sure it was fine.

Claire’s

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Did My Mall Have One? *sigh* Yes.

How Great Was This Store? “Mom, can we leave yet?” I have two sisters. We spent a lot of time at Claire’s. I hated every second of it.

Incidentally, I got my ear pierced my Freshman year of college and I’m pretty sure I did it at Claire’s. It got infected immediately and I let it close up.

The Gap

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Did My Mall Have One? Yes

How Great Was This Store? The Gap didn’t matter to me at all until I was in my mid-teens. This was also around the time they started doing a re-branding, with their swing dance commercials. I liked their jeans, but didn’t shop there much because of the prices. For me, The Gap was great to the extent I utilized it.

The Ground Round

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Did My Mall Have One? Unclear. We definitely had stand-alone Ground Rounds. I think that there was a Ground Round in the mall when I was very young but I don’t remember it. If so, we never went.

How Great Was This Store? As a concept, I’m super on-board with The Ground Round. It’s everything I pretended I was too cool for as a teenager and unironically love today. I wasn’t aware that it’s essentially a dead franchise, with only 19 locations left. At the very least, the idea of The Ground Round was great.

Sam Goody

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Did My Mall Have One? What is this, the Spanish Inquisition? Ok fine. Yes.

How Great Was This Store? Loved it! Wasn’t my first choice music store (that would be Camelot) but Sam Goody was a very solid alternative. I usually went here when I couldn’t locate something at Camelot. I loved the look of the store and the prices were on par with the other music stores, which is to say insanely expensive. As much as I dislike Best Buy, when they opened at the mall and started selling CDs for $6 less than anywhere else, I, like most other broke teenagers, headed there. What I’m saying is, I am the reason that Midway Mall is dying. I kill the things I love.

Burger King

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Did My Mall Have One? You know, I don’t think we did.

How Great Was This Store? I’m glad I phrased this as was, because I can’t think of a reason that I would go to Burger King today. We did fairly frequently when I was a child, and I like the cheeseburgers a lot. I was also a fan of the fries before they ruined them and made it so I had no reason to go anymore. Burger King was also the first fast food place I ever went to where you could pour your own fountain pop, which also made it the first place I ever tried a Suicide (all the pops mixed together). I don’t know where the term came from, but I’ve since found out from friends it exists in pockets all over the country.

Orange Julius

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Did My Mall Have One? Midway didn’t. Great Northern Mall in North Olmsted, Ohio, did.

How Great Was This Store? I’ve never been. Based on what I know I think I would have loved it. Orange anything is great. Orange “+” can only be better. That’s right, my stance is that anything added to orange will make it better. This is why I will die in 2021 from drinking orange juice and arsenic because I was unwilling to walk back this statement.

Radio Shack

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Did My Mall Have One? Did yours, Ms. Nosy? Yes, we had a Radio Shack.

How Great Was This Store? Radio Shack was decidedly okay. Radio Shack was always geared towards serious hobbyists, a group that definitely did not include any of my immediate family members. For our purposes, the things we would be getting at Radio Shack we could get elsewhere cheaper. The only time we ever went there was if we struck out finding what we needed everywhere else.

Waldenbooks

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Did My Mall Have One? You bet your ass we did!!!!!

How Great Was This Store? Unmatched. I loved loved loved Waldenbooks. Outside of Suncoast Video it was my favorite store in the mall. I went into this in the mall article I linked to at the beginning of this piece, but my family spent a lot of time in Waldenbooks. We were part of the loyalty program and I’d say on at least half of our mall trips we went home with books.

Chess King

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Did My Mall Have One? We did. I don’t remember it as well as Merry Go Round, but we definitely had one.

How Great Was This Store? Chess King closed right around the time I became old enough to want to shop there. It was acquired by Merry Go Round, which served the same purpose, so I’ll base my assessment on my experiences there. It was great, but with the caveat that I was turning into an asshole teenager obsessed with status and the types of things I went to Merry Go Round to buy were making me a worse person. At the time great, in retrospect only if you aspire to be an arrogant, brand obsessed jerk.

Jazzercise

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Did My Mall Have One? I’m not entirely sure that these were actual stores? Google image search indicates that they were, so I guess I buy that.

How Great Was This Store? Childhood was essentially the last time I both did and enjoyed exercise, so exercise as a concept was pretty great. This store definitely would have fallen into the category of “no toys, no tapes (or CDs) for sale, don’t care” for me.

Regis Hairstylists

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Did My Mall Have One? I was also not aware this was a real store until I found it by Googling.

How Great Was This Store? If you needed your hair styled and the person doing it was good at his or her job I bet it was pretty great. I did get my fair share of mall haircuts for a portion of my life, but weirdly not as a child. I partook of the Hair Cuttery during and post college for a bit.

JC Penney Home

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Did My Mall Have One? I did not know that this was a thing.

How Great Was This Store? It’s basically just the bedding section of JC Penney in its own store? Great, I suppose, because it’s easier to find what you’re looking for, but I don’t see the need to separate it from the main store.

Esprit

Esprit Fashion Store

Did My Mall Have One? I’m not sure. I remember that a couple of the department stores carried the brand, but I cannot recall if Midway had a dedicated store. I’m leaning towards no. Also based on the Internet this seems to be more of an overseas thing. Maybe the inclusion in the Starcourt Mall was the Russian influence.

How Great Was This Store? I would have hated it. The fact that the brand seems to still enjoy a solid presence worldwide suggests that it was great for its target audience, though.

Wicks ‘N’ Sticks

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Did My Mall Have One? Nope

How Great Was This Store? Unclear. I am assuming that Wicks ‘N’ Sticks was akin to a Yankee Candle. I know that some kids (and basically all of my nieces and nephews) love picking up and carrying around candles, but I never had this obsession. If I had been brought here as a child I would have been bored to tears. Now, I’d enjoy the scent and be bored to tears.

The Great Cookie

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Did My Mall Have One? No. We had the Original Cookie Company, which is basically the same thing.

How Great Was This Store? Cookies are pretty great, so probably pretty great. Plus it’s in the name, so if it wasn’t that’s false advertising, and probably illegal I assume. My trips to the Original Cookie Company were infrequent. I remember that they used to give away free cookies for various reasons, which was the only reason we ever stopped there. If The Great Cookie also gave away free cookies it probably ruled.

Zales

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Did My Mall Have One? We did indeed.

How Great Was This Store? Not great, for two different reasons. Early on, this was a store that we’d get dragged to while mom looked at jewelry, which doesn’t fall into the aforementioned toys/music signifiers of a great store. When I was a teenager I had the same experience that Mike has in the show. When I became interested in girls I would check out Zales for potential gifts, but it turns out when you’re making money umpiring or working at your aunt’s pizza place you aren’t exactly in the Zales income bracket.

Fictional Stores

Scoops Ahoy

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Did My Mall Have One? No. It isn’t real.

How Great Was This Store? Given the lack of attention that Steve and Robin paid to actually serving customers, if you were in the mood for a sundae and caught them in the middle of an investigation you were going to be left waiting awhile. Also, they were the only two employees? That seems like not enough coverage.

Tepanyaki

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Did My Mall Have One? No. It isn’t real.

How Great Was This Store? They misspelled Teppanyaki. Probably not great. I am going to give the designers credit and assume it was misspelled intentionally, because I am guessing that the intention was to evoke the early attempts to cash in on interest in Japanese food by placing an Americanized version in a fast food setting, and misspelling Teppanyaki is something that the franchise would do.

New York Pizza

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Did My Mall Have One? No. It isn’t real.

How Great Was This Store? You’re asking me how great New York Pizza is? Madonne, have you got a mouth on you. Stugots!

Anyway, clearly this is supposed to be like a Sbarro, and as we all know, Sbarro is everybody’s favorite New York pizza place, so pretty great.

Kaufman Shoes

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Did My Mall Have One? No. It isn’t real.

How Great Was This Store? It seemed to have a solid shoe selection. Everything was well organized. Both of these are important factors. Also when I was watching the show I conflated it with the department store Kauffman’s and convinced myself that I had been to this shoe store as a child.

Flash Studio

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Did My Mall Have One? No. It isn’t real.

How Great Was This Store? This is basically a Glamour Shots. It’s sort of incredible that my sisters and I were born in 1978, 1980, and 1982, and we never did Glamour Shots. We had to make due with laser backgrounds in school pictures. I would characterize this store as a great encapsulation of the time period, and also it’s pretty fun to dress up in costumes, so that’s cool.

Hawkins’ Heroes

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Did My Mall Have One? No. It isn’t real.

How Great Was This Store? This looks like Subway. It’s not great, and all of you need to stop going there.

Imperial Panda Chinese

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Did My Mall Have One? No. It isn’t real.

How Great Was This Store? So this is Panda Express, right? I was never much of a Panda Express person because I avoided rice until a couple of years ago. It’s a solid addition to the Starcourt Food Court, I’d say.

Shapes

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Did My Mall Have One? No. It isn’t real.

How Great Was This Store? I have no idea what this store sold. I think it’s just a general clothing store? The camera never gets closer than it did in the above picture. I think it’s important to have more clothing stores in case the lines at Chess King and The Gap are too long, so I suppose it’s pretty great.

Unnamed Lingerie Store

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Did My Mall Have One? No, the lingerie stores in my mall had names.

How Great Was This Store? Until a few minutes ago I thought that this store was Shapes. It’s not. In any event, bras are very important for back support, so yes, this store was great, and I would have hated every minute I spent in it as a child.

Camera Repair

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Did My Mall Have One? No. It isn’t real.

How Great Was This Store? This is the very first store you see when the guys are entering the mall in episode one. It might have a more official name but Camera Repair is all of the sign that you see and I couldn’t check it against the Stranger Things Wiki because they didn’t even list it. Based on the information we are provided, I’d say that if you need to get your camera repaired, this is a great place to go! If we later find out at some point that there was another, better camera repair place in the mall, or maybe the owner of this place is a racist, then I rescind my assessment of great. There are a lot of variables in play, obviously.

Time-Out Arcade

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Did My Mall Have One? Yes, my mall had an arcade. We did not have this one because I’m pretty sure it isn’t real.

How Great Was This Store? Arcades are fun, unless you have a mom who thinks you’ll be exposed to bad kids there so you don’t really get to go to them. She was probably right, to be honest, but right doesn’t get me any closer to playing X-Men: The Arcade Game.

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Starcourt Cinema

Did My Mall Have One? No. It isn’t real.

How Great Was This Store? None of my local malls had theaters actually attached to the mall. I didn’t experience that until college in DC, where Pentagon City’s theater was off of the food court. I think it’s great, and mall trips would have been even better if you could transition straight from walking around in the mall to a movie. Good job, evil Russian dudes.

As far as I can gather, that’s all the real and fictional stores that you see in Starcourt Mall. Hope you enjoyed this.

What were your favorite mall stores? What’s your favorite reference to 80s culture in Stranger Things? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter

 

 

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13 comments

  1. Hot Dog on a Stick absolutely existed in Oklahoma City in the 80s; it was my favourite food court restaurant. Definitely not just a West Coast thing

    Like

  2. The Forest Fair mall near Cincinnati, Ohio had a Hot Dog On A Stick, but I’m not sure if it was there in the eighties. I think my first time in there was 1991.

    Great article, as always.

    Like

  3. The Shapes store is probably based on Units or Multiples, two similar stores from the 80s. Here is an article about them.

    Like

  4. ‘Time Out’ arcades were an actual thing, at least here on the East Coast. I live in Upstate NY and our mall had one, well into the 90’s.

    Like

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