80s Baby Field Trip: Suncoast and the Montclair Mall

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If you’ve visited 80s Baby in the past, you know that I have an enduring love for shopping malls. I wrote about all of the mall stores in Season 3 of Stranger Things, and I covered my favorite childhood stores for another website. In the latter article I talked a lot about my history with Suncoast Motion Picture Company, my favorite store of all time. According to mallseeker.com there are seven remaining Suncoast stores, and one of them happens to be at the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, New Jersey (New Jersey’s 12th best mall according to nj.com). I decided that I needed to make a pilgrimage to Eatontown to visit Suncoast, so last Saturday I headed to Penn Station and took a NJ Transit Train to Red Bank, where I got a bus to the mall. I’m going to walk you through my trip in just a moment, but first here’s a little New Jersey Mall music to put you in the mood.

Okay we are back, and we are at the Monmouth Mall. I decided that finding Suncoast in the directory was too direct of an approach. I wanted to experience the mall organically so I started to wander. If it were 1996 and I was a 16 year old I would have been cruising the mall, trying to see who was around that I might run into. Instead it’s 2019, and at 1pm on a Saturday there weren’t a whole lot of people to run into, so instead I was mostly wandering aimlessly. It was more Dawn of the Dead than Clueless. I may not have run into some of my Ohio high school buddies in this suburban New Jersey mall, but I did encounter some old friends along the way:

I was tempted to pop into Spencer’s and Hot Topic, but I was there for a reason, and that reason didn’t involve Rick and Morty t-shirts or whoever is still a relevant emo band in 2019. I soldiered on, giving the same respectful glances to Pac Sun and Journeys, but still moving, like a shark, a shark on the prowl for Suncoast that wasn’t going to die from inertia in Journeys.

I reached a t-formation; to the left stood Ruby Tuesday and Barnes and Noble, to the right, American Eagle, the food court, the AMC, and who knows, maybe the very Suncoast I was seeking?

My weekends in college were filled with trips to the Pentagon City Mall in Virginia, where I would treat myself to lunches at my favorite chain restaurant, Ruby Tuesday, after spending time in Borders Books and Music. But Borders is gone and Ruby Tuesday big timed me by refusing to grant my one birthday wish five years ago that they follow me on Twitter, so taking that left would only lead to the pain of replacement bookstores and scornful ex-chain restaurant lovers. Nothing good could come from that path; to the right it was. Along that alternate path I didn’t locate Suncoast, but I did run into a seriously impressive food court.

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It seems obvious that this portion of the mall must have been renovated fairly recently, because the food court looked clean and modern. The food court also featured the perfect combination of a couple of fast food places people had actually heard of, supplemented by locations essentially selling the concept of a type of cuisine. Asian food. Cajun food. Something involving dough (pizza, it turns out). In addition to that Chick-fil-a there was a Burger King, which will factor into our story later. Monmouth Mall also has a Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings, Coldstone, Dunkin’, and Shake Shack scattered throughout, so much like everywhere you go in New Jersey they have all of your fast food and fast casual needs covered. For all of the crap New Jersey catches for being the armpit state, for fast food enthusiasts New Jersey is nirvana. The variety and volume of chains brings an extra salty tear to my eye.

Still no Suncoast luck, so I decided to double back towards Spencer’s and Hot Topic and this time take the escalator to the upper level. That’s where I immediately spotted it.

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I wasn’t sure what a 2019 iteration of Suncoast would be, exactly, but I had read online that this location trafficked heavily in used DVDs. The sign to the left of the entrance confirms this. I was very happy to see that the signage is perfect. None of the letters are out, and everything looks exactly as it should. The inside looked good too. One thing I always loved about Suncoast is that it was dark inside. I hate overly bright stores and appreciated Suncoast’s recessed lighting.

The interior look of the store is true to the 90s version of Suncoast. The color scheme is consistent: gray carpets, lots of black and red, just as it should be.

I’m not sure what I was expecting but the stock in Suncoast makes perfect sense. It has always been primarily a video and TV and movie memorabilia store. It’s still that, although the focus has shifted and the DVDs have taken a back seat to Stranger Things stuff, movie and TV toys, and especially Funkos. Oh boy are there Funkos. There’s an entire back wall of Funkos, but don’t let that distract you from the Funko cereal boxes lining the wall, or the Funkos that are interspersed with the DVDs. There are a lot of Funkos.

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Pictured: Funkos

The DVD section is actually pretty great if you’re the type who still enjoys purchasing physical media, and if you’re reading this website you probably are still that person to some degree. The selection is more extensive than your typical Best Buy and most of the used copies appeared to be under $10. They also run a deal where if you buy two used DVDs you can get a third for a dollar, plus their TV series DVD collection section is massive, so overall it’s a good spot to seek out DVDs.

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If you think about it there’s no real reason that Suncoast shouldn’t still exist, but also it’s a questions of whether it’s needed. It’s essentially the same store as Spencer’s or Hot Topic, with the addition of DVDs being the way it stands out. The problem is that Hot Topic and Spencer’s were names that stuck more with 90s and early 2000s teens, I think. Suncoast didn’t bond to millennials in the same way, which is why people still return to Hot Topic to buy toys and t-shirts, whereas they don’t necessarily think to get these same things at Suncoast. The one thing that does make Suncoast stand out is the better than average selection of DVDs, and I think there’s value in that. As long as there’s still a little demand for them it’ll draw in the type of people who would also be interested in a Pennywise Doll, or a Batman t-shirt, or a billion Funko Pops. I didn’t buy anything, by the way. I looked for the DVD for this movie called Bunraku, but they didn’t have it. I’m not surprised that they didn’t but it also feels like the sort of thing you could at one point find at Suncoast, especially when they had an insane martial arts collection.

A few other things to mention before I go. My friend Matt drove up from DC to hang out, so he stopped at the mall and picked me up before we headed to Brooklyn. While waiting for him I tried the Impossible Whopper at the food court Burger King. BK is the worst but the sandwich is pretty solid. Also I really enjoyed the older style Burger King signage.

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The only other thing I wanted to discuss was the relative health of the Monmouth Mall. One thing that I was heartened to see was that there were very few closed stores. Everything was well lit, everything looked clean, and the mall maintains several prestige anchor stores. It appears to be in good shape, even though there were not a lot of people there for a Saturday afternoon. Another thing I noticed is that this mall had several relaxation areas for people who want to take a rest or hang out while their relatives or friends shop. I didn’t see a single person in any of those relaxation spots, not even this rock and roll one that demanded my attention:

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That’s right, the WRAT Rest Stop. Where you can kick back and soak up the rock and roll while watching ESPN on that television to the left. Where there’s no beer but we’re reminding you of the concept of beer with these signs on the wall.

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Where we’ll never forget Disturbed and Breaking Benjamin in 2016 or Kid Rock bringing the house down at Ratfest ’08.

Rock and roll will never die, and neither will the Monmouth Mall.

Do you still have a local mall you go to? What are your favorite spots there? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

If you don’t want to go to Suncoast to pick up your Funkos and would prefer to browse them on Amazon, maybe check out the link below so they kick a few bucks back to 80s Baby. 

 

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4 comments

  1. Seems like Suncoast is owned by FYE as the Buy-2, Get 1 Free signs are the same. I have a lot of fond memories of the Suncoast in the Emerald Square Mall in Mass while I was in high school. They carried a lot of martial arts movies you could not find anywhere else at the time, they had a selection of “authentic movie theater posters” which I used to decorate my room, and I picked up the $100 (in 1992!) VHS Collectors Edition of Star Wars which was the first time I could own the films in letterbox format. It was also the first mall store to carry a new format called DVD, on an end cap with a stunning eight titles to choose from! I picked up (I think) Legends of the Fall, Rock N Roll High School and Jerry Mcguire the day they came out at around $30 a pop. The only other store in the mall that stocked DVD players was Lechmere and they had not gotten any actual DVD movies in yet.

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