Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Memories of the Queens Center Mall

While driving on Monday to vote early in an election to be held in Manatee County on June 18, I saw the old mall in Bradenton.

Old malls are sad places. The last remnants of the mall usually are the car repair places and movie theaters, and news stories mainly are about people getting mugged in the parking lot. Even shoplifters finally begin to avoid the mall, because there’s little worth stealing.

There’s a website dedicated to malls that have seen their best days and now are either gone or dying that slow death that includes empty storefronts, dimmed lights, fountains full of brackish water, sunlight shining through dusty ceiling windows on an empty food court and one or two stores hanging on.

The last indignity, as was visited on the Palm Beach Mall in West Palm Beach, Fla., is the wrecking ball. I had a special feeling about the Palm Beach Mall because I worked for the Electronics Boutique in the mall in the December 1994 holiday season, the one after I quit the post office but before I landed my real jobs in journalism.

I had a lot of first (and last) dates with women at that mall, too, but even then the Boynton Beach Mall – which was more convenient to me – and the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens (more distant, but gigantic) drew my attention more.

As a child in New York City, it was a treat to get taken by my parents to the Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island or the one in Brooklyn, whose name escapes me. All the stores, the lights, the things to do and see really entranced me, and I wondered if I’d ever see a mall that I could go to on my own.

In the early 1970s, the Queens Center Mall opened. According to the Wikipedia entry, the mall opened on Sept. 12, 1973, and my parents took me there soon after. As a teenager going to high school, I’d take the bus to Queens Boulevard and Woodhaven Boulevard and then wait on the opposite side – by a subway entrance — to catch the bus to the Newtown High School Annex.

The mall was new then, and it was an adventure for me. On Friday and Saturday nights, me and my friends would assemble at someone’s house, then walk down Eliot Avenue to Woodhaven Boulevard, go under the train trestle, turn left and walk past the music store (Mr. Al-dini was, I believe the owner, and he was considered a pretty cheap guy), past the bus stops, then across Queens Boulevard to the mall.

You could enter through the Ohrbach’s store on the corner, but everyone I knew walked down the block to the mall’s main entrance on Queens Boulevard. Walking into the mall, you were on  the second level and could arc around to the right or left to get to the up or down escalators.

In the outer rim were the stores and on levels one to three you had Ohrbach’s on one side and Abraham & Strauss on the other. Taking the down escalator got you to the first level (below-ground) stores as well as a large place to sit and read, hang around or watch people.

My favorite store on the lower level was Brentano’s, the book store that also sold games and other goodies. I remember a store called Chess King, which was a men’s clothing store.

On weekend nights, me and my friends would follow the pattern of entering the mall, going down to the first level, walking around down there, going to the second level, walking around there, then taking the escalator to the third level, which was where the record store was. After that, we’d return to the second level and hit the Dunkin’ Donuts for soda and a few ‘nuts, then decide where else we would go.

It was a great time to be a teenager (the mid-1970s, though we didn’t know it then) and a great place, too, to be that age. None of us had cars, so we had to find our entertainment in walking distance. With the pent-up energy of caged beings during the week, we’d walk anywhere and everywhere. It was like that part of Queens was our turf. I miss those good times.

Probably the time when I missed most the weekend ritual that my friends and I had developed was when I left for Parris Island and Marine Corps basic training. The hardest nights in military basic training have to be the Friday and Saturday nights – and especially the first ones – when you have little to do but consider that your friends are doing the rounds without you. Maybe they’ve forgotten that you exist.

Aug. 3, 1978, the day I left for Parris Island, was a Thursday. It seemed like weekends didn’t exist at Parris Island, and I remember lying in the rack and thinking that my friends were just at that moment finishing up their donuts and Cokes, and heading out, perhaps to check out more albums at the record store in the mall or crossing Woodhaven Boulevard to see the selection at Sam Goody’s, another outpost of a large record store chain.

And I was at Parris Island.

I’ll write up more memories of the Queens Center Mall soon. Meanwhile if anyone has photos of the mall from the mid-1970s, let me know.


June 12, 2013 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Hello, I vaguely remember as a kid going to the Queens Center Mall. I would meet my aunt and grandmother there. We would sit in the lower level by a water feature. Am I imaging it? It was square and had benches.

    Comment by Joy-Ellen Klatt | January 19, 2016 | Reply

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