Tuesday, August 04, 2009

What Carolina Circle Mall Has Done for Me

33 years

33 years ago today, Carolina Circle Mall opened in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Yesterday, I sat down at my computer and I reflected on the 19 years I’ve spent with Carolina Circle Mall. I then typed my thoughts up into an 8 page Word document that I would like to share with you.

If you would like, head over to the Carolina Circle Mall Fan Club on Facebook and post what Carolina Circle Mall has done for you.

Here it is.

Throughout my 19 year life, people and businesses have come and gone. But the one business that has remained as a major part of my life, even though the building no longer exists, is Carolina Circle Mall.

Unlike most of the people, whose fondest memories of the mall are of the Ice Rink Era in the 1970s and 1980s, my fondest memories of the mall happen to come from the Carousel Era in the 1990s. This is due to the fact that I was born in 1989; one year after the Ice Rink closed and was replaced with the magnificent Carousel. But as I always say, memories are in the eyes of the beholder.

My first trip to Carolina Circle Mall was in 1990 when I was only a baby; less than a year old in fact. My father took me for a ride on the Carousel by carefully holding me down on a horse. That moment as an infant had a profound effect on my life, obviously.

As I got older, I began to enjoy other aspects of the mall. I think my fondest memories of Carolina Circle Mall took place from about 1992 to about 1996. My favorite stores at the mall were Camelot Music, Everything’s a Dollar, Eckerd Drug, Radio Shack, and most of all, Montgomery Ward.

wards There were two aspects of Montgomery Ward that I liked. First of all, Montgomery Ward was a lot like Sears in that they had a little bit of everything, including electronics, furniture, lawn and garden equipment, and clothing. The other feature of Montgomery Ward I enjoyed was the actual feel of the store. Montgomery Ward had this certain comfortable atmosphere. I’ll never forget the smell of hairspray and the heat that would hit me as I walked past the store’s beauty parlor.

One of my fondest memories of Montgomery Ward occurred in I believe 1995. I was fishing through a bargain bin upstairs and I came across a VHS tape from circa 1988 with a recording of the old classic “Pee-wee’s Playhouse”. My parents bought it for me and I immediately became a fan of Pee-wee Herman.

Camelot Music Camelot Music was probably my second favorite Carolina Circle store. Not only did they sale music, they also sold videotapes. In October of 1994, I vividly remember getting a VHS tape featuring Halloween episodes of various Nickelodeon cartoons, including Rocko’s Modern Life, Doug, and my personal all time favorite, Rugrats. I also purchased many audio cassettes there (keep in mind I didn’t start listening to CDs until 1997). Audio cassettes I recall getting there were various Peter, Paul & Mary albums, two Mamas & the Papas albums, and believe it or not, a Jerry Reed tape (When You’re Hot You’re Hot!)

Everything’s a Dollar was another favorite of mine. Every time I’d go there with my grandmother, she would give me $1.06 (North Carolina Sales Tax was cheaper back then), and I would go in there and buy either a cheap toy or candy.

Carolina Circle 6 Cinema 5 There was also the Circle Six Theatres, which in 1992, was where I saw my first movie at a theater, Home Alone 2. It was such a nice theater. In fact, in-mall movie theaters are getting to be hard to find nowadays. Other movies I recall seeing there were The Flintstones Move (that silly live-action version of The Flintstones) and The Lion King, both in 1994.

Food Court 1 The restaurants at the mall were excellent as well. There was this little-known restaurant at the food court called “Circle Cafe & Deli” where I would always eat a grilled cheese for lunch at. Sometime in late 1994 or early 1995, Circle Cafe & Deli closed and was reopened as “Subs & Spuds”, a sandwich shop. I remember the first time I went there, I ordered a sub. Let’s just say it was ironically Carolina Circle Mall’s fault that I hate mayonnaise. Fortunately, I soon discovered they had hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches that tasted the same as Circle Cafe & Deli.

Another restaurant I went to quite often was Piccadilly Cafeteria. I’ll never forget the design of that restaurant. It had a certain gothic charm to it, including dark lighting, a fancy logo, and brick walls all over the place.

Carousel 1993 As I said earlier, the part of Carolina Circle Mall that I enjoyed the most as a kid was the Carousel. The Carousel was the largest in-mall Carousel I have ever seen in my life. Other mall Carousels are tiny in comparison. By the time I was 4 years old, I discovered that the best place to sit on the Carousel was one of those spinning coasters. One time, my dad got blasted out by the Carousel operator for spinning the coaster too hard!

Speaking of the Carousel operator, I vividly remember what she looked like. She was kind of short, had long brown hair, wore glasses, and also wore a striped v-neck shirt. Don’t ask how I actually remember that.

Day After Thanksgiving November 26, 1993 2 One interesting memory I have of the mall itself happened on November 26, 1993. It was the day after Thanksgiving and the mall’s Santa Claus jumped out of a helicopter and parachuted into the mall’s parking lot. I wasn’t actually at the mall when it happened, but I vividly remember watching a video of it on the WFMY News 2 6:00 News that evening at home. When I saw it, I actually thought it was Santa’s sleigh flying over the mall! This was actually repeated in January of 1994 when several Elvis impersonators parachuted into the mall.

Another fun little memory of Carolina Circle Mall occurred in early 1994. My parents had bought a patio swing at a little kiosk stand in the mall corridor. Later that day, my dad and I took his pickup truck to the mall to pick it up. The man that was operating the stand, actually let us go out of one of the mall’s emergency exits, since it would be quicker to get to the truck from that way. I’m not sure if it set off any alarms though.

Christmas Ad December 2, 1994 2 Christmas was probably my favorite time of the year at Carolina Circle Mall. They would fully decorate the mall with trees, wreaths, and glitter. In the mall’s first floor corridor, just outside of Montgomery Ward, was a children’s Christmas maze that you could walk through. I seem to remember it having toys and funhouse mirrors throughout the maze.

The earliest memory I have of something bad happening at the mall occurred in 1994 when Belk closed off its first floor, which was then used as a post office.

Inside Near Montgomery Ward 1989 One of the things that really attached me to the mall was the feel it had to it. Inside the mall, everything was colored either blue, lime green, or pink. Each column had blue neon lights attached to the top of them and the second-floor railings were completely stainless-steel. The light fixtures along the walls looked like a combination of tin-cans and Ralph-Lauren cologne bottles (don’t ask why I think that).

Outside were these tall, green, structures at each major mall entrance. At night, bright red neon lights turneMain Entrance 1988d on, turning the structures red hot. Thank you Steven Swain for this picture.

This may sound strange, but it seems like every time I would go to the mall, there would be at least one store playing the 1989 Phil Collins hit, Two Hearts. Because of that, I consider Two Hearts to be my personal Carolina Circle Mall theme song.

Many more wonderful memories would occur at Carolina Circle Mall until about 1996, coincidentally around the same time the Macarena became popular. In 1996, many famous Carolina Circle stores went out of business including Waldenbooks, Camelot Music, Piccadilly Cafeteria, and even the Circle Six Theatres. Also around this time was when the unthinkable happened.

It was either late 1996 or early 1997 when my parents broke the news to me that Carolina Circle Mall got rid of the Carousel. This upset me so much that I actually locked myself in the bathroom when my parents wanted to go the mall for the first time since the Carousel closed. I gave in and went anyway. I remember seeing a big empty space where the Carousel once stood, filled in by more food court tables.

One by one, before my eyes, stores were closing. I don’t seem to recall going into the mall’s corridor between about 1998 and 2001 (I still went to Montgomery Ward though).

I’ll never forget the last walk I took through the mall’s corridor. It was on a Saturday afternoon in March of 2001. My mom was shopping at Montgomery Ward so my dad took me through the mall’s corridor to see if anything was left. From what I recall, only Montgomery Ward and some other small store were the only stores still open. The mall looked creepy and dark, yet the lights were still on and the fountains were still running. I thought for sure that my old favorite restaurant Subs & Spuds was still open. I made it as far as the food court when we turned around. Subs & Spuds, including every other restaurant, was closed. I couldn’t handle it anymore so I ran back to Montgomery Ward. It was then I realized that Carolina Circle Mall wasn’t going to last much longer.

And I was right. That same year, in 2001, Montgomery Ward announced that it would be closing all of its United States stores. Carolina Circle Mall’s closed in early 2002, thus closing the mall completely.

Later that year, however, a flea market called "Carolina Flea Market" opened inside the former Carolina Circle Mall Belk location. The day it opened, I rode down there to check it out. They had mostly left the original Belk design untouched, which was very nice.

But what made the flea market special was this. I was walking through the flea market when I noticed that the former Belk mall entrance was covered in glass. I walked up to it and saw something that really made my day. I peeked through the glass and I saw the Carolina Circle Mall corridor in all its beauty. It looked beautiful. Nothing had changed since the year before when I last walked through there. I continued going to that flea market every weekend for the next several months just to take a look inside Carolina Circle Mall. The flea market finally closed in 2003.

One day in October of 2003 when I was 13, I was in study hall at Pendle Hill Christian School. A friend of mine, whose father owned the Race Land go-kart track across from Carolina Circle Mall, told me that his dad heard they were going to tear down Carolina Circle Mall and build a Wal-Mart in its place. What makes that event so unique is that I found out about these plans about a year before everyone else did.

In the summer of 2004, this school rumor I heard became confirmed as truth when Don Linder announced plans to tear down Carolina Circle Mall and build a Wal-Mart and shopping center in its place. I then decided that I had to head out to the then abandoned and vandalized Carolina Circle Mall to take pictures of it before it was too late.

After six months of procrastination, I finally made it to Carolina Circle Mall on February 21, 2005. I took many pictures of not only the mall, but also Toys 'R Us across the street.

Carolina Circle Mall Before Demolition 008 I then pulled up to the former main entrance and noticed that the plywood covering the doors had been partly removed, due to the vandals. What made the trip interesting was that I was able to take a look inside the mall through my car. I was struck by how much of the mall hadn't rotted away, due to the fact that it had already been abandoned for the past 3 years.

At school the following morning, my teacher turned the radio onto 99.5 WMAG. The radio then began playing my old Carolina Circle Mall theme song, Two Hearts by Phil Collins. This, combined with the fact that I had just been at the abandoned mall snapping pictures, immediately caused a chain-reaction, causing all of the memories I had ever had of Carolina Circle Mall to activate in my mind. I now realized that Carolina Circle Mall was definitely something worth remembering, and I had to take advantage of the opportunity.

First Floor Near Montgomery Ward That evening, I got on the Internet and did a Google search for “Carolina Circle Mall”. I came across a website, which is no longer on the web, which had recent pictures taken inside the mall. Each picture showed the mall in a somewhat sad state. Every wall seemed to have graffiti written on it, glass was broken, and the ground was completely trashed. However, the mall still seemed to be in fairly good shape, seeing that the light fixtures, signs, and several other features were still intact.

Because of that, I then began to feel somewhat depressed over the fact that the mall would soon be demolished. Everyday after school, I made sure to keep a close eye on Carolina Circle Mall when I would ride past it on US-29. With the help of my best friend, we attempted to make an estimated date of demolition, which wound up being somewhere around May or June of 2005.

Carolina Circle Mall During Demolition 011 Our prediction came true on June 30, 2005. I was riding down US-29 South that day when I happened to glance over at Carolina Circle Mall, only to see it being demolished. I suddenly got struck by a sense of depression. My mall would no longer exist as a mall or an abandoned building. One of the biggest icons of my childhood was being crushed into many pieces before my eyes.

New Emblem3 Finally, in September of 2005, I decided that I had to put my cause online. I started the Carolina Circle City blog that month. I started out posting my memories, some history of the mall, and other information regarding Carolina Circle Mall.

One month later, the greatest thing that could possibly happen, happened. My blog caught the attention of the head editorial director at the Greensboro News & Record. He contacted me by e-mail asking me if I wanted to be interviewed. I of course, said yes. So on October 23, 2005, Carolina Circle City was featured in the editorial section of the local newspaper. People from all over began to visit my blog, recalling their own memories of the mall, such as the Ice Rink and the Circle Six Theatres.

Restroom Sign 001 Another nice event occurred in July 2006. I was on eBay and I got the idea to type in “Carolina Circle Mall” in the search bar. And believe it or not, something did show up; the original sign used to direct customers the mall restrooms. The sign was only $10, but the catch was it was in Fort Mill, South Carolina and the seller did not have a way of shipping it. So, we agreed to meet half way in China Grove, North Carolina, just outside of Salisbury. To this day, I still have the sign hanging from the ceiling over my HD television set.

Home_of_Carolina_Circle_Mallalt By 2007, I decided that a blog wasn’t enough for Carolina Circle Mall. By going to the Internet Archive website, I discovered that Carolina Circle Mall never had its own website while it was still open. I decided that it deserved to have one. So I got my credit card and opened Home of Carolina Circle Mall.com in May of 2007. Home of Carolina Circle Mall has never seemed to be quite as popular as the Carolina Circle City blog, but it still does a pretty good job. The site averages around 15 views each day.

Happy Mallowe'en 1992 In December of 2007, I was at the Greensboro Public Library with a couple of my friends and I decided I would take a look at the microfilm (the library has almost every edition of the Greensboro newspapers). I discovered several ads for Carolina Circle Mall from 1992. I then discovered that this could work to my advantage. To this day, I still go to the library when I get the chance to look for newspaper ads advertising Carolina Circle Mall. I currently have 69 newspaper ads, total. I’m still looking for the “Holy Grail” of mall ads, an actual TV commercial.

The Huffine Mill School #4-052DF 017 In September of 2008, I entered a display into the Central Carolina Fair in Greensboro, showcasing certain aspects of Carolina Circle Mall that I’ve collected over the years. It did not draw any extra traffic to my websites, but it did draw an extra $70 into my bank account! I happened to win 2nd place.

carolinacircle Media attention was received a second time in January of 2009. Again, the News & Record noticed both my blog and my website. A very nice lady called me one afternoon after school and interviewed me, once again. This time, the next day, a photojournalist from the newspaper came by my house and took pictures of me with my restroom sign, as well as me standing by my precious Intel Core 2 Duo powered homebuilt computer with Home of Carolina Circle Mall showing on the screen.

Article #2 was published on January 10, 2009, and once again, viewer traffic surged. It is nice to know that my cause has become a big hit online.

That same month, I started the Carolina Circle Mall Fan Club on Facebook which currently has 572 members, and is still growing. People have been able to reconnect with each other via the Fan Club, and it always makes me happy to read when someone posts a good memory of the mall on the wall.

Image0099 As you can plainly see, Carolina Circle Mall has done so much for me. It gave me the opportunity as a kid to have a place to go to so I can have a fun ride on the Carousel, eat great food, and shop at wonderful stores. That in turn inspired me in the mid-late ‘00s to use those memories to help other people remember the mall as well as I do. I have traveled long distances because of Carolina Circle Mall, I have spent and gained money because of Carolina Circle Mall, and I have made new friends because of Carolina Circle Mall. Right now, I see no way of ending any of this because I am having way too much fun. Sure, there have been times the past several years where I’ve felt discouraged, but that discouragement has always been replaced with joy. I praise the Lord everyday for letting me get this far.

With all that said, I would like to say happy birthday to Carolina Circle Mall. For 33 years, you have given people who grew up in Greensboro in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s a fun haven where you could hang out with friends, ice skate, shop, see movies, ride a large Carousel, and meet someone who you would eventually marry. Even after your 2002 closure and 2005 demolition, you are still alive in everyone’s hearts and have given me a hobby that has taken me to many places in life.

And just think. All of this began with a simple ride on a Carousel.

Again, feel free to post your own personal thoughts about Carolina Circle Mall at any of my websites.

1 comment:

Steven Swain said...

Great story. It's really something to hear what kind of impact Carolina Circle Mall had on your life.