It’s a mall world after all
by David Lazenby
Aug 12, 2011 | 1786 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
David Lazenby
David Lazenby
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Learning this week that Jasper Mall is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its grand opening piqued my interest in what the mall was like when it first opened its doors on Aug. 5, 1981.

If the mall is anything like the one I spent a good deal of my free time at back in the early ’80s, I figured the local indoor shopping center had changed about as much as MTV has morphed since its debut, which was just three days before Jasper Mall opened its doors.

After hunting down a copy of the Daily Mountain Eagle from July 31, 1981, I was surprised to discover how many of the mall’s stores were there from the beginning.

Businesses currently at Jasper Mall that were also there on Day 1 include JCPenney, K-Mart, Chick-fil-A, Cato’s, Zales Jewelry and Radio Shack, which was already advertising its $999 TRS-80 home computer that offered a mind-boggling 16,000 character memory, almost enough storage capacity to save the content of this page of the newspaper — excluding the photos of course.

Back when Jasper Mall was hatched, Chick-fil-A was not the corporate behemoth that is today. In fact, the Jasper mall restaurant was the 207th Chick-fil-A restaurant to open, according to the Eagle. Today, the chicken chain has more than 1,500 store locations in the United States.

If folks back then had been told that Jasper would one day have two Chick-fil-A restaurants, do you think they would have believed it?

The fact that so many of the stores that opened at Jasper Mall 30 years ago are still around today offers proof that the mall remains a good place for new businesses to set up shop. Many of the stores that shut down at the mall in recent years did not fail because of their location, but because of the struggling economy coupled with new competition from the Internet. In fact, I recently read that in the last 10 years, during which time websites like Apple’s iTunes store have nearly taken over the retail music industry, one in four “record stores” have gone out of business.

Back in 1981, almost every mall had a record store. Jasper’s was The Record Bar. Reading that there was a Record Bar in Jasper rekindled some old memories, since the mall in my hometown also had a Record Bar store, which it turns out was not such a well-thought-out name since records were on the way out as the music medium of choice by the time the Durham, N.C.-based chain opened its 125th store in Jasper.

Other stores that were at Jasper Mall on the day it opened, according to the Eagle, were Eckerd’s Drugs, The Fun Factory, Kinney Shoes, Walden Books and Vogue.

When Jasper Mall opened, Michael Jenkins, the mall’s manager, reported Baskin-Robbins, Pic N Pay Shoes, Peanut Shack and a Hallmark card shop were scheduled to open later in the month. He also announced that two local stores, the Cricket Shop and Joe’s Sporting Goods, had plans to move into the mall. The newspaper article also reported First Federal Savings and Loans planned to invest in the mall by installing a full-service branch there.

Of course no mall in the 1980s was complete without a video game arcade. The one at the Jasper Mall was called The Gold Mine. Today, Jasper Mall, like most malls, no longer has those coin-operated video game machines that were once so ubiquitous. By most accounts, the industry was done in when home computers like the old TRS-80 grew up, allowing people to play video games from the comfort of their couches. Technological advances in the home video game console industry also helped to seal the fate of these machines that at one time seemed to be at every grocery, laundromat, convenience store and pizza parlor.

While looking back at what the mall was like 30 years ago, it was interesting to note what other headlines accompanied the issue of the Eagle that pictured the ribbon-cutting ceremony held at the Jasper Mall.

The day of the grand opening, which created 60 new jobs at JCPenney alone, the administration of President Ronald Reagan announced that the 13,000 air traffic controllers who went on strike for three days were all fired.

Another headline in the Aug. 5, 1981, edition of the newspaper was an article that included the headline “Memphis to Birmingham highway plans going well.” Highway officials did not expect Corridor X to be “totally finished” for another 15 years.

Two days later, the Eagle ran a front page story that stated in its headline “Mall business exceeds expectations.” Joel Stephens, the assistant manager of The Record Bar, was quoted as saying the first day of business being “dynamite,” an expression that you hear about as often as you see a coin-operated video game arcade, unless you happen to catch a rerun of “Good Times.”

Realizing Jasper Mall did not open until 1981 made me wonder where area teenagers went to hang out on Friday nights. A Walmart advertisement I ran across in the old issue of the Eagle let me know that area youngsters back then at least had the superstore’s parking lot as one of their weekend destination locations.

I’m not sure where the crowd that hangs out at the mall in the mornings went before the mall’s grand opening.

I hope area shoppers will continue to make their purchases at the mall, and other local stores, because shopping locally keeps their tax dollars here in Jasper and Walker County. Those tax dollars are vital in paying for the services that our local government agencies provide.

I feel confident that Jasper Mall will still be going strong 30 years from now. I just hope I’ll still be around to enjoy it.

David Lazenby is the news editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at 221-2840 or via email at david.lazenby@mountaineagle.com.