Tuesday, October 24, 2006
au revoir, hometown mall
For most of its life, the mall was filled with small local businesses and Windsor-based chains. Few national retailers passed through its doors over the first half of its life.
The original portion of the mall, the east corridor, opened in 1976, with A&P and The Met (Metropolitan stores) as its anchors. The Met was a second-tier discount chain owned by Gendis, who later converted it to a SAAN store. For several years, both chains operated across the street from each other. Don't really remember much about the Met, other than Dad used to pick up cutout records there and Amy and I had childhood portraits taken there. It was considered ultra-low-end shopping by late childhood. The only other Met locations I ever remember seeing were in Leamington (in a plaza that later housed No Frills) and Wallaceburg.
After a 28-year run, A&P closed its doors in 2004. The store was aging and its prices did not compete well with two other town grocers that had undergone major changes: No Frills (formerly Valu-Mart) and Sobeys (formerly Rocco's). My family had not shopped there regularly for years, preferring to grab most of our groceries in Windsor.
Ironically, I shot these pictures in what would have been the store's 30th anniversary month. Happy birthday - let's look at the ruins!
The closed-off section on the right is the north corridor, where the demolition started. Halfway down is where the original mall leads into the early 80s addition, the entire west half of the building. Unfortunately, most of my interior shots of this side of the mall didn't turn out, but Labelscar has pictures from 2004 in its profile of the mall.
The Christmas Martian, my introduction to (dubbed) Quebecois cinema. Evenings, the theatre was a first-run two-plex in all of its incarnations. It closed for good around 1988-89 - I think the last movie I saw there was The Naked Gun.
After that, it became the town bingo hall. If you belonged to a high school organization or team, it was almost inevitable that you had to work a fundraising shift or two at the smoke-clogged bingo. Non-smoking area? Hah! Players would sit with half-a-dozen dabblers and mounds of rabbit's feet, puffing away as the numbers were called. After I headed off to university, the space did a 180, as the bingo was replaced by the relocated town medical clinic.
For the first few years after I left town for university, little changed. I'd come home and it felt like a time warp. Then slowly, I noticed the odd business closed or in a new location, new equipment in parks and the trees looking much taller in my old neighbourhood. The century turns and boom! Local factories shut. Large grocers step in. Long vacant buildings downtown come down to be replaced by condos.
Even though I could count on one hand the number of times I'd been in Fort Malden/White Woods Mall since I stopped dropping off high school yearbook pictures for developing, its looming disappearance is the thunderbolt that shows my childhood landscape is starting its vanishing act.