| Payton North
At times, I can be a very sentimental person.
When I sold my first car a few years ago — a Nissan Juke — so I could buy a new SUV, I sobbed.
Dramatic? Yeah, a little. Especially since I was buying an objectively “fancier” vehicle. But I had so many fun memories in the juke.
It got me through the final month of high school, my commutes to and from HCC as well as WNE, my first few years in my career. I had countless nights singing my heart out with my friends in that car to our favorite songs, as it had a phenomenal stereo and a sunroof. I took trips to concerts in it, to the beach, to the mountains of New Hampshire, to the westernmost area of New York to visit my friend in Buffalo a few times.
The car was faithful, rarely had issues and I was attached. I had so many fun memories that started with driving in that car.
A month or two ago when the Eastfield Mall management announced they were going to be tearing it down, my mother suggested to me that I write a column about how sentimental the mall was to people and how sad it was to see it go. At the time, I said something like “I don’t feel attached to the mall enough to write a column,” and then did not give it too much more thought.
As the weeks passed, though, I realized I have more memories than I can recall going to the Eastfield Mall. My mood on the demolition has turned sour — melancholy, even. I know many, if not all our readers who grew up in the area may feel the same.
My mom took my brother and I to the Eastfield Mall several times as children to get our pictures taken with Santa. I distinctly remember when I was about 6 or 7, looking up at the roof of the mall as we drove away, trying to see where Santa’s sleigh was parked.
I had my ears pierced — twice — at Claire’s, which I believe still functions in the mall.
My brother and I would tag along on errands with my mom to Filene’s — which later turned into Macy’s — as well as JC Penny to purchase various makeup products. Many moons ago, she used to be an account coordinator for Clinique at Steigers, so we would often run into old friends of hers who once worked for the company but were now working for Macy’s.
I went to dinner with my Grandma and Grandpa once at Donovan’s, just the three of us, and remember it being special. I think we sat at a high-top table, and while I was probably between 6 and 8 years old, I felt so adult in that chair.
My Nana and one of my aunts used to take me on a birthday trip every year to the mall to go shopping. I remember going to Sears with Nana, quickly picking out clothes and being done with the shopping trip much faster than she expected. She remarked to my parents later that she’s never shopped with someone who was so decisive. I still am.
Back-to-school shopping always took place at the Eastfield Mall. My mom would give me a budget, and I would shop at Aeropostale and American Eagle, and would buy new flip flops at Old Navy. We’d then go to Bath and Body Works and smell all the candles, likely getting a headache but enjoying the experience, nonetheless.
I purchased my first high school dance dress at the Eastfield Mall in Macy’s. My mom, my friend Shannon and I had been shopping all day — we went to a few malls in Connecticut without luck. My mom insisted we try the Eastfield Mall on the way home as a last-ditch effort to get a dress that day. I finally found one.
I attended a few birthday parties at the movies, and many years later, I had my first date at the movie theater. We saw some sort of horror movie, which I immediately regretted agreeing to.
I took a trip to the mall once with my cousin to help him pick out clothes for a formal dance he had coming up, and watched on as he got a haircut. This was a particularly exciting trip because he just got his drivers license, so we were able to go to the mall ourselves. What an adventure!
In 2020, I waited in seemingly endless lines a few times, along with thousands of others, as we attempted to be tested for COVID-19 by way of a nasal swab through our car windows in the Eastfield Mall parking lot. Later, in early 2021, I got my COVID-19 vaccines in the former Macy’s — the same place many years prior I purchased my high school dance dress, and many years prior to that watched with wonderment as my mom purchased lipstick. It was an odd feeling to be sitting in the empty space after seeing it so vibrant, so filled with life in my youth.
There are dozens upon dozens of other stores and restaurants that I did not mention as to not bore readers — but one thing is certain: others hold dear memories in these places, too.
I called my grandma when I was thinking about the mall, and wanted to ask her what special experiences she had there. Prior to the opening, she said she used to have to go to downtown Springfield to do all her shopping, and more specifically she reflected on Christmas shopping. When the mall opened, she said it was “wonderful,” and said there were “fabulous” stores.
She said, “At Karen Charles I once bought $600 worth of clothes one day when I was going on a trip to Texas. They sent me a plant as a thank you. Steiger’s had free gift wrapping [at the holidays]. it was just a wonderful party at Christmas time. It was very special. You knew the people, they knew you. It was lovely.”
My mom raves about going to Orange Julius when she was a kid, shopping at The Lodge to buy chinos or Frye boots and ending her trip going to the Pewter Pot where her friend Kim worked. A few coworkers of mine had a lengthy discussion weeks ago about their childhoods being “mall rats” there, going to the Flaming Pit, enjoying food in the food court, meeting up with their friends. That was where kids went to socialize and shop.
A few weeks ago, at a management training, the group I was working with was asked to write down one word we associate with change. We had to put the first word that came to mind. Some people shared their word: “scary,” “fear,” “unsettling,” “uncertainty.”
A couple of us, though, had different phrasing. I chose “exciting,” and another person chose “opportunity.”
It is not that I love or even enjoy change, but I do believe change is a natural part of life and can bring about something new that may serve people more than what is currently in place. I do find change exciting. As one of my colleagues reflected — it can bring a new opportunity forward that we may not have been able to experience otherwise if we stayed stuck in the past.
“Exciting” is how I am choosing to look at the mall being torn down. It is sad to see the memories go, it is sad to not have the tangible space to reflect on. It is also incredibly sad and I am sure detrimental to the many small businesses and restaurants that are being displaced. I have not forgotten them in this, and it’s easy to say things are “exciting” when I am not personally affected.
That said, perhaps this is the push for businesses to find an even better space that will serve their customers in a way that they may not have been able to before. Perhaps this change, is one that will bring even better opportunities to our area.