There’s no proof

For a new project I’m working on, I’ve been trying to dig up visual evidence of my memories of the Echelon Mall:

A vintage postcard of the Echelon Mall in front of Strawbridge & Clothier

A vintage postcard of the Echelon Mall in front of Strawbridge & Clothier

A place in which I spent hundreds if not thousands of hours trolling trying on silver hanging earrings, drinking bananaberry smoothies, and most of all, hunting for cute boys from neighboring towns.

My memories of the mall prior to adolescence are mostly of Strawbridge & Clothier, a Philadelphia-based department store that anchored the shopping mall when I was a child. My mind’s eye, when I think of those earlier days, is always at waist-level: watching and waiting by the Clinique counter for my mother to exchange lipsticks, watching and waiting next to the cash register while my mother returned an unopened pack of panty hose, watching and waiting inside a clothing rack with my brother until my mother finished browsing the winter coats.

Needless to say, as was the fate of many suburban malls, there is not much that remains of the Echelon Mall of my youth. From what I’ve heard, the Voorhees Town Center complex that exists on the property now is not a bad addition to the retail neighborhood, but it doesn’t serve as the community gathering place and youth social hub the mall was on Fridays and Saturdays when I was a kid and teen.

The Echelon Mall is gone.

It’s not only gone. It’s gone gone, and I’ll tell you why.

There are hardly any pictures.

I’ve searched the internet using a variety of search strings and there are only a handful of photographs to be found. One page of Google results identified the one above, another vintage postcard showing the same scene from a previous decade, a blurry shot of the “e” tower at the entrance on Laurel Road, and a sad-old-man version of the billboard that used to promote Halloween masks on sale at Spencer’s or the Easter Bunny’s impending arrival.

Why the dearth of photographs?

Well, it’s obvious when you think about it: No one had any need to take pictures inside the shopping mall. They were busy shopping. Or eating. Or looking at cute boys. It’s not that we weren’t taking selfies back then; we were. I have tons of photo strips of me and my friends, me and my siblings, me and my boyfriends. I have close-up, nostril gazing snapshots from camp, from the Jersey shore, from concerts. Narcissism wasn’t invented by Apple.

And yet, in almost a dozen saved photo albums and worn envelopes of doubles, there is no glimpse of the food court, nothing from Sam Goody’s, nothing from Woolworth’s or B. Dalton or Accessory Place, not even from outside General Cinema waiting by the street’s edge for my dad to pull up and take us home.

Maybe in a shoebox somewhere there is someone posing for a Polaroid with Santa in front of JC Penneys. And maybe in another there’s an out-of-focus 4 x 6 matte of a Girl Scouts crafts sale or a Gymnastics Academy performance.

I don’t have any of those pictures, though. I don’t have a single shot of the Echelon Mall.

I can’t tell you yet what it is I long for when I long for the Echelon Mall.  In its heyday, the place was a poor man’s Cherry Hill Mall which was a poor man’s King of Prussia. When I shake myself from my nostalgic slumber, I remember even how skanky it was when I was a teen, how sketchy. Guys with cigarettes outnumbered the skater dudes. And their girlfriends with sky high super-sprayed bangs were to be avoided at all costs. In fact, I don’t remember the bathrooms at the Echelon Mall. I think I was afraid of them and the older girls fixing their hair there or the rapists of the many Echelon Mall urban legends. Most likely, though, my bladder was just a lot stronger then than it is now.

I don’t know what it is I long for when I mourn the Echelon Mall. But I’m searching.

I think it has something to do with pictures. With my need for proof.

I don’t know why I’ve been dreaming ’bout the Echelon Mall

Tacos for 79 cents,
squeezable mild sauce ask for extra
Children’s Place, a tunnel with carpet inside
Another through the storefront window
My first Walkman
downstairs at a stereo store in the corner next to Strawbridge’s
across from Heroes World
but then Heroes World moved
One time I saw a man there
the inside of his ear on the outside
But that was when it was still downstairs
still cool because it wasn’t cool
Smelly erasers
Sanrio
I stole one and my mom made me give it back say sorry to a lady who didn’t care who probably stole stuff too.

White tiles – big
Black tiles- small
Step on a crack, break my mother’s back by the Clinique counter.
Pantyhose (stockings) downstairs, down an escalator
watch your shoelaces, “tie them!”
Sbarros
The old Gap which was new once with V-neck sweaters
Other randomness up near JC Penney’s or Sears, the anchors I never explored ’cause they were for poor people
Broken glass my dad ate inside a Chinese stir fry at a restaurant that once lived near the top of the escalator over the Food Court
but that was before
Bananaberry shakes
gyros
Mr. Bulky’s
Giggling at boys
Skater boys
Yummy blonde skater boys named Jon P with bangs hanging over one eye
never paid attention to me ’cause my bangs were too crunchy or my nose too big or i wore scrunchy socks or scrunchies or was too Jewish or too rich
even though I never thought I was rich
just had nice clothes and got to go on vacation
and my parents were married still.

CVS
Silver City Pink
like cum on my lips before trying to get in to see Down & Out In Beverly Hills and then again to see House which wasn’t so scary with the guy from Greatest American Hero (I know his name ’cause my dad was his lawyer once)
Rated R
Rocky Horror Picture Show sometime later after the Sophmore Cotillion Josh made me sit on the end and I was scared of the transvestite.
Bighair
Bigbighair
Cookie cake – so many cookie cakes
Sam Goody’s 2 for 99 cents bin
Teeny tiny chicklets in a yellow envelope damp at the top with my saliva
Loitering
Once we were kicked out for loitering
Me and Dylan and maybe Sondra or Meghan, I don’t remember but what a dumb cop to think good girls knew how to loiter
We weren’t even hiding the Benson & Hedges cigarettes in our pockets that day.
Passing by girls who used to sleep over my house in my double bed with me next to me after softball but now hardly say Hi to me pretend they were never there.
Giggling
They do
Laughing at a fat kid because Michael P. with his feathered black hair said to and because that’s what you do when you travel in packs
McDonald’s a book store Hallmark that T-shirt place that awesome iron-on T-shirt place where you could choose cute critters or Papagalo’s Pizza or Adam Ant what was it called up there above Woolworth’s where I used to buy tye dye with Rachel so we could make t-shirts and sell them on my street where cars passed by because it was a busy street not a quiet court like hers
One time I got lost
— or was that Jason?
One time my mom hid from me, from us, to teach us a lesson
One time I saw Brian there and he winked at me and I felt pretty and popular and was certain that my life was about to change
One time I dared to go into Spencer’s
One time I got my ears pierced at Piercing Pagoda in front of everybody, why did they do that? in front of everybody?
One time I went back there and it wasn’t there anymore
Not even the piano store where they used to give lessons and play Liberace reminds me of Bubbi and Poppop always because I took organ lessons there for a week or two or maybe a month but not long enough to know how to play the piano or the organ or any instrument that would allow me to make music  ( I just want to make music)
Not even Structure or Express, nothing
not even one whiff of anything that once smelled like Drakkar Noir

Just some of the walls were left
And a Lens Crafters