Smoking at Paramount Cafe and 86'd from Coyote Ugly: Happy birthday, 16th Street Mall
Being the inappropriately dramatic individual I am, it would be appropriate to say I have a love-hate relationship with the 16th Street Mall. But both love and hate are words that are too strong for my feelings about the mall. Although I'm inclined to admire anything built around the activity of shopping, I've never much cared for this particular strip of commerce. Mostly because it has lacked the key component to what I think makes a good mall, indoors or out: atmosphere.
Remember Units clothing store at the Tabor Center? Pick a stretchy item, wear it fifty different ways -- even wrap it around your perm.
When I started thinking about the strip of pedestrian pavement that just turned thirty -- and will celebrate with a birthday party at Skyline Park at lunchtime today -- I realized that it wasn't about hate or love. It's about the downtown of my home city. And lots of memories involving drinking, drugs, cigarettes, boys and shopping.
There are many advantages to being a first-born; for this story's purposes, the perk was getting to spend lots of time with my mother, since my competition hadn't been born yet. I remember many exclusive mommy 'n' me shopping excursions throughout childhood, from Cinderella City to Buckingham Square to the 16th Street Mall's Shops at Tabor Center. I distinctly recall a preschool-age me being placed on a carpeted platform that covered the wheel well of the 16th Street MallRide.
Those ribbon thingys just scream "Established in 1984."
This was thrilling for many reasons, but mostly because it meant being in a moving vehicle without a seatbelt on. (My mom told me that I once called her from a grade- school friend's house and asked her to please come pick me up, because there weren't enough seatbelts in the family's car for me to have my own. Apparently, I was told that if I ever felt unsafe to call her -- and I'm guessing that she hadn't thought I'd taken her seriously. I did. To this day, I won't ride in anything without a seatbelt, and I still call her when I feel unsafe. Now, that's a moral compass.)
Mom and I rode seatbelt- and sibling-free to the Tabor Center to go shopping -- and I remember wanting to buy clothes at Units so, so bad. Units was this bizarre retail store inside Tabor that sold separates that could be worn in multiple combinations and in multiple ways -- like a less inappropriately sexualized version of American Apparel, but with more elastic. On second thought, maybe I'm thinking of Contempo Casuals rather than Units. I know for sure that store existed outside of the realm of my imaginary spandex dream world, because I still own a skirt I bought from Contempo with an elastic waistband that long ago lost its snap.
Regardless, in my corner of the '80s, outside of a Catholic school uniform, I only wore dance and workout attire. I can't tell if this was due to my personal interests (see commercial below) or, looking back, what seems to be an overwhelming fashion trend of the era. Whatever it was, Units fit right in with my dream closet: stretchy fabrics that fit my beanpole body and could withstand hours and hours of self-choreographed dance rehearsals to Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It for the Boy," which I would later debut to an audience of no one.