I was born in 1962 and graduated high school in 1980 so, to me, the 80s were MY decade. I was young, there was a world of possibilities before me and an excitement I’d never felt before or since. I look back on the 80s with a fond nostalgia despite the fact that I absolutely HATED that decade while I was living through it. I was lonely, miserable and certain that I was doomed to personal and professional failure in every aspect of my life. So it’s strange to me that there are so many things I miss about those years. Here are some of them:
I’ve written about this before but Arcades were REALLY big in the 80s. Every mall had a big arcade and there were many stand alone Arcades as well. I have fond memories of driving with my friend Abel down to Warwick and spending a day at one of the largest ones just going from game to game and having fun. Today, with the proliferation of home gaming systems, you’re lucky if you can find one or two games at a mall or bowling alley and most of them are old and probably broken. It was always my dream back in the 80s to have my own personal Arcade in my house with my favorites like Asteroids, Galaxian, Street Fighter, Burger Time and a whole bunch of pinball machines as well. Thirty years later and I still don’t have that personal Arcade.
One of my favorite pinball games. I wouldn’t mind if Elvira came with it as well!
Back in the 80s, your choices for stores weren’t restricted to Wal-Mart and Target. There were a whole batch of department stores around with many local alternatives as well. One of my favorites, for some unknown reason, was Bradlees.
Bradlees commercial mascot was “Mrs. B” because I guess they thought that having that ‘mom’ touch would increase sales. It didn’t help. Bradlees finally closed their doors in 2001 after almost 10 years of downsizing and store closings.
Caldor’s was another department chain that seemed to be everywhere in the 80s. I remember them having a pretty good book and record department which, after all, was pretty much the only things I was interested in as a teenager. That book department actually led to an issue involving Howard Stern. Caldor’s would post the NYT Best Seller list in their book section but when Stern’s controversial autobiography, PRIVATE PARTS, made the list in 1993, Caldor refused to stock the book and went so far as to delete it from the NYT list and moved all the other books up a notch. NYT responded that if Caldor’s wanted to post the list, it had to use the list as printed so Caldor simply stopped posting the list until Stern’s book fell off it.
Caldor’s was eventually forced out of business by Wal-Mart and Target and went out of business in 1999.
Not any more .
Two other local department store chains in New England were Zayre and Ames. I’d describe both of them as being about the equal of K-Mart. They also weren’t particularly noted for their cleanliness. Zayre (which my father always mispronounced as ‘CZAR’S’) went as far back as 1919 but they sold out to their competitor, AMES, in 1988.
This even looks like the one I used to shop at.
Ames turned all of the then existing Zayre locations into Ames stores and then promptly started going out of business themselves. They eventually went completely bust and closed their last store in 2002.
Electronic stores were really big in the 80s. You had stores like TWEETER which was devoted to high end stereos and televisions. I could never afford any of the stuff they had but I used to like to go in and sit in the demo area and just watch their huge screen television. They went under in 2008.
CRAZY EDDIE’S was a staple of New York television and retail. Their prices were INSANE! Anyone who grew up in the greater NYC area in the 80s will remember their commercials and their wild spokesman (who was not the owner). The actual owner was eventually charged with several counts of fraud and served several years in jail. Not surprisingly, the chain did not survive the owner’s crimes (or a later takeover by a proxy group). For some time, CRAZY EDDIE was the standard for corporate fraud until Enron and others came along and decided they could do fraud much bigger and better!
In the 80s, we didn’t have all the big SIX FLAGS amusement parks. This was still the era where a lot of smaller, regional parks were around. I was always a coaster nut so I used to go to several during those years.
Located in Rye, NY (just over the Connecticut border), RYE PLAYLAND was a great, old-fashioned part with lots of rides and a great roller coaster that would go into a covered corner which was made to look like a dragon’s mouth! I spent a LOT of time on that ride.
Rye Playland was a victim of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 which destroyed its boardwalk and many of the rides and exhibits. Rebuilding was done and the park is still running today. You can check out their website at http://www.ryeplayland.org/ and I’m really tempted to drive down for their opening day on May 9th!
Some other amusement attractions haven’t fared so well like:
Once a RI institution, Rocky Point was famous for their rides (including a Flume ride, the Corkscrew coaster and the FreeFall) and their legendary Shore Dinner Hall which, during the heyday of the park, served thousands daily. Sadly, Rocky Point fell victim to financial woes and closed in 1995. The most popular rides were sold off to other parks but the bulk of the buildings were left vacant to fall into ruin.
Rocky Point as we prefer to remember it.
This is getting longer than I had expected so here’s some brief things I also miss from the 80s:
Long before the internet and email came along, people actually wrote each other letters and sent them through the mail! I know! Crazy, right? Other than the phone, letters were the best way to communicate with your friends, family, enemies, whatever. There were tangible and permanent (unless you threw them away, of course). I used to keep files of the letters I received from correspondents and I still have most of those files. When someone wrote you a letter, it was significant because they actually took the time to sit down and physically write something. It showed that you were important and there was nothing like going to the mail box and getting a stack of letters from people. Now we have emails which people pound out on their keyboards, send in a second and (unless you print them out and who can afford all that ink?) are intangible. If you lost your email account tomorrow because of hacking or some technological holocaust, you’d lose all those messages and emails.
Just like letters, the internet pretty much killed APAs. For those not in the know, an APA (Amateur Press Association) was a group of people with a common interest where each member would produce their own little magazine (called ‘zine’) which would be gathered together on a regular schedule by the head of the APA (‘central mailer’ usually) who would then compile a bundle consisting of a copy of each zine and then send out those bundles to all the members. Through the mail. Obviously, there is little thought given to such things in this internet age where communication is instant and zines can be downloaded and sent across the globe in seconds. There used to be hundreds of APAs in the 80s, now we’re down to a small handful of dedicated people determined to keep the tradition alive.
Yeah, I’m sure anyone growing up in the 80s misses what MTV used to be. You know, a channel that actually played music videos? Instead of stupid reality shows featuring people that you’d exile to another planet if you could actually get away with it? And all the great VJs and, of course, MOJO NIXON!
And other stuff like Jello Biafra, Ian Shoales, Rich Hall, A. Whitney Brown, Dr. Science, Elvira, Uncle Floyd, Jolly Cholly’s, and comics that I didn’t have to go to a bank for a loan to buy.