Being single for the last 10 years, I’ve apparently resorted to writing love letters to inanimate objects, like the mall. The Hanson-obsessed, greasy-haired 12-year-old girl inside of me has let me know that this is, in fact, appropriate.
The Dimond Center is an Anchorage institution. Aptly named
Anchorage’s Alaska’s Favorite Mall – no really, the logo literally says just that:
…but that’s how the Dimond Center is. A kitschy, nostalgic, truly Alaskan style mall. For me, it’s laden with a lifetime of memories. Much like the city of Anchorage itself, the Dimond Center is perched on the cliff of a dynamic explosion. The mall, and our city, is expanding in a major way. We’re hitting the big time.
Anchorage has experienced a population boom in the last few decades, topping out at over 300,000 residents. Just a few years ago, Anchorage was just a small town, and looked like this:
Just kidding! That picture was taken in downtown Anchorage in 1953. But local A-Towners will understand what I mean. We’re a little-big town. Still small enough where everyone knows someone who knows someone – but big enough to finally have a (GASP!) Olive Garden (I’ve still never been to the ones here – and don’t care much to go) and we’re getting a Cheesecake Factory soon! The latter of which I will be going to…every day once in awhile.Nowadays, Anchorage looks like this:A cozy city in a cove, surrounded by a panoramic, high definition view of the most beautiful mountains, this place is home, and there’s no place like home. The Dimond Center is no different. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?Who remembers when the “anchor” store of the mall was a fucking Safeway? Yeah, that’s right – a grocery store. Long before Best Buy took its place, that was the biggest, baddest store in the mall. Mind you, there was a Carrs right across the street, which later got bought out in the Carrs-Safeway merger – the most controversial Alaskan headline of the 90’s. Ah, yes…the ’90s.Inside the gloriously, deliciously ’90s Dimond Center, the walls were covered in carpet. Shit, some of them still are. There was a Disney Store where the giant AT&T store currently resides. That hallway where The Gap and Old Navy are? Non-existent. In its place? A Walgreens-like pharmacy store – Pay ‘n Save. I remember being 12 years old, wreaking havoc with my friends and playing kickball with a package of Depends in there.
Who remembers The Candy Store? No, not the tiny one that sprouted up when the original got moved. The real deal Candy Store. The one with the giant, 8 foot tall, hollow cylindrical crayons that lined the walls and were filled to the brim with candy. You could get any flavor of Jelly Belly beans (popcorn!), little Coca Cola flavored gummies, crystal rock candies, Bubble Tape, and chocolate covered peanuts – all for $73.99/lb! It was totally worth it though. Oh, and don’t forget about these:
What about Boarderline? The locally owned and operated snowboard/skateboard shop located down in a less popular part of the mall. It belonged right where it was though. Perfectly situated in a nook to where no matter how stoned you were, you felt like you could slip in and buy a new pair of Etnies sneakers or some Hookups stickers for your deck and go unnoticed. I know I will never forget going to the Boarderline video premiers with my then boyfriend. Watching locally sponsored snowboarders and skateboarders perform their sickest tricks and flips on the big screen in a sold out theatre downtown. Anyone who was anyone was there. It felt like I was on an episode of The Hills…except, this wasn’t Laguna Beach, California…this was Anchorage, Alaska – bitch.There was a library in the mall until recently…yes, a library. Proof:
How amazingly ’90s is that? A library in the mall. There was once a One-Stop Travel over where Aerie is now. With a tanning bed from 1937 which was probably bad for my health. But I went anyways. There was an Amish Furniture store….about 500 square feet worth of store space. I think it had one bed frame and maybe a desk in it. My friends and I would go lay on the bed and get kicked out. We didn’t get pretzels with Icee’s from Auntie Anne’s. We got Slush Puppies from The Pretzel Factory. It had a huge cardboard menu with every flavor Slush Puppie imaginable – cotton candy, pina colada, bubblegum.Don’t lie and say you never went into Mermaid Imports and bought incense. It smelled so good in the store, but it smelled
like dirty hippies way too smoky when you actually burned them. We didn’t have Journeys and Famous Footwear. All we got in the 90’s was Footlocker or Lady Footlocker. That’s it.
And we also didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t have ACS, 2 GCI’s and AT&Ts. You know what we had? Personal Page. Yeah, we had
beepers pagers. You know DAMN well you paged your best friend with 8008135, 143, and 911. I was extra bad ass and had a recording of “Lake of Fire” by Nirvana as my message when people paged me.
I remember the Christmas when I was 13, getting my first pager, and using “Basketcase” by Green Day as the recording. The first lyric of the song is “Do you have the time, to…?” and my Dad encouraged me to use that line and then cut to me saying “leave a message!” And yes, I was considered a “cool kid.”
Remember CD’s and cassette tapes? Yeah, we used to actually buy music in a tangible format. At Sam Goody, and its arch nemesis – Musicland. I remember being given $20 before my parents would drop me off at the mall, and feeling so accomplished being able to afford a CD single, a sticker from Boarderline, a tan, and some candy from The Candy Store all in one trip – and still have some spare change to make a phone call home at one of the payphone banks. $20 bought at least 5 hours of fun at the mall.
Those were the good ol’ days. But then, something happened. The Gap invaded Anchorage. The arrival of The Gap in circa 1997 inadvertently moved the Pay ‘n Save out. The Dimond Center had a lot of hidden space to spare. They must’ve used heavy explosives to create the hallway that was born when The Gap arrived. The Gap brought its entire family, too: Gap Kids, Baby Gap, and Gap Body – as well as its cousin – Old Navy.
Pacific Sunwear followed. Yes. It was actually called Pacific Sunwear, not “PacSun”. And for the record, Pacific Sunwear sold cool clothes back in the day. Skater/snowboarder garb, Hurley, Roxy, Billabong, Independent, O’Neill, etc. Not the skinny jeans-emo-guyliner-I-slit-my-wrist bullshit they sell now. I remember scoring an interview for Pacific Sunwear when I was about 15 and I thought I was on the verge of becoming famous. I didn’t get the job. Back in the day, there was no Forever 21..we had Lamont’s and then Gottschalks. We didn’t have Hot Topic, we had Mr. Rags. And we wore 30 inch wide JNCO’s proudly.
Some things have stood the test of time though. There is still a church, Bosco’s, Wells Fargo, the Bowling Alley, Round Table Pizza, a Post Office. Can you believe those places are in a MALL?! Round Table hasn’t been remodeled since at least 1987, and it’s glorious. I hope they never change it in all its retro glory. It reminds me of simpler times.
The mall was the place to be. Round Table Pizza, or RTP as we fondly called it, was the meeting spot. I remember my friends and I in high school – excitedly chatting on ICQ (uh-oh!) on Friday afternoons….waiting for our parents to give us the green light that they were ready to drive us to Mecca. We would furiously message each other; “RTP!” – and meet there shortly after to participate in a bevy of illegal activities.
I absolutely can’t write a love letter to the Dimond Center without addressing the heart of the place. The Ice Rink a.k.a Dimond Center Ice Chalet. No one calls it that though. In the middle of the main tower of the mall, below ground level, is a huge ice rink. Hockey teams practice there, figure skaters twirl around in local performances, and the general public gathers to skate there at all times of the year. It is a beautiful, prismatic gem in the middle of what is most likely the busiest place in Anchorage at any given time. Shoppers can walk around several floors of shopping, and look down on the skaters effortlessly sliding across the glistening ice.
During the holidays, the Dimond Center decks the
muthafuckin’ halls like you wouldn’t believe. The ice rink sparkles with thousands of suspended LED lights that hang from the ceiling, about seven stories high. Heavy, thick garland with ribbons and bows drape the entire hallway of each section of the mall. Santa takes pictures with screaming children.
Things in the mall are rapidly changing. I’ve heard the bowling alley is moving out. The entire food court (which used to consist of
the stoned staff of Arby’s, Louie’s, Wendy’s and Tempura Inn) is being taken over by big name chains like Subway, Auntie Anne’s and Famous Wok. The mall announced plans last year for outlet stores. There will be Coach, Nike, Nordstrom Rack and the like, all occupying the spaces around and above the ice rink which are currently occupied by corporate and company offices. Yes, offices. This is what it looks like currently:
And this is a preliminary look of what it will look like after the outlets arrive:I hate it. It’s too futuristic. And although I will enjoy the convenience of being able to access name brand items at lower prices, I miss the old days. I miss wearing a unique clothing item or accessory, and being able to tell someone I got it in “the Lower 48” when they asked.I miss when the only security guard was a 300 pound mall cop who couldn’t run after a thief to save his life. I miss when the pool hall – Hot Shots – was still in the mall, and they allowed indoor smoking! Smoking has of course been banned in public places in Anchorage since, and the mall security guards actually carry guns now.
I miss GradBlast -an annual lock-in held overnight at the Dimond Center where 16-18 year olds spent the night and were treated to running rampant in the mall, an hourly bus that took us to the Go-Karts, live punk rock bands playing live music in the hallways, non-stop movies playing in the mall movie theatre, endless supplies of Costco muffins and bottled Frapuccinos for breakfast, and the opportunity to meet cute senior guys from other schools. GradBlast doesn’t even exist anymore, probably cause kids these days are
bitch asses too cool for stuff like that and someone would probably shoot the place up.
I work in the mall, and I have for years, at a few different jobs. Currently at the GCI store where I’ve been off and on since 2010. Sometimes, when I need a break, I’ll take a walk around the older parts of the mall. Especially upstairs where the arcade, The Perfect Cup, and the military recruiting offices are. Up where Q-Zar, the laser tag place used to be.
I’ll walk past the exact bench where, at 15, I sat and held the hand -for the first time- of my future high school sweetheart, and the only guy to this day I’ve ever dated. I walk past the hair salon where my best friend and I have gotten our hair done for almost 10 years. I walk past the tie-dyed VW van that has 4 flat tires that serves no clear purpose, other than to add to the character of the mall. I walk past the taxidermy Moose, the Grizzly Bear, and the Geese that have been entombed in a glass display case at the mall for my entire life. The top of the cases are covered in dust, which has also probably been there my entire life.
I walk towards the ice rink, and remember KB Toys, and I look over the edge and at the twirling and swirling skaters, laughing and shouting beneath the glisten of the sparkling lights.
I often fantasize about leaving this town. I know that I’m a hybrid of a small town girl with big city dreams. I’m not Alaskan in the sense that I don’t participate in any Winter activities, I haven’t gone fishing since I was 11, and I haven’t camped since the days when splitting a 5th of vodka and barfing up s’mores the next morning was considered a great summer night. I daydream daily of walking the streets of NYC, smelling the autumn leaves in Central Park, and watching the ice skaters as they gleefully glide through the ice rink at Rockefeller Center.
But then I remember who I am, and where I’m from. I’m comfy here, and maybe it is a good thing to step out of your comfort zone every once in awhile. They say there’s no growth without change and those who succeed are the ones most adaptable to the environment around them. It’s survival of the fittest. Nonetheless, there’s something comforting about this place. A lot of things, actually. And I know that no matter how much the Dimond Center, Anchorage, or I change, that’ll it’ll always be the same small town kind of place in my heart and in my mind. Dimond Center Ice Chalet is my Rockefeller Center.
This place is home to me, and there’s no place like home.
[Originally published at No Sex in the City on September 26, 2013. Republished with permission.]