When I was a kid one of my favorite things to do with my mom was go to the mall. Or, I guess I should say, malls, plural. Back in the 1980s, the mall that is now Greece Ridge Mall was actually two separate malls: Greece Towne Mall and Long Ridge Mall, located essentially right next door to one another. Even back then, I remember my mom saying, “They should join these malls together!” It always seemed like one of those things that just made too much sense to ever really happen.
We would usually hit up both malls. Greece Towne was what you would probably consider the nicer, more “high class” of the two malls. We would usually go here for a hair cut, or back-to-school clothes, or new shoes. This was where we’d go for the serious shopping.
Long Ridge was the “artsy” mall. It was very avant-garde and had lots of interesting things to look at. There was this big, towering contraption that would constantly feed little pool balls through a looping series of pipes, lifts, and drops (I have more recently come to learn this was called “Electric Ball Circus”). There were these metal fountains that made echoey chiming sounds as the water flowed through them. There was a giant, glowing globe that changed color and had water running over it, surrounded by a pool of water that you could throw coins into. Because of all this crazy unique stuff, this was the mall I loved going to the most. If we were at Greece Towne I’d always ask if we could go look at those displays and my mom would have to remind me that those were at the other mall.
Of course, like any kid, I always wanted to get some kind of food or treat too. There was no “food court” in either mall, at least not the way we think of them today, but there were plenty of places to grab a bite. My favorite things to get were an Orange Julius, or a Hot Sam pretzel on a stick covered with nacho cheese. But the best treat of all was a cookie from the Cookie Co. And the best place to eat it was in the Contemplation Area, a trippy little sunken alcove with TV screens and light displays. There was also a play area with big cushy foam blocks for kids to climb on… Mom usually preferred that we avoid that area. You could almost feel the germs of every snot-nosed kid that had just sneezed or slobbered all over the place seeping into the foam itself.
Even with all these unique elements already in play, as if to spontaneously try to one-up themselves there would occasionally be something extra random going on at the mall, like the time there was a gigantic sandcastle being built inside. As a kid it seemed like the mall literally had nothing better to do than try to amaze everyone. And in many ways, maybe it didn’t. Also, every once in a while there would be a card and collectibles show going on, which, in the days before I knew what a comic book convention was, was the biggest gathering of cards and comics I’d ever seen right there in the corridors between the stores. At certain times of the year (Easter and Christmas I think), there would be a little train that you could ride that ran around the big globe. The fact that this stuff was not always there just added to the mystical nature of the mall. It’s like you really never knew for sure what was going to be there.
At Christmas time, things became even more magical. Displays of animatronic elves and reindeer acting out comical seasonal scenes were set up throughout the mall. It seemed like every few feet there was another display, taking over the areas where you’d usually find a fountain. An elf with ribbon sprawled all around him as he tries to wrap a present, or with his hammer going up and down as he puts the finishing touches on a special toy, were like slices of North Pole life that you were being transported to. Was Santa at this mall, or was he at the other one? Was he somehow at both? There was so much magic in the air already that anything seemed possible, so you hardly questioned it.
My parents and my aunt and uncle would take me and my cousin Nick to Greece Towne as it was getting ready to close and the shoppers were dispersing for the night, so we could run around and burn off some energy. We couldn’t have been more than four or five years old. But I still remember looking up at the big Gold Circle sign (we called it “Gold Circoco”). Being at the mall as everything was closing and being told we could run around as much as we wanted was like an adventure. We didn’t know (or care) that our parents just wanted to tire us out so we’d go to sleep. We didn’t even care that we weren’t at the mall with the foam blocks. It was a big, wide open area, it was late, and we had permission to go wild. It was more exciting than a playground.
That too-good-to-be-true idea of joining the malls together finally came true in 1994, and it came with a food court, a two-story carousel, and a big walkway of new stores that connected the two malls into one mega mall. It was awesome… but it came with a price. The unique flair that had given Long Ridge its character was tossed out, literally. Reports say that the metal fountains, foam blocks, crazy television screens and everything else were thrown into dumpsters and discarded. The word is that a private collector managed to recover the Electric Ball Circus, though… Maybe we’ll see it again someday.
The photos included with this post are ones I have found around the internet. If you are the owner of any of the photos please reach out and let me know, I would be happy to credit you as such. If you have memories of the old malls, please leave them in the comments, I would love to hear them!