Tuesday, March 8, 2011

North Kent Mall


I used to go to North Kent almost exclusively to hang out at Aladdin's Castle, one of the last great old-school video game arcades. I'd usually ride the bus up there, listening to my "cassette walkman," most likely a cassingle of De La Soul or something.
Another thing I remember is for a while, NK was the home to the only of the old-style photo booths. Not the sort that are around today where you can be superimposed in front of backgrounds and such but the type where it fires off 4 takes and you get a strip of (black & white!) photos at the end. There was also a small movie theater to the side, "Movies at North Kent."

Aladdin's Castle was awesome. I never knew it was actually a chain. Apparently there are still a few alive today, scattered around the country.

Mostly dead interior, 1998.
North Kent opened in 1971, anchored by Montgomery Ward and Wurzberg's, with a Turnstyle on an outlot. Wurzberg's closed in 1974, and was replaced by Kmart. The Turnstyle building was used by Meijer for a while as a clearance center and offices, but now sits vacant. The mall went into a slow decline and by 2000 was nearly dead. The last remaining stores were Waldenbooks, JoAnn Fabrics, Bargain Books, Radio Shack, Zales Jewelery, and GNC. In 1999 there were displays posted about plans to renovate the mall, and add a third unnamed anchor, but those never came to pass. In October 2000, it was announced that the mall would be demolished for a Lowe's. Both anchors (Kmart and Wards) would remain. The mall closed in March 2001 and Wards closed a week later in bankrupcy. The Wards building has been divided into Dunhams, Dollar Tree, and Family Farm & Home.

The old Movies at North Kent sign, no longer there.
It seemed like NKM was a pretty bustling teen hang-out on the weekends during it's peak.
Do kids even do that these days? Just go and "hang out at the mall"?  The malls sure seemed to be social meccas in the 80s and 90s from what I remember. For area young'uns with no car, it was probably the place to go and meet boys/girls. I bet you were "cool" if you had a boy/girlfriend was from a different school. Ah, youth.

This is one of 2 statues that were inside. I have discovered both of the statues are now in a small park outside a Salvation Army office building on LaGrave St. Photo: Alaine Poelstra

Not much remains online of the old place. I did find one very odd newspaper article though (click to enlarge) ....

This guy regains sight in his blind eye by bumping into a pole while powerwalking in North Kent Mall.
Truly a Christmas miracle!
There is an "I Hung Out At North Kent Mall" facebook group with over 1,500 members!

Here are a couple shots of the interior from a 2-page ad the mall took out in a yearbook from Northview highscool, 1975, courtesy Larry Bennett with Photoshop cleanup by Randy Tate...



Here is another artifact kindly donated by Christopher Gielda, who was a manager at Record Town.
A North Kent Mall brochure featuring a map and a store directory!  See if it jogs your memory of the different stores that were there. Click on the pics for super-large versions that are readable...

Map brochure outside. Click to enlarge

Map brochure inside. See store listing below!  Click to enlarge
Store listing for the map!  Click to enlarge

Please feel free to share your own North Kent Mall memories in the comments below!
Thanks everyone who has posted. It's fun reading everyone's recollections...

68 comments:

  1. I had a football signed by Jason Hanson at that mall during one of the many coin/stamp and card collector shows out there in the early nineties

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    1. That's great! I have an old lions hat Jason Hanson signed for me at a grand opening of a D and W Grocery in my hometown of Zeeland.

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  2. other nk stores i liked-spencer,sbarros, a teeshirt store,orange julis,shaak electronics,i worked in the mc donalds 95 there.

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    1. There was no Aladdins Castle at North Kent Mall. The arcade was called Nickelodeon. It was located right at the door of the middle enterance of the mall. I used to go there all the time in High School. Other great stores and places in the mall include Imperial Sports, Sam Goody, and Sbarro. This mall was the north sides version of Woodland Mall. Not as big but had some of the same stores.

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    2. It may have been a Nickelodeon at one point, but when I hung out there in the 80s it was Aladdin's Castle. I never knew it as Nickelodeon.

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    3. Yeah same here. Was definitely Aladdin's when I was going there.

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    4. Aladdin's Castle closed in 1991, because the Mall did not want to renew the 20 year lease.
      I use to work at the store and was around when it closed for the last time at this Mall

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  3. Remember the beautiful statue of Icarus which would be directly in front of you as you entered the main entrance of NK? Icarus was a mythical character who tried to fly to the sun with wings he made of feathers & wax, but as he flew closer to the sun, the heat melted the wax and he fell to earth. The statue of Icarus falling was huge, suspended from the ceiling over a beautiful fountain. You could hear the fountain splashing from almost anywhere you went in the mall. We moved to Calif. over 30+ yrs. ago; hope the statue is still around GR.

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    1. There were 2 bronze statues, one in front of the entrance into Kmart and the other in front of the Ward's entrance. I stumbled upon both of them a few months ago in downtown Grand Rapids. They now reside in a little park area that sits near the corner of LaGrave and Cherry Streets.

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    2. I actually made a point of looking for them but couldn't find them. Hmm...

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    3. I think I found it: http://goo.gl/maps/PSmZ4

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    4. There was a third one at the Ward end of a woman drinking coffee in the wind.

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  4. Might go there tomorrow to watch ARTHUR @ the movies at North Kent.

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  5. Was at Family Farm and Home today to get my snowblower fixed. I told the lady I never even knew they were there. She asked me if I was from out of town, but really the last time I had been there was when it was North Kent Mall.

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  6. The receipts from the K-Mart that is still there still have North Kent Mall printed on them at the top!!!

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    1. This morning I saw this post from 3 years ago, and headed to Plainfield Kmart and bought coffee filters. Cashier handed me receipt. It says "NORTH KENT MALL" right at the top!!! I will treasure this receipt forever, not kidding! Ha ha!

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    2. That is awesome...I'll have to pop in there sometime just to get a receipt =)

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  7. So many fond memories of North Kent Mall!! I loved to meet friends at Onion Crock or at the Hickory Farms sandwich counter. First place we could go "on our own" as early teens. Sometimes my dad would come in when he picked me up and we'd get take out from Fish & Chips.

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  8. The picture of Aladdin's Castle entrance shows a very different look from the one I knew in the 1970s. Was this one also located just to the right as you entered the front main doors of the mall?

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    1. There was no Aladdin's Castle there. This is a picture of an Aladdin's Castle that someone found online. The Arcade was called Nickelodeon and was located exactly where you said it was located.

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    2. It was Alladdin's Castle from the 70's to the early 90's when the name was changed by the AC parent company. AC Holdings transferred ownership of all their low producing stores to liquidate them at the same time

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  9. The photo you are using of the statue (with the bird being released) is mine. I don't mind you using it, but would appreciate being asked and getting credit for it.

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    1. I do apologize. I believe I came across it just searching images on Google. I've added a credit.

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  10. Hey - they have two of my photos here. I'm glad they are being shared. I wish more folks would post more. - R. Tate

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  11. Bought one of my first LPs at Record Land in the late 70s, Children of the Sun - billy Thorpe. Such great use of stereo in that song. Never forget my parents playing it for my 20 something cousins during a late night visit. They were quite stoned and could not believe what was going on. I just laid in bed grinning.

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  12. I used to mall hop back in the early 80s with a group of friends, via the city bus, just to hit all of the arcades (Aladdin's, Someplace Else in Eastbrook, Funway Freeway near Woodland). North Kent has the distinction of being the place where I underwent my one and only acid trip, back in '84. This was when Dragon's Lair was the hot new game, and I saw some straaaange stuff watching that game on acid. I ended up outside by the bus stop, in the middle of winter, sans coat and shirt, with security hovering over me, and my friends making excuses for my behavior. I never tried acid again after that experience.

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  13. I was the store manager at the Record Town in the mall for about a year up until the store closed in the mid 90's. It was located on the left side as you came in the main entrance, approximately the 3rd store in. I was only 20 and can't believe it's been that long ago. I distinctly remember lockingm for the last time, the large glass panels that served as the gate the night we closed it for good. On my way out I took one of the large ashtrays scattered throughout the mall as a souvenir. Funny how smoking was allowed then. I still have that ashtray and use it daily as a place to keep my wallet, keys, sunglasses, etc. I remember getting, and still have, a ticket from mall security from parking on the yellow line in the mall parking lot. And I know I also have a mall map they showing were all the store names and where they were locatd. They're buried somehwere but I know I still have the map and the ticket. I don't remember the Alladin's Castle being that big. I recall it being much smaller and orange. Just for fun I plan on taking a ride on the motorcycle there tomorrow. Last time I was there I remember you could still see the outline of the old door that lead to the mall inside of K-Mart that still stands.

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    1. That's interesting. After all this time it is a little hard to piece together some of the memories. I was trying to remember the music store near one of the entrances and I think you are talking about the one. I thought it was maybe called Record Land or Music Land.
      Fun to hear all the NKM memories from people!

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    2. Please scan your mall map, and upload on this site. It would be fun to remember the stores that were there in the 70's.

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    3. After some searching I have found the map and even a parking violation I one received. I've gone ahead and scanned it into a PDF file. How do I upload it to the site?

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    4. That's awesome! Just email me directly at poopville@yahoo.com and I'll put it up and credit you.

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  14. I worked at the KMart there during the 1991 Christmas season (high school job). My aunt worked there for several years as well. I remember going to this mall a lot in the 80s and early 90s. My cousin worked at the Sbarro's pizza place in the early 90s as well. After high school, I worked at the Meijer outlet across the parking lot for a couple years. I remember buying so many records at Musicland and Record Town. I remember the Circus World toy store (we always had to go in there when I was a little kid). In the 90s there was a nail place next to Aladdin's Castle & I used to get my nails done there. Oh and I remember hanging out at the Orange Julius restaurant a lot. They had great hot dogs and curly fries.

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  15. First time I ever skipped school me and a friend got drunk and went to the movies there. I also dated several girls that lived up on that side of town, and we would hang out there instead of driving "all the way" to Woodland Mall. This would have been early '90s.

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  16. Dude, NKM was awesome! Spent so much time there as a kid/teen. Aladin's was the place I went after smoking weed for the first time. Also saw the movie 'RAD' at the movie theater there.

    I also plan on ordering every GR Retro shirt ya got. Pure awsomeness.

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  17. I used to manage Claires Boutiques, and later, The Pretzel Peddler. 1985 to 1988. It was fun to see the pics! I've just spent the last 7 yrs working at Family Farm and Home in the old Wards building.

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  18. I was visiting a friend at St. Mary's hospital and there was a sculpture of a ram in the courtyard between St.Mary's and Mary Free Bed. If I remember correctly, it was in NK Mall back in the day. If not NK, one of the local malls anyway.

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    1. Hey Jeff....

      Love your blog! How can I reach you to book a radio interview on WOOD Radio?
      philtower@clearchannel.com

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    2. The ram I'm. Sure came from Woodland mall. I recall me and my brother playing on it in throw early 70's. About the same time I think WLAV had a raft race and the mall would display the rafts.

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  19. Wow! I remember getting dropped off at the north Kent mall...my dad would give my friend and I $10 bucks each to last All day. Walk around mall, eat at the Kmart, then go to north Kent movies .. ..wow .I miss those days

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  20. Loved going to that mall. Used to love to eat the Onion Crock I think it was called. Best soup ever. That sure used to be a nice place to shop. My highschool sweetheart Steve Sienko and I used to go there all the time.

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  21. Does anyone remember Orange Julius? I was from NYC where Orange Julius places where everywhere and when I visited GR is was like being home.

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  22. OK what about Believe in Music? How about pre Mr. Burger... Dog in Suds?
    Best French Fries EVER at Scheuler's in Standale? Mr. Jim's Animal Kingdom? Buck Berry? Sullivans Baseball at Valley Field? The Bavarian Inn? Lakos? Ducks? Russo's and later West Bank downstairs? The Green Apple? Thunderchicken/Alibi? Plainfield Drive in Wed LAV dollar nights? Jose Babushkas? The worst named elephant in the US- Zooella? Jolly Trolley? The hills of LMD going out to GVSU? Duba's on Stocking? Trills Texaco Barn on MI Ave?

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    1. My dad was the scout/general manager for Sullivan's baseball club. I miss games at Valley Field and road trips to Battle Creek to play Verona Barbershop or the Ferraris.

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    2. I worked at Duba's!

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  23. MT Jacks? Roaring 20's?/Village Inn? The Clock? Green Ridge CC? Studio 28? The old grain mill on Walker/Garfield Sts? Marywood/Mt Mercy/Carmelites? Sunday night services at the Catholic Information Center? Old Kent/ Union/ MI National Banks?

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  24. Every winter. My Grandma would pick me and my brother up, and we would get our Santa photo taken at NKM, then she would take us shopping for our parents, before eating at Sbarro's. The toy store always got a good long look, and the Claire's was the place I got my ears pierced. M&M cookies from Janie's were a treat on our way out the door. It was a magical place in my youth. The last time I went was shortly after my so was born in 1999, and there wasn't much left. Kmart, bargain books, and not much else.

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  25. When it first opened there were a lot of shoe stores. Too bad most of you don't remember Wurzburg's. It was a great local departnent store. There was as Chess King for men and store next door for women, but I don't remember the name. Dressy dresses for proms could be found at Gantos. There was an Id near Montgomery Wards. I lost my three year old daughter during a crowded craft show there. We were in the center of the mall. Two lovely nuns stopped her from entering Wards and stayed with her until I finally found her. I was terrified. God bless those wonderful women.

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  26. You got a pic (barely) of my old store, Imperial Sports. How cool!

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  27. The North Kent Mall may be mostly gone, but it has a twin. (Seriously).
    The developer built two other identical malls (One in Jackson MI and one in Detroit, with the detroit mall being gone since 95).
    The Jackson MI Mall, known as westwood mall is almost entirely identical, right down to the entrance pavilion. The only exception is that a third anchor was built in 1993 as Elder Beerman and Wards was torn down in 2003 and Walmart was anchored to the mall instead. Its identical. Look at photos online.

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    1. Also, the Westwood mall is still open.

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    2. To add, outside, the mall was identical until the 90s renovations. Now only some bits look like NKM. Inside looks similar though.

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  28. I went to Northview High and would walk to NKM all the time in !971/72. I worked at Hickory Farms for about two weeks, hated it !! I was 16 and the manager was a jerk, I went to lunch and never returned. I bought my cool clothes at chess king, big collars and wide flares. I remember see the first super vw beetle in 72 on display, it was so big.

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  29. Does anyone remember Big Sid, the snake that escaped his home and "terrorized" Standale in the late 1970's?

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  30. anyone remember a soup & salad restuarant late 70's name? i think it was by wards.

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  31. I frequented the Aladdins Castle in Holland’s Westshore Mall in the early 90’s. I had no idea there was another Aladdin’s Castle so close by.
    Some other notable arcades that I remember: Flipper’s in Jenison, Fun Factory near Woodland Mall and Games People Play in the Eastbrook Mall.

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    1. I went to all those arcades in high school. The Alladin's castle changed names to Nickelodeon back in the 90s and Nickelodeon used to be the arcade in Eastbrook mall before it changed names into Games People Play. Most people remember the arcade in North Kent Mall as Alladins Castle. Not that many remember it as Nickelodeon.

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  32. As a kid, I remember eating hot dogs and fries at Orange Julius while my grandma and great aunt mall walked there. Around 5th/6th grade I remember liking Imperial Sports because they had the best selection of basketball jerseys than any other store in town. In 8th grade, I remember buying a Foo Fighters T-shirt with the self-titled album cover on it from Sam Goody and a pair of Airwalks during one of their sidewalk sales. I also recall spending time in Tape World and Walden Books having a weird musty smell. Although malls are dying out, I feel like a mall there now would do better than it did then.

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  33. Here is footage from a fashion show filmed at North Kent Mall in 85. This is spectacular. Seriously. It's worth the half hour:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvZmUQ3tgPw&feature=youtu.be

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  34. I grew up in Hastings, but GR was always my surrogate hometown as most of my extended family lived there, and still does. My one distinct memory of NKM was seeing Ghostbusters there in 1984, good stuff. I now live on the NE side near Riverside Park, love it.

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  35. I was away from the Grand Rapids Area for five years due to Military obligations - and only came home once on leave in early 1969 - not to return until late 1972 - so many changes took place I was totally flummoxed when I saw the NEW malls. The only one I remembered was Rogers Plaza Mall...and the original Eastbrook Mall and Woodland Mall was just under construction.... However - I did go to the Cinderella City Mall ,which took a full TWO and half days to get through it all, in Engelwood, Co... so what I found back in Grand Rapids paled in comparison. Yet, Our Malls manage to cling to life via new ownership's, investors, redesigns, changing with the times and what the buying public wants - whereas - the 3 FLOOR MEGALITHIC SUPER STRUCTURE that was once Cinderella City is no more, as it was razed to the ground in 1999. It couldn't maintain itself by being such a monster as it was. A 7000 car parking lot couldn't hold all of the shoppers cars during it's heyday. Competing smaller Malls killed it.
    Personally, I am not big on shopping Malls as I prefer individual boutique stores or online...I really don't like crowds. I like a shop to have a unique atmosphere and what it is I am looking for, that will draw me back to it. I like casual shopping. I must have easy access from where I parked my car. I have a hunch online mega retailers like Amazon - will seriously chew away the need or purpose for big concrete buildings like malls in the next 20 years. My initial take on North Kent Mall when I first saw it was " This is IT? " You've got to be joking!"
    RIVERCITY MALL to me is a little dwarf cousin of Cinderella City Mall! It makes me wonder just how long it'll survive - especially now that a Mega Retailers outlet-plaza has just been built at 131 and 84th. Birch Run Redux? I question the timing just now as we face a national financial calamity?

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    1. RIVER TOWN CROSSING MALL! Not Rivercity Mall - I getting too old!

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  36. I have read about how the North Kent Mall has a twin, an identical mall in Jackson called the Westwood Mall. Went there a couple of weeks ago on a day off. Wow!!! Want to go back in time??? Pay a visit to the Westwood Mall, it's identical to the North Kent Mall. The big stone entrance is the same and everything. And although it didn't have the most foot traffic the mall was pretty full, hardly any closed stores. Walk in and let the memories wash over you.

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  37. Went to North Kent mall in the early 1980's when I was a kid went to orange Julius Pretzel Peddlers good pretzels went to Kmart and ate in the Cafeteria of kmart herd Kmart is closing in December rip Kmart North Kent Mall 1974-2016 Lived in Grand Rapids in the early 1980's.

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  38. I used to like North Kent mall because it was quieter and less frantic than some of the others in town. I remember one night I wanted to go there, but Mom said it was too fare to go. We went out and ended up in Elgin Illinois!

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  39. My husband and I remember Captain ships Potato chips and their home made dip. I'm pretty sure that was the name even though they were excellent

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  40. I used to work at Aladdin's Castle from 88-89 and Sbarros after that from 89-93. Those were some of the best years of my life.

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