Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Very Sveden House Christmas

While combing through thrift store vinyl, I was surprised to find this little gem in excellent condition....

I guess it used to be a thing for businesses to put out Christmas albums. I also own a "True Value Hardware" Christmas album (not to brag or anything) and I've seen a KFC Christmas album. They're out there.

My childhood memories of Sveden House are pretty foggy. I remember liking the way it looked inside. I was totally clueless about Scandinavian culture but it made me think of "medieval times" or something.  The concept of "All you can eat" just seemed so incredible and you can believe that the handful of times I got to go there I ate way too much.

So there isn't a year on this album anywhere but Sveden House was around since the 60s and this seems from that era. Now please enjoy some cheery holiday sounds of the Sveden House Chorale singing "There's Always Another Potato" !   Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 9, 2013

I scored this booth seat from the Kopper Top

Actually now that I have it I'm not totally sure what I'm gonna do with it but when I saw the lot of them out on the curb it was a "holy shit" moment and I just thought at least one needed to be saved!

I often think of the Kopper Top around Christmas time actually. It used to be a tradition of mine to make friends go there with me during the holidays because the place used to go NUTS with decorations! I mean like every surface seemed to be covered with something Christmassy. 

New owners will soon transform this place into a new bar called "Pour House" according to the worker I talked to there.

Piles of whatnot everywhere. Now I wish I would have looked for a booth table.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Holiday Memories of Downtown Grand Rapids

Starting the holiday season with this cool little video I found. Lots of charming imagery of downtown Christmas times from the past while local folks share their memories.  Maybe a little more "cute" than the kind of things I normally post here but Christmas is a very cute time...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Olde tyme video stores of GR

Renting movies from video stores has been a favorite activity for a good part of my life. The recent news that the last of Blockbuster's stores will close seemed to make official the ending of the video store era.

Of course I enjoy Netflix. I watch a ton of stuff online for sure but there's something about browsing the aisles of a video store that will always seem so right.

I used to frequent the Blockbuster on Leonard, attached to the side of Ralph's grocery. The layout was different from most of them, kinda maze-like. It seemed particularly old-school to me. The building has been abandoned for a few years now. I think Ralph's is using it for storage.

...Allow me a moment to brag that when Eastown Blockbuster closed down, I snagged their copy of Revenge Of The Nerds 1 and 2 for $5! So that's a win I guess-- but I will kind of miss that place and really I'll miss a ton of different places that used to be around Grand Rapids that are no more. It's maybe a little ironic that quite a few of the smaller chains were most likely driven out of business by Blockbuster.

Some friends and I were trying to brainstorm a list of local video stores we could remember:

-Video Palace
-Video Tyme
-Video Master
-Eye On Video
-Hollywood Video
-Crazy Larry's and Believe In Music both rented video
-Meijer and Rite Aid used to have a rental section
-Magnum Opus
-My Video Shoppe
-Hypnotic Eye
-And of course Blockbuster

...I am sure the list is missing some! 

As of 2013 the only video rental that I know of still around Grand Rapids is Family Video....

On this particular night, the Spice Girls movie "Spice World" was showing on all the monitors inside, which enjoyably  heightened the time-warp vibe I now feel when I go here.

So is Family Video the last video store open in Grand Rapids?  Are there some others we didn't think of?

Friday, November 15, 2013


So my retro shirts made a splash on facebook a bit ago and from that it seems some new folks are finding my blog (Hi!)

If you want to get an automatic notice whenever something gets added, follow me on Twitter.

I update less frequently in the summer months but as the cold season sets in, I get more active here.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing the memories!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Photo Gallery: Monroe Center, mid-70s

A little time-portal to the Monroe Mall area downtown, courtesy City of Grand Rapids archives.
Click photos for a larger view...

Friday, October 11, 2013

Electric Avenue

Electric Avenue was a dance club that existed during the 80s on West 28th St. between Kalamazoo and Breton. I try to mostly post about things that I remember well-- so that I can have maybe some interesting stories to tell at least. Honestly though, I only went to Electric Avenue one time, sort of dragged there by a girl I was hoping to get with (didn't happen!) though we got to slow dance and make out to The Cure.

I remember the place being quite busy and full of flashing neon hanging all around the ceiling. It had a two-level setup, similar to Top Of The Rock, where there was sort of the "dance pit."  I also remember them playing some music videos, including Bronski Beat, "Hit That Perfect Beat." ...Actually, how did they spin videos back in those days? From VHS tapes?? Wow.

I think at some point in the early 90s, it became "Dick's Resort," then sat vacant a bit, then got demolished. Currently, "Xtreme Car Audio" sits on the spot it used to occupy.  Actually, an exclusively car-audio business still being around is kind of impressive.

Here's the tiny handful of photos I could find of the goings on at Electric Avenue (click on them to get a larger view). 

If you used to go there and have any stories, please share 'em in the comments!

DJ Mark McConnell, Danny Douglas (KLQ, Pepsi Dance Traxx), and--some guy
Maybe this is Halloween. I prefer to think people just dressed crazy there all the time. 

Shit gets crazy when Spuds McKenzie shows up!
Party in the front AND party in the back, ladies!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

North Kent Mall shirts!

I dunno, I just thought it'd be cool to make a faux vintage North Kent Mall shirt. 

I'll do one for anybody else who wants one for $12. I can do any color combo you'd like too, though I think the green and white looks "correct."

 Get one through my etsy shop!


Friday, September 20, 2013


There is pretty much nothing to be found out out there on the internet about North Kent Mall so I thought it was cool that my previous post about it had become a little online meeting spot for people who remember it fondly to come and share memories. And wow, I got linked by deadmalls.com.

Anyway, a post on the NKM facebook recently caught my attention (and made my NKM blog post seem like the work of a 1st grader!) A guy named Mark A. Lenon posted some personal memories and photos of the mall from just before it closed. 

With his kind permission I'm reposting it here. All credit for the writing and photos go to Mark.  Thanks for letting me share your memories on GR-Retro.

My NORTH KENT MALL Photo Memoirs

-By Mark A Lenon
These photos are my eyewitness memoirs to the final decline and death of the once magnificent Grand Rapids architecture known as NORTH KENT MALL.

From June 1998 until that sad day in 2001, I still frequented the mall on a weekly basis. I worked at the old Meijer offices (the old Turnstyle building) at the corner of 5 mile and Plainfield Ave. On periodic breaks and lunch periods, I would walk over to the Mall to purchase a snack from General Nutrition Center or pick up my developed film from CPI Photo Finish. Other times, I would just stroll down memory lane and enjoy the quiet atmosphere of nostalgia. Every time I visited the Mall, it was truly a bittersweet experience for me.

NORTH KENT MALL was my proverbial playground. I have such fond childhood memories of my parents taking my brother and I there. I remember how wondrous and huge it seemed. So many things to see and experience! It was always a time I eagerly anticipated and would constantly ask my parents, "When are we going to the Mall next?" "This weekend?" "How about today?" "Are we going soon?"

But alas, when I finally got my driver's license on my 16th birthday, the very first place I drove to was the Mall and the Movies at North Kent Theater. I spent so much time there at my favorite stores...Record Land, Music Land, Walden Books and of course, the Arcade. I am so proud to say I am an original Video Whiz Kid thanks to Aladdin's Castle. Before I turned 16, that is where I spent all of my hard earned allowance, lawn-mowing and farm work money. I am so thankful I had these experiences...sifting through record bins looking for my favorite band's new LP album and playing all the classic upright cabinet video games in the arcade atmosphere.

Besides going to the Mall, my next favorite thing to do was seeing movies at the theaters at North Kent. I saw SO MANY movies there during my high school years and during the summer after graduation (1984). Those were some awesome years for movies! I have always loved going to the movies and most of my cherished cinematic memories are of times at that theater. I took a lot of dates there as well as seeing movies with my best friends. I also saw lots of films there just by myself. I loved cruising solo in my bad ass Plymouth Fury III...blasting my stereo and making NORTH KENT MALL and the Movies at North Kent my favorite destination any day of the week.

Decades later, in the year 2000, I saw that the end of an era was drawing nigh. I asked my brother to meet me at the Mall one afternoon in December...ironically right before Christmas. We decided to walk through the Mall together to reminisce and I would photo document the interior for preservation. Sadly we both knew that very shortly, this place that created so many treasured memories for us, would be gone forever. We took in every detail we possibly could before finally walking out the main doors one last time.

The following Spring I decided to photograph exterior shots of the Mall and the movie theater as companion images to the interior images I had taken. It was a chilly Saturday morning in April of 2001 and the clarity of that early morning light manifested the sadness of the reality of the scene...abandonment.

Even though I vowed I would not take pictures of the demolition, I allowed myself to observe on a very depressing, rainy and dreary afternoon the destruction of the pyramidal entrance way overhang. I am not ashamed to say I shed tears while I watched before I finally decided to drive away and not look back. As the old adage goes; "All good things..."

Please enjoy these photos and hopefully they will bring back pleasant memories for you as they always do for me.

~ Mark A. Lenon

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hot In The City "Grand Rapids!"

I was working on putting together a sweet "summer" music mix and thought of "Hot In The City" by Billy Idol. This caused me to have a flashback to 1988...

Me and a couple of my "new waver" friends were hanging out dying our hair black and listening to the radio. "Hot In The City" comes on and I was kinda half listening to it. So it gets to the part where Billy yells "New York!" BUT-- instead he yells "Grrand Rrrapids!"
Over the years, any time I randomly hear the song, it always makes me think of this. After so long, I sometimes question whether some of my memories actually happened or maybe were just a dream.

Anyway, this afternoon seemed like a good time to learn about the possibly imaginary "Grand Rapids" edit of "Hot In The City." (It actually is really f'n hot in the city right now)

According to wikipedia: "Although the released version of the song contains a verse in which Idol shouts "New York," other versions of the song were recorded for various radio stations, including one in which he shouts "Amarillo", "Minneapolis", or "New Haven."

I hit up Danny Czekalinski, aka Danny Douglas, who was an on-air personality at KLQ in the late 80s... "yes....he did customs for every city in the top 100 markets and Grand Rapids was one of them. You are correct!"

So obviously, the happiest of endings to this story would be me making available a download of an mp3 of the song. I would love to get a hold of a copy but I imagine it to be impossible. 

According to Danny "It was on reel to reel tape from the record company. Phil Tower at WOOD radio may have a copy."  

I'm half tempted to pursue it but sometimes I have to stop myself from bothering folks with these weird little scavenger hunts of mine. Anyway, it's kinda sweet confirming that this did exist!

Hope everyone's keepin cool and enjoying summer. I hope to have some new stuff to post soon! 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

More totally 80s Pepsi Dance Trax clips!

I got a facebook message from a veteran Pepsi Dance Trax attendee Wendee Bush that she had found a dusty VHS in storage that may have some episodes of the show. Well I was all over that and so here we have some new clips. Little time-portals into fall of 1989 with all of the hair, clothes and synchronized dance moves...

Special bonus on this one, I left in some very 80s area commercials, including "Sound & Video Appliance" and "Chic University of Cosmetology" ...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Video vaults...

I think the Ark of the Covenant might be in a crate down here somewhere.
I've started exploring the basement catacombs at GRTV the Grand Rapids public access channel. Looking for cool stuff and finding it! 4 more shelves that look like this one. Tapes dating back to the early 80s. Some of this stuff is like a time capsule of the city's past. Hoping to find some real gems and make them available for people to see again...

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Vintage Sign project continues....

There's a possibility of some gallery shows for my old-time GR sign project so I'm trying to get re-motivated. Here's the latest...

My first try at using "electroluminescent wire" for neon. Not as bright as I was hoping but still learning.

Back-lit version.

The City Centre was a bustling mall in Monroe Center in the 80s. It didn't last very long though. Closed in the early 90s. It is currently the Police Station/Secretary of State. Part of GR's try at revitalizing downtown and it didn't quite work out, neither did "Mackie's World" rebranding they tried years later. Some older than me may remember it as Herpolsheimer's.  I lived downtown in the late 80s so it was a hangout for me and I remember it in its prime. There is literally no visual reference to be found anywhere for City Center. I had to rely on video I shot down there for stills in making the sign.  In my memory, the City Center was the most 80s mall of the 80s. I think the designers took more than a few cues from Miami Vice. Everything was pink and teal, including the little train that ran around the food court!

Me hangin out in the City Centre food court, 1987. Pink and teal 4 eva!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mr. Fables re-opening???

Bill Lewis, Yesterdog restaurant owner and former Mr. Fables employee, apparently owns the Mr. Fables trademark and would be allowed access to the Mr. Fables secret recipes by Boyles and Faber if he wished to restart the Mr. Fables restaurant. 

A recent question posted on the Yesterdog Facebook page posed the question of why should Mr. Fables come back, leading some to believe the restaurant may be making a return.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Purple East "plus"

I was going through some of my 80s VHS and found this image I shot of the front of the old Purple East when it was on Fulton.  I used to like browsing for awesome shirts in there. I'm always impressed with hand-painted signs like this.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sweden House

.... Or "Sveden House" if you prefer. I've seen it spelled both ways.

 The postcard I found above is one of the few bits of ephemera I could come across anywhere online. I remember the place having the fireplace and unusual decor that made me feel like I was in a castle or something. Was it really this over the top? 

I think of this place every so often and wish I could go there and eat and eat and eat until I become physically ill, like I did my junior year of highschool. Our class won some kind of sweepsakes put on by the company that made our class rings and the prize was having our whole class bussed out to Sveden House in Grand Rapids. I am pretty sure it was the one on 28th St. 
I went to school out in a little town in the cornfields so this was kind of a big deal, getting to come to the metropolis of Grand Rapids and feast at this place. 

Sveden House restaurants were in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin
Besides the one on 28th St. I believe there was another on Plainfield. It's been so long since the last time I went, I really can't remember the quality of the food but I'm guessing I wasn't old enough to be too picky.

I went looking to see if there were any of these restraunts still left anywhere. I would seriously get some people together and road-trip out of state if need be to dine at Sveden House once more.  Alas, the most info I could find was for one in Livonia on a few different restaurant listing/review sites. The one and only review is dated 2005. I am guessing that it can't have stayed open much longer after that year. Google street view shows a depressing-looking plaza with abandoned buildings.

The only other info I could find about it was that the owner of the chain, Keith Maxwell passed away in 2011 at age 88.

After finding most traces of Sveden House erased from existence, I was happy to score this on ebay...

With the "w" spelling." That Valkyrie is kinda hot.
So goodbye forever, Sweden (Sveden) House. I'll kinda miss you. The Schnitzelbank as well, now that I think of it.