Friday, September 20, 2013

NORTH KENT MALL Photo Memoirs

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





67 comments:

  1. I worked at Homemaker Shops, first as a clerk, then as assistant manager. It was fun because it was considered a smaller mall, and I made a lot of friends.

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    1. I worked there too.

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    2. I worked at Homemaker Shops with Sid Harris & Ms. Buchanen.!

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  2. Thank you for sharing these photos and memories...
    I also remember the Orange Julius (and the devil decor)... the gap... and the Iron Man or Copper Man statue... I have been looking for the artist on that one for awhile (no luck yet). Thanks again!

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    1. For a while, at least, some of those copper man statues ended up downtown. I think on Jefferson or La Grave by the old UICA... My memory is fuzzy on the exact location, and they might not be there anymore, but hope this helped.

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    2. My first real job was at Orange Julius, as a clean-up boy. Even my younger sister worked there at OJs. I learned to drive in the snow at NKMs parking lot in the winter.

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  3. My sister worked at Foxmoor, my mom met her second husband there, and I saw my first horror movie at the theater. So sad it's gone.

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  4. This is awesome. Thank you for posting. I remember the smell of the mall and orange Julius, the pretzel with cheese that I used to love enjoying. I remember buying my first PAGER there....back before cell phone days. And of course Sears. And many movies and North Kent movie theater. Sitting in the back with my b.f. :)

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  5. I worked at Montgomery ward for 4 years. Loved orange Julius!!

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  6. Thx so much, brought me right back to childhood. Only through your photo did I remember the stark black-white rock pattern on the central floors and the square plant islands w/ wooden seats and small-stone texture. First date at North Kent Movies (Home Alone), so many quarters at Aladdin's Castle, and many slurps of Orange Julius. -Mark Pellerito (now of upstate NY but always missing Michigan and visiting a few times a year)

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  7. I loved that Mall, back in the day. Brings back memories of my childhood, so thank you.

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  8. First job...Things Remembered (little kiosk down by Kmart). 2nd job...Kmart. Loved NKM! Very awesome to see the inside again, I remember it very well.

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  9. I chairmen ed many Corvette shows there and raised a lot of money for Spina Bifida. The managers were always awesome to work with!

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  10. I may have worked with your sister at Foxmoor. I don't remember her name but she was very sweet and had a sister named Angie.....

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  11. I spent almost every Saturday at the mall! Met my now ex husband at Wards and worked at both Foxmoor and J Riggings (sp?) mens suit store . Soooo many good memories at that mall.

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  12. Thanks for sharing this!

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  13. Wow major blast from the past. I was a security guard there and worked at the pretzel peddle everyone called me Taz. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.

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  14. I changed the movie titles on that Marquis for years!! That brings back some memories :)

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  15. I took my first outting with my twins...they screamed the whole time and 2 different elderly ladies lectured me about what I was doing wrong. Sat right there on one of those benches and cried.

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  16. I worked at Payless and remember going to get a Orange Julies Drink on my breaks. Used to Shop there at the Mall all the time especially with Friends or a boyfriend or two! Always refused to walj in Kmart with those darn Blue Light Specials...LOL!

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    1. Correction: Walk not walj ha ha

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    2. Where was the Sbarro located at in the mall. I thought it was near Radio Shack

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  17. I worked at Beverly's for awhile....so sad

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  18. My friends and I went there as teens in the '70s. I worked at Hot Sam's, the pretzel place next to Orange Julius. Another girl and I got laid off when I turned 18 because the owner didn't want to pay us minimum wage. I bought a lot of great outfits at Jean Nicole. In the '80's when my son was a baby, I'd take my mother and him there to shop and walk around, and I always stopped at Fox Jewelers to chat with Billy Byrne. I loved Montgomery Ward. I still shop at Kmart once in awhile and also frequent Lowe's, but it's hard to picture the mall because the architecture has changed so much. This is a great site, thanks for the memories.

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  19. When I was a kid, my parents bought a little organ from Grinnell's and started my sister and I with lessons. That would have been about 1974. The Mall had been here a while at that point and the anchor stores were Wurzburg's and Montgomery Ward's (we used to call it "Monkey Wards"). I loved that Mall as a kid and spent many hours there just hanging out. I did work in the Mall a couple of times, once for a little music store that had a display set up in the center of the mall for Christmas and another time when I worked for Nobil Shoes as the Assistant Manager for the Woodland Mall store and would work at the North Kent store to help out when they were short staffed. Good memories and I really can't believe that the mall has been torn down for well over a decade now. Man it is crazy how time flies!

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  20. Thank you so much for sharing this. It means a lot to be able to see the inside of that place. I too had forgotten about those wooden benches, we used to hang out at the one at the main entrance, right outside of Alladin's. Where the guys hung out. What wonderful memories. Thank you. .Kathie

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  21. i was a hang out at Alladins Castle, loved Captain Chip Potato Ship, and Bullock Cart,But nothing was more fun riding our bikes thru there and gettin the mall cops riled up!!...lol good times

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  22. So glad I stumbled across your photo memoir.....as a kid in the 70s (we lived in the sub across Plainfield - Northville Park), NKM was "the" spot to hang, shop and act older than we really were...I bought my first 45s at Recordland; loved Hot Sam's and Orange Julius; blew through my allowance at Aladin's Castle....never understood until much later what drew people to Bullock Cart (a head shop in a mall? brilliant!) My mom loved eating at the Onion Crock and Ward's buffeteria....great memories from a great time of life....thanks again.

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  23. I grew up in the neighborhood behind North Kent Mall (1980's) and would wander in (almost daily) after riding the bike trails. When I got older, worked at Radio Shack. I was sad to see it go. I now live near another soon-to-be relic, Rogers Plaza. Thanks for posting.

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  24. Back in the mid 90's I had a small retail store there for the Christmas season. The storefront was the vacant Foxs jewelers. When I moved in it became Premier Products Unlimited. I do so enjoy being an entrepreneur.

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  25. Too cool!! My 1st job was at Foot Locker. Loved this mall!

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  26. I saw only 13 when this mall closed, but it it oddly oddly shaped who I am a lot. In addition to spending a lot of time at Aladdin's Castle, There was a dollar store that want even around that long near the arcade that the the owner must have been selling off his personal comics collection at $1a pop. I bought so many comics from there, and I've been into them and nerdy stuff ever since. Lot of memories here

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  27. My first job was at the mall in 1977. Can't remember the name of it the store that had a huge selection of Levi jeans near Kmart

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    1. I think it was called Plainfield Department Store. In the mid to late 70's this is where my mom took me to buy my jeans. A pre-teen little girl with a little boys body!

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    2. Plainfield Department Store. I worked there.

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  28. The Best Things I Can Remember About North Kent Mall Were Spending So Much Time And So Many Quarters At Aladdin's Castle And Also Christmas Time In The Mall.
    I Used To Spend Hours Watching "Al The Glass Blower" Doing His Stuff.
    I Think I May Have Gotten A Partial Tan From Standing So Close To The Torch While He Was Busy Making His Blown Glass Creations.
    Christmas Decorations Back Then Were Way Better Too. Memorable...
    Had Some Fun Out Back On The Mall Parking Lot When Snow Fell.
    It Was A Great Place For A Little Winter Driving Refresher To Test My Cars Driving Capabilities By Doing A Few ( Maybe More Than A Few ) Doughnuts...
    Back Inside To K-Mart Subs,,, Spencer Gift Shop,,, Tossing Pennies At The Fountain,,, The Smell Of Onion Crock,,, An Occasional Orange Julius,,,
    School Clothes Shopping,,, And Always Meeting Up With Friends From School ...


    Now It's A Haven For Hardware.
    I Guess That's Better Than A Vacant Building.

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  29. First Time I Saw "Raiders of The Lost Ark" on The Big Screen at the Cinema. I Can Still Smell The Popcorn...

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  30. I worked at Circus World Toys for 8 years. It was an awesome mall. Coney Island dogs were the best along with an orange julious. Those were the days!

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  31. I used to manage the Imperial Sports store in NKM. Played catch with the Foot Locker guys when things were slow. Lots of fun and good people.

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  32. My youngest memory is from when I was almost 3 yrs old. Walking with my parents, we entered the door by Muelllers shoe store and didn't even make it as far as Beverlys or Gantos when they turned around and left. Many years later I learned my moms water had broke and soon I became a big sister. In 1987 my boyfriend took my to my first visit to Alladdin's and we sat in the picture booth and had four black and whites taken in a strip. We came back a year later and did it again on that Anniversary, the third year we got married. I enjoyed CVS and Hot SAMs too!

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    1. There was a CVS/pharmacy in North Kent Mall. I dont remember CVS being in Grand Rapids back then.

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    2. I worked at Casual Corner and that Mall was definitely the place to be!! Thanks for the memories

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  33. Great post! I lived only a mile from the mall, my first job was at Montgomery Ward, I met my husband here also. We met when we were 14/15 years old. Almost 35 years ago...married now for 25 years.

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  34. Darci Fawcett- AustinNovember 24, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    Cannot thank you enough for you for sight to take these pictures. I and many others, like you have great memories from going with our parents to finally goin with friends, my favorite place was the head shop , can't remember the name, not only did they have awsome bongs, but they also had clothes that I spent slot of my baby sitting money on, they were so cool. Thanks again for this trip down memory lane

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    1. Wasn't there a store called Spenser's Gifts? Had a lot of amusing practical joke items and always burned incense?

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  35. Wow, what a walk down memory lane. I've been going there since I was very little with my parents.. and started going there by city bus since I was 10. I have so many find memories growing up at NKM. When I was 14 I took my parents car up there to meet friends. And even though I moved out of the city at age 15, my first place I went of course after picking up my b.f. was NKM. Thanks again for the pictures.

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  36. Awesome Thanks for this! Takes me back!! :)

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  37. Loved the mall. My sister worked at pants place. Took my kids to see Santa every year. Loved just walking around and checking out all the stores.The good ole days

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  38. I used to ride my bike or take the bus to that mall and spend tons of money at Alladin's Castle. Later in the late 80's I worked at Plainfields Department Store on Plainfield (by MC Sporting Goods) and made deliverys to the mall store with their van. Very cool place and was sad to see the mall torn down.

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    1. I always bought my skis at MC Sporting goods.

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  39. I have amazing, loving memories of NKM. At the ripe old age of 5 my grandmother bought me my first 45 records at the record place by Hot Sam. I purchased "Love Will Keep Us Together" and "Rhinestone Cowboy". She would always take me to Orange Julius and sometimes Hot Sam. Waldenbooks was another favorite of mine. Plainfield Dept Store was for clothing. I remember my neighbor across the street telling me that Levi's were the only acceptable brand and that bell bottoms were "out". Alladin's Castle was a favorite of my brother's (and yes, it WAS Alladin's Castle; I am old, I know 100% for sure). Happy, happy memories with my grandma :

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  40. A small section of the corridor that connected Kmart with the mall still exists behind a fire door. Go outside by the kmart sign where the Kmart and Lowes meet and its there.

    Also, to this day the receipts still say Kmart North Kent Mall. I bought a phone cord there a few days ago.

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    1. Also, for anyone wanting a taste of North Kent currently, Westwood Mall in Jackson is pretty much identical, with the exception of the wards bulding being torn down in 2004 and replaced with walmart. The layout is the same and so is the exterior design. There was even an alladins castle at the front door.

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    2. We lived in Jackson for two years and now that you mention it, I do remember the malls were nearly exactly alike.

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  41. Does anyone know what was in the building that is now Tokyo roadhouse resteraunt?

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  42. Does anybody remember Witmarks and turnstile. Used to do most of my Christmas shopping at Witmarks.

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    1. I earned some money and bought my first 10-speed from Turnstile in 1973/4...for 93.56! Ah, the things we remember.

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    2. Didn't Witmarks turn into Service Merchendise? My friend worked at Mr. Steaks there in the parking lot.

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  43. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPK7PQX5Y0I

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VMZFPVM-Mk

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  44. I always loved playing in the fountain as a kid, & looking at all the pennies in it. It was a unique fountain. I also loved the store there that was called Maryann's. I also that was the first place where I tried an Orange Julius. So, every time after that I would ask my mom, "Can we get an Orange Julius?" I also used to have a neighbor that fixed jewelry, at the jewelry store that was right off of the main entrance. I don't remember the name of it.

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    1. I worked at that Orange Julius in the late 70's. We used to make strawberry flavored ones and upon request, we would crack a raw egg into one.

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  45. I remember the Onion Crock, one of my Mom's favorite restaurants. Always liked Wards bought many things from Wards over the years. Sorry to see Kmart close this year. Been in that Kmart many years dating back to the 80's. Too bad Alpine Ave stole much of the business that killed North Kent Mall.

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  46. I do. Mom took us shopping for school clothes at turnstile. Witmarks was one of the places I registered at for my wedding.
    Does anyone remember when The Limited came to the mall? It was so awesome. After they came to the mall, I bought most of my clothes there.

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  47. Awesome pictures! I worked At Aladdin's castle from 88-89 and then Sbarro's from 89-93. Some of my most fondest memories happened there.

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