Stanley Park Mall

#649: Denizens of “The Mall”

GETTING MORE TALE #649: Denizens of “The Mall”

Every mall has its questionable denizens.  I’m not talking about mall rats or bargain hunters.  I mean the people that are there every single day, not doing much of anything, just…being.

Stanley Park Mall in Kitchener, where I spent most of my childhood and early work life, had plenty of characters.

One of the first I was aware of was named “Butts”.  Nobody knew his real name, but he earned the nickname Butts by fishing cigarette butts out of ashtrays.  He was there frequently, and if not he was mining the ashtrays at Fairview Mall instead.  We left him alone, but one kid from school named Kevin Kirby decided to make fun of Butts one day.  Butts responded with a flurry of F-bombs.  It all seemed rather sad to me and not at all funny.  A kid making fun of this guy, and him telling a little kid to fuck off?  Why not just leave him alone?  I’m sure Butts was made fun of regularly, but Kirby was generally a dick.  (Any time he teamed up with me on a school project I did all the work and he coasted off my grade.)

Sue came along a little later.  She was in a bad car accident and was in a walker.  She really liked the Record Store I worked in, and had a bit of a crush on the owner.  We didn’t actually know about the crush until she gave him a Valentine’s Day card.  She used to park her walker at the front counter and talk to him for hours.  We didn’t assume that meant she had a crush, because there were lots of lonely people in the mall who just liked to talk.  It was one of the drawbacks of working there.  One day before leaving she gave him a card, and the owner didn’t realise it was a valentine.  He opened it in front of us, and we all saw it.  He was super embarrassed and really tried to avoid Sue after that.  I witnessed him taking a huge dive behind the counter to avoid her when she strolled by!  And that wasn’t an isolated incident.  I learned from it – I took a few dives behind the counter myself over the years.

The last regular denizen to discuss was the saddest and I don’t know what happened to him.  He was known as Johnny Walker.  Like Butts, nobody knew his real name although his first name may actually have been John.  They called him Johnny Walker because he would walk around the mall all day, every day.  The mall was like a big rectangle, and he would complete numerous circuits through the day.  He talked to himself as he did, mumbling away as he walked.  If you overheard him, it would sound like a normal conversation but with just one person talking.

I’ve been trying to find out what happened to Johnny Walker but nobody seems to know.  People at the mall said he was rich and didn’t work or need to work.  Maybe it was an inheritance.  Maybe an insurance claim.  Nobody knew.  His clothes weren’t ratty and he was clean shaven, but there was clearly something wrong with him.  It was no act.

The general rule of thumb was “just ignore him”.  Sometimes kids would make fun of him and he’d get loud and violent.  He’d been kicked out of the mall a few times after a violent or loud spell.  Then he’d go to a different mall to walk around, before finally returning to Stanley Park again.  He was never gone too long.

As told in Record Store Tales Part 6, I only dealt with Johnny Walker once at the Record Store.  He strolled in, talking to himself.  I took a deep breath and hoped nothing would set him off.  He walked, talked, and picked out a tape.  He came up to the counter and immediately stopped talking to himself.  I sold him the tape, gave him his change, and he walked out again, sharply resuming his conversation with himself.

All I really know about Johnny Walker is that at one point, he listened to tapes.

I hated seeing highschool mallrat kids following him around and shouting at him to “shut up”.  If Johnny got loud and violent, I have a feeling the kids were the root cause most of the time.  I’m sure they thought it was hilarious to harass this obviously damaged person.  But he was still a person, a human being.  Although it was sometimes startling to see someone walking around talking to themselves, it would have been nice if parents taught their kids a little respect.  We don’t know anybody’s secret battles.  Walker minded his own business any time I was present.

If anyone knows what happened to Butts, Sue, or Johnny Walker please drop us a line or leave a comment.  I hope they are all doing better.

 

 

 

 

 

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#648: “The Mall”

GETTING MORE TALE #648:  “The Mall”

For the first 23 or 24 years of my life, Stanley Park Mall was my epicenter. If I said “Mom, I’m going to the mall!” she knew where I meant. It wasn’t the biggest mall, and certainly not the best. But it was my mall.

This very typical mall, on Ottawa Street in Kitchener, opened in 1969. It was nothing special. There was nowhere to buy music, until it expanded with a Zellers store circa 1973. As small children, we weren’t interested in music yet. Instead it was Zellers’ toy section that had us enthralled.

In 1977 my mother took me to Stanley Park to look for a birthday present for a neighbor named John Schipper, older brother of my best friend Bob. “Look mom! The movie we just saw!” I exclaimed as I laid eyes on my first Star Wars figures. My mom bought C3P0 for John, and R2D2 for me, so we could play together. Little did she know what she got me into, by buying my first Star Wars figure at that Zellers store. But to be fair, who could have known?

The mall also had a bank, and my dad soon transferred there as its manager. I used to feel like such a big shot, strolling into my dad’s office. He’d let us sit at his desk and play with his calculator and telephone. I can even remember helping him with spelling on an internal memo!  Once, when my sister was sitting in his chair, she pushed the button for the silent alarm. “Hmmm, this doesn’t do anything,” she thought. After she left, the cops arrived in force to answer the alarm. My dad realised what happened too late!

With my dad working there, plus the Zellers store, it was our main destination for shopping or just being kids. It was walking distance from home. When I was old enough to cross streets by myself, my friends and I made regular trips on our bikes. The Little Short Stop store was our main hangout. We would buy candy, pop, chips, comic books, and Star Wars or Indiana Jones cards. I managed to get a full set of The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I got them slowly, pack by pack, and by trading with friends. There was a neighbor who had the one Indiana Jones card I still needed called “I Hate Snakes”. A trade was made and I completed my set. I wish I knew what happened to all the doubles and triples of those cards.

When I was older, that Little Short Stop was my store for amassing a huge collection of rock and wrestling magazines. Hit Parader was my main title and I had a complete set of every issue from 1987-1990.

The mall was also right close to our grade school. Many of my friends would “cut through” the mall as a short cut to get home. One fellow, Chris, tells me he was sometimes chased around by mall security.  Naughty kid.

I remember there was a short-lived video store there. My dad refused to rent the Twisted Sister Stay Hungry video for me. He didn’t like the look of the “guy with the ham bone” on the front cover.

In 1987, something remarkable happened. Stanley Park Mall got its first actual record store: A&A Records and Tapes. Suddenly I had close access to all kinds of music, including 12” singles. I remember flipping through their Aerosmith and Europe singles, thinking “Woah, there are songs here I have never heard of.”

We still checked Zellers, but A&A became the place for us. In fact there were even A&A coupons on the back of every box of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. $1.00 off tapes! We sure cashed in a lot of A&A coupons that year. I loved checking out their front charts too. Vinyl was still happening, and the front chart was a big huge display of records. Much larger and more eye catching than a CD chart. I remember rejoicing when Judas Priest’s Ram It Down was on it.

I have clear memories of Bob Schipper and I walking to the mall in early April of 1988 to pick up a new release. Two copies of course; one for each of us. Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was an album we had been looking forward to, and we both got it on that cold Saturday in April 1988.  (It took a while to adjust to the new Maiden sound, but Bob’s immediate favourite was “Infinite Dreams”.)

In 1989 I got my first real job, and it was at that very mall. The grocery store Zehrs was my first pay cheque. I cut my hair short for that job and was teased for it at school. Not only that, but suddenly I also needed glasses!  It was a pretty drastic image change.  But it was a cool work experience. Not only was I working at Zehrs with my best friend Bob, but my dad was still working in the mall too. All three of us in one place!

I was pretty loyal to A&A during those years at the mall, but in 1990 they went under. The last thing I ever bought at an A&A (though a different location) was a CD of Steve Vai’s Flex-Able and some blank tapes.

Yet every cloud has a silver lining. A former employee of A&A Records at our mall location decided to open a business of his own. Guess who he went to for the bank loan?  My dad!  Six months after A&A closed, he opened his own record store in that mall. The rest is history. The store that I now call “The Record Store” hired me on in July of 1994. And he’s still in business in 2018, albeit not in that mall anymore which suffered a slow and steady decline in the 90s.

There are no record stores in the mall anymore. Zellers went under, and Walmart took over. Their tiny little entertainment section is the only place to buy a CD. The bank is still there, and so is the grocery store, but my Little Short Shop is long gone. There isn’t much left. No Baskin Robbins, no 31 flavors.  Bargain shops and discount stores have replaced all the places I used to frequent as a kid. Sad, but not unexpected.

The strange thing is, as much as the mall has changed, I still get a huge shot of nostalgia when I walk into that Walmart that used to be my Zellers. Like a déjà vu, suddenly I am hit with the memory of finding a rare GI Joe, or flipping through Judas Priest tapes. The mall I knew from long ago is no longer the same, but the memory remains.