This past weekend, Jason and I loaded up the Wookiee Mobile and headed to eastern North Carolina to a little pock-mark of a town called Kinston. This is the town where I grew up and it's about 3.5 hours from the city where I live now (Winston-Salem). Although my mom, brother, and some other family still live there, we don't make the trek to Kinston much - for one thing I hate long car rides (seriously 30-45 minutes and I'm whining "are we there yet?"). Also, the town is dying and it's just damn depressing to be there.
Kinston wasn't always so crappy. We used to have a minor league baseball team - the Kinston Indians. But, after the 2011 season wrapped up, the Indians said buh-bye and headed to a city called Zebulon. When I went west into the state for college, I learned quite a few North Carolinians knew about Kinston because "my family stops there on our way to the beach" (Kinston's about an hour from the coast). But, now a by-pass is being built around the the town, so that tourism will be stopping eventually.
Of all the rundown, crappy parts of Kinston, the biggest disappointment is the mall... If you can call it that. Once upon a time, Vernon Park Mall was a pretty hip-happening place. In middle school and high school, my friends and I were the embodiment of the characters from Kevin Smith's Mallrats. We would spend alllll day, just hanging at the mall. We'd travel in packs and join up with other groups. A movie theater was in the parking lot, so if we needed to get out of the mall, we'd head there to catch a flick.
Sometime while I was in college, stores starting dropping out of the mall like flies. A store would close, something new would reopen in its place, and before you could say "grand opening," that store would close.
One of my "favorite" visits was in 2005. Jason and I came to town for Christmas. Our Christmas present from my mom was that she took us to the mall to go shopping. On Christmas Eve. Now, in Winston-Salem, we avoid the mall from the beginning of November through the end of January because traffic around and at the mall is horrendous with shoppers (before Christmas) and then people returning gifts (after Christmas). But, in Kinston we could have run through the mall and not worry about bumping into other shoppers. Because there weren't any other shoppers. We went into Belk (ya know, one of the staple department stores that all malls have) and at one register there were 3 employees, hanging around, staring into space, bored. A manager came up to them and told them to draw straws because he'd be sending one of them home in the next few minutes. Whaaa?
When we were in Kinston this go-round, Jason and stopped at the mall to see just how much more desolate the place had gotten. It was a ghost town. We were there on a Saturday night around 7:30pm. Most of the spaces where stores should be were just blackened holes, begging to be filled. Oh, what's that? You're hungry and want to stop at the food court? Sorry, there is not one eatery in this place. The best you can do is stop at a random vending machine to get a pack of Nabs. I'm serious - all restaurants have moved out of this joint.
Just for fun, we stopped to look at a mall directory, only to discover that thing hadn't been updated in YEARS.
This is only a shot of part of the directory. But, let's take a quick look, shall we? Notice there are 4 things listed under the heading "Restaurants & Food." As I've already told you, those places are no longer in existence. Moving up the list - Sound Shop has been gone since around 2007 or so. Did you notice that there's a listing for a Cingular Kiosk??? Ummm, Cingular merged with AT&T in 2004. KB Toys hasn't been in the mall in many, many years. In fact, the toy store left, something else moved into that slot... and that "new" store has been closed for awhile.
What about the mall decorations? Well, you'll just have to wait until tomorrow for that...