Sunday, August 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

When malls were new and exciting

By Sherry Wolkoff

This is the time of year that we are likely to come upon a stretch limo and a driver parked in front of a house, waiting to load a group of elegantly dressed and coiffed passengers on their way to a prom. Can anyone see this and not feel a tug of nostalgia for his or her own high school prom?

Limos were not commonly used in my junior and senior years. The typical transportation was more likely the family car, with the prom-going couple in the back, and, at the wheel, a father who most certainly was not allowed to turn around or speak a word. Nevertheless, even without the limo, my junior prom had its own distinctive quality.

It was 1962 in South Jersey. The Cherry Hill Mall was not only fairly new, having opened on Oct. 11, 1961, but also the first enclosed climate-controlled shopping center built east of the Mississippi River. It was the largest mall in the nation, and the largest of its kind in the world at the time.

We all gasped when we learned our junior prom was going to be held there. It seemed like such a unique and cool venue for this milestone in our lives.

My girlfriends and I swirled proudly around the Grand Cherry Court in our spaghetti-strap dresses with our towering bouffant hairdos, against a backdrop of lush tropical plants, fountains, exotic birds, a covered bridge over a man-made pond, plus an ornate staircase leading directly into the second floor of Strawbridge & Clothier.

We realized this was an experience very few high school students would ever have. It didn't even matter that we could see the rather unromantic storefronts of all the retail shops in the not-so-distant background. Our parents fussed over us and took plenty of photographs of the staid occasion, and I can see Parklane Hosiery and a few other stores in the background of my own prom photos.

Lately, I have been reading in The Inquirer and elsewhere that enclosed malls are no longer in vogue. They are being either torn down or totally renovated in favor of trendier digs.

South Jersey was always a mall magnet, and today there are three within 10 miles of where I live in Marlton. Two are considered hopelessly outdated, and attempts are being made to rebrand one as a centerpiece for exclusive restaurants and celebrity chefs. Nowadays, it's all about the hip food and vibe. The ubiquitous clothing and shoe stores are more of an after-thought, and many have closed their doors.

The Cherry Hill Mall, however, underwent a massive renovation a few years ago, and is and always has been the most successful mall in the South Jersey area.

This doesn't really surprise me. The mall had all of the elements for success when it first agreed to host the junior class prom of Cherry Hill High School. It was a pretty clever marketing plan, because, after all, we then went on to become the parents and grandparents who shopped for our families at all those tantalizing stores.

I have since spent many years of my life in that now 53-year-old complex, eating in food courts as well as buying sweaters, jeans, and baby clothes - first for my children and later my grandchildren. I put plenty of mileage on strollers. I eventually got married across the street at the Cherry Hill Inn, which is now a Loews movie theater.

But nothing will ever come close to matching the exhilaration I experienced when my tuxedo-clad date nervously pinned on my corsage, and we danced the night away underneath what passed for stars in the ceiling of the shining Cherry Hill Mall.

Sherry Wolkoff is a writer in Marlton.

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