This morning I attended an anniversary celebration. For a mall. But this isn’t just any mall – this is Lenox Square and it opened 50 years ago today.
At the celebration I ran into the charming Mr. Feiman, the dad of one of my high school boyfriends. He came because he had owned a popular men’s shop called Hirsch’s, and had a found a copy of his original lease with Lenox from 1959.
His rent back then? $14,887 a year, for 2600 square feet and a 2200-square-foot basement. Less than $6 a square foot. These days merchants pay around $65, and there is a waiting list for new tenants.
I went because I grew up with Lenox. Being roughly the same age, and growing up just a few miles away, I spent many, many hours there, including having two jobs, adding tens of dollars to my own bottom line.
Here’s just a few of my many memories from Lenox Square:
• The rather creepy organ grinder and his monkey, from whom my mother made sure we kept a safe distance. Looking back, I’m not sure if that was to protect us from the monkey or the organ grinder, which let’s face it, is a rather curious occupation. I do appreciate shopping now in Lenox’s monkey-free environment.
• Having one of my first dates as a young teen at the roast beef place, whose name escapes me, although the date’s name was Jeff. I remember because he paid for lunch. Another memorable date was dinner at The Magic Pan restaurant, where we went after seeing the don’t-go-if-you’re-not-on-hallucinogens movie Yessongs and my date forgot his wallet, so I paid.
• Painful trips to the orthodontist, who had an office on the backside of the mall. Dr. Sheffield was a nice man and I thank him for my lovely teeth, but he always seemed to grin a bit too much as he was tightening those metal brackets.
• Daring my little brother to push the stop button on the up escalator at Davison’s (now Macy’s) while we were waiting for my mom but not thinking he’d really do it. He did. Mom was not pleased. Big trouble ensued.
• Being shocked to see the evil fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Shaw working in the lingerie department at Rich’s. She was not my primary teacher, but we rotated to her for physical activity, and she originated an exercise where we stood in a circle and did deep knee bends to some song like “Life is a Carnival,” which it definitely is not when you spend 87 minutes bending your knees. I can only imagine what tortuous things she was up to with the poor lingerie-seeking ladies when she had an entire arsenal of Playtex pointy-cone bras and rubber girdles at her disposal.
• Working at Davison’s when I was a junior and senior in high school, where I was glad to work Sundays because back then we got time-and-a-half – whoo hoo – $3.60 an hour! My retail career was marked by such memorable events as weighing out malted milk balls at the candy counter on a flat scale and helplessly watching them scatter all over the floor; pulling out clothes from a dressing room and hanging them up only to have a woman come screeching out that someone had taken her clothes out; and one interminable week in the lamp department where I managed to not sell a single lamp but read the entire 692-page book “The Thornbirds” by hiding it under the register.
• Spending three weeks standing in the mall, brandishing a clipboard, employed as a Mall Survey Taker, a job that I conveniently omit from my résumé. Fortunately, it was a survey on beer, so I called all my friends to come down, stroll through the mall where I would “find” them, take them down into the bowels of the mall for a quick survey, upon completion of which, they would get a six-pack of beer delivered to their home.
• Taking my own kids there when they were small and I was a stay-at-home-mom desperate to get out.
We’d go visit the talking tree at FAO Schwarz, go down the mini slide at The Children’s Place and throw pennies in the fountain.
There are so many other memories from Lenox – going bowling, visiting the pet shop, going to movies, having dinner at the cafeteria and eating ice cream cones from Dipper Dan, shopping for training bras and prom dresses, then taking my daughter to do the same.
Sure, to visitors and newcomers now it’s a big, beautiful glitzy mall. But to us old-Atlanta folks, it’s a place full of memories of our childhood.