Where I’m from, there are a lot of interconnected towns with very little to mark that you crossed over into a new one other than a sign welcoming you to a new place. A hub of sorts, though not that much larger than Harbour Grace, is Carbonear, a place where many come to get their grocery shopping done, grab a coffee at the always busy Tim Horton’s – the closest geographically for a lot of people – but most importantly, shop at the local mall: the T.C Square.
As times have moved on, many businesses have come and gone in my home region, but a pillar that refuses to fall is the T.C Square. Anchored by a grocery store and a Wal-Mart – it’s final evolution as it started as Woolworths before becoming Woolco – it’s the closest shopping center for dozens of communities, and for the growing senior citizen population, a place to congregate and chat over coffee. If you think that the term “mallrats” only applies to teenagers, think again.
Our mall is in a lot of respects, a place that’s trapped in time. Countless stores have come and gone and those that have remained have gone under significant upgrades over the years, but looking at the brick exterior and the interconnected faux-brown tiles that make up the walkway through the petit shopping center, it feels like it hasn’t really changed that much in my thirty plus years of existence.
Every second Thursday was a date I looked forward to with more anticipation than you could ever imagine, as it was on those days like clockwork where my parents would go fetch our groceries. If I was lucky, my parents would forego shopping at the two small grocery stores in Harbour Grace, instead choosing to strap us into the back seat of our station wagon and transport us to Carbonear. What was a mundane chore to them was a chance for me to explore the mall on my own. It wouldn’t be very long before we entered that I made a plea to go exploring, and it was one that was thankfully nearly always granted.
Our mall is exceptionally small, as in you could easily fit it in many large urban shopping centers, but to me at such a young age, it might as well have been a football stadium filled with more wonders than I could even begin to comprehend. Wal-Mart, or whatever it was at the time, would always be the first place I would make a beeline for as it housed the action figures I would beg my parents to buy me and it was the only place to buy video games locally. Of course, I never had any intention to actually buy any games with the few dollars held within my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wallet that collapsed and held itself together with Velcro strips, but seeing them was enough for me. If I hadn’t returned to my parents before they had finished, they would immediately know where to come and find me, staring at a glass display case looking at the cover art for NES games.
Though it has since moved at a location adjacent to the T.C Square, our mall once housed a Shoppers Drug Mart, the place I would go to look at comic books and video game magazines. If I was fortunate enough, my parents would indulge me and pick up one of these coveted tomes for me, but mostly I was content just consuming everything I could while trying to be as little bother as possible to the staff that worked there so they would just ignore me. I would try to take in as much knowledge as I could with my limited reading comprehension so I could come to school the next day and passed on what I learned to my friends.
Magazines now are a dying form of media, but back then and even now, I adore them. There’s just something comforting and nostalgic about holding a magazine, scanning the glossy pages with your eyes and reading long, well researched pieces that are far more palatable to me at least than getting eye strain staring blankly at a monitor or phone screen. The only place you’ll find dedicated video game magazines now are the sadly neglected issues of Game Informer that hug the counter at your local EB Games, but during my formative years, racks would be full of issues of Nintendo Power, GamePro, Game Players and Electronic Gaming Monthly. The challenge would come when these would be sealed in polybags, a measure that prevented you from just skimming through a book at a newsstand, but lets just say I had my sly ways to get the information I wanted, though I’m sure it annoyed those who had the money to take these books home with them.
When a new Mega Man game was coming out, I would love the issues were they would announce who the eight robot masters were. The magazine would go up and down as I would look at the pages, and then put them down while trying to recite the names of the new bosses by memory. My task would not be complete until I knew them all, or until I could pronounce the word “Pharaoh,” referring to the Pharaoh Man boss from Mega Man 4. These books also housed various cheat codes and tips that would breath new life into games I had already rented, either by providing valuable hints to get past locations I was stuck or passwords that would move me further than what my own skills would allow.
An incentive for me to behave and get along with my brother, a task that was easier than you would think as we got along very well, was that my parents would reward me with an extra trip to Carbonear to visit their rental locations. The one I would frequent the most would be Short Stop Foods, a location near to our local hospital and closest proximity wise to where we lived.
Short Stop served a lot of functions. In a room parallel to the counter were freezes to buy beer, the middle area housed shelves of convenience items, the back featured a local fried chicken fast food place, Chester Fried, and next to that were the movies and NES games. One of my favorite things about Short Stop is that if you were careful and knew what you wanted, you could position yourself on the top step that led to the beer freezers to see what boxes were behind the counter. If the game you were looking for was there, you tempered your expectations, but if it wasn’t, your heart raced as you moved as quickly to the back as possible to claim your prize.
Carbonear’s other major rental joint was Family Video, not to be confused with the chain in the United States, one of the largest local video stores in our area found on Water Street – there are a lot of Water Streets where we’re from. Upon entering, the video games were directly to your right next to a pair of coolers, but compared to Short Stop, Family Video wasn’t a place I went to often, at least not in the days of the NES. Family Video’s speciality was more so its vast selection of movies. To the left past the entrance was the section for the new releases and where that wall ended, a short set of stairs led to a room stuffed with a massive collection of VHS tapes from the ‘80’-s. Around the corner from the video games was an area dedicated to family films, mostly clam shell cased Disney films, and a door that I wasn’t allowed to enter until I got a little older.
Where most of my Family Video nostalgia comes from is the summer of 2005 when I got to work there for a few months. Between semesters of university, I would come back to Harbour Grace, much to my dismay, and latched on to a temporary position to save as much money as I could for school. Mostly this meant working for the town, cutting grass, painting fences and helping out with other beautification projects, that was until I got what was my dream job, for the time anyway.
I’ve held a few jobs since graduating with a university degree, but none even come close to making me as fulfilled as I was working in that video store. Of course the pay wasn’t great, but what it lacked in salary it more than made up for with the joy I had coming to work each day. During that summer I actually hated having days off as there was nothing more that I wanted to do than work in the store. Movies and video games were things I knew, so it was easy to talk to people when they came in looking for recommendations or just to chat. In my downtime I would make sure that the new releases were placed alphabetically so people could easily find them, or reorganized the video games such that the ones with a mature rating were on the top shelf out of the hands of kids.
It wasn’t much, but I loved every single second of it, even when the person who lived across the street was blasting Christmas songs in the months of July and August. A year later, I would meet one of the most important people to perhaps ever enter my life who had taken over my position as I had to attend university that summer. I broke the ice when I inserted myself into a conversation with a patron about a subject very near and dear to my heart: movies based on video games.