COTTONWOOD CREEK MALL: WASILLA, AK
Brad Weber's Commentary
Posted May 3, 2011 (user submitted March 20, 2010)
In the early 80's, when I was 6 or 7 years old, my dad would take me fishing at Cottonwood Creek, located at the south side of town. I remember an abundant amount of completely natural greenery and wildlife around every turn of the creek when we went there. Not too long after that, the creekside area near the Parks Highway, which included most of our fishing area, started developing very quickly, and before I knew it, several businesses had sprung up in the area. Just across the highway from some of them was, out of nowhere, an honest to goodness MALL.
Now, around this time, if you wanted to go to a mall in south-central Alaska, you had four choices, and they were all 50 miles away in the sprawling metropolis (at least to us Mat-Su valley dwellers) of Anchorage. Northway Mall, 5th Avenue Mall, University Center and Dimond Center. The idea of having a complex like that in our little town was utterly alien to most people, but kids like me flocked to it. By today's standards, it was tiny. Two major stores, Safeway and Pay 'n' Save, acted as bookends on either side, with just over a dozen small stores inbetween, and a major clothing store, Lamonts, on the back end.
Up front, a major party destination for my friends and I was Godfather's Pizza, with a few arcade machines (including a Nintendo Playchoice 10…pure video game gold!) and next to Lamonts, my own personal Mecca, a record store called Hometown Records and Tapes, which not only supplied me with enough cassettes and CDs through the 80's and 90's to turn me into the professional producer and musician I am today, but was also my main source for PC and video games at a time when such things were genuinely hard to come by in the Last Frontier. You see, when you're running a shop in what The Simpsons so accurately labeled as a Freak State, you have to diversify to meet whatever needs weren't being met by the local grocery stores.
Those were not the only places where I spent money at the Cottonwood Creek Mall. There was also Waldenbooks, who had a much more interesting Sci-Fi section than the local library for an avid science geek like me. A couple of years in, our first comic book store opened next to Safeway, where I would spend literally HOURS pouring through various comics, most of which were simply Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles knockoffs. It was nothing compared to Bosco's in Anchorage, which is still one of the largest comic shops on the west coast, but the one thing Bosco's DIDN'T have going for it was that I couldn't ride my bike to it. Also, the large open area in the middle of the mall acted as a community center for the city, hosting various holiday displays, Boy and Girl Scout events, and several church bazaars and rummage sales.
As I grew into my high school years in the mid-90's, very little changed in our precious local mall. Hometown Records changed locations two times, a few of the tiny local shops (at least one of which was a very neat native Alaskan arts shop) closed down, as did the coffee shop called The Perfect Cup, and were replaced with a Hallmark, a hobby shop and City Limits, which was a local store nearly identical to Spencer's Gifts in today's major metro malls, and far ahead of its time. Afterthoughts, a jewelry and trinkets chain, moved into a corner spot and became a mainstay of the mall.
As an avid mallrat, I lived off of many meals from Orange Julius and Pretzels & Cheese. A Taco Bell was built in the parking lot of the mall, and Pay 'n' Save became Payless, which didn't really change any of the merchandise at all. Even our sole local radio station, KMBQ, moved its headquarters into a space into the mall. It was, compared to today's malls, a rather diverse collection of businesses; a combination of national chains and single-store local start-ups.
As thriving as the mall was, there was always an ebb and flow of businesses that didn't always last. An arcade opened next to the comic shop, but being the fourth (by my count) and least successful arcade to open in town, it didn't last long. Around the same time, our comic shop closed its doors, as well as the hobby shop. This beckoned the downturn of the mall's thriving success in our town.
Soon after, Lamont's was nationally bought out by Gottschalks, Godfather's closed its doors, and one by one, stores started shutting down in the mall, and unlike previous years, they weren't replaced by any new businesses. A Lazer Tag arena was planned and advertised, but never came to be. Payless closed down, leaving a good third of the mall completely shut down. Just down the Parks Highway, a Wal-Mart opened, beckoning a quick end to several small mom n' pop stores around the area. My memory of the order of these close-downs may not be perfect, but each one was a major hit to our local shopping community.
It was around this time that I moved away for college, so I didn't see the final days of Wasilla's one great mall. A Fred Meyers opened next door, and the Wal-Mart moved into an even larger complex. Other malls, most notably the University Center in Anchorage, met a similar end, but not to be outdone, the finally-abandoned Cottonwood Creek Mall was used as a practice facility for local firemen, actually being set alight and burned before being completely demolished to make way for a Target superstore, marking the end of the small-town uniqueness of Wasilla's shopping strip on the south side.
Today, there are still a few strip malls left in Wasilla, including Carrs Shopping Center, the Shoprite/D&A Mall (next to Wasilla Chevron) and the Cottonwood Creek Plaza, across the street from what was once the Cottonwood Creek Mall. None of these, however, have the indoor-mall form or the hangout feel that Cottonwood Creek Mall held throughout the 80's and 90's, and sadly, that will probably never be repeated in Wasilla, or several other small communities around the country in this day and age that have seen similar local malls fall victim to major development.
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