I read with huge interest the editorial by Mary Skinner in the in the January 12, 2024 edition of the Columbia Star. She gave us a firsthand experience of the joys of the mall and its unfortunate decline.
This motivated me to share my experience as it predates and overlaps with hers. My family moved to nearby Glenwood Road, a dirt road, in about 1956 when I was in the second grade. A creek ran through our backyard paralleling Boyer Drive and Harrison Road, through the woods toward Forest Drive. Just across Forest Drive, bordering on the creek, in a swampy woodsy area would eventually be Richland Mall shopping center.
As I recall everyone was excited, there would be much convenience with a grocery store, clothing store, and important to me, a record store. OK, pause here for Mary’s benefit…a “record” at that time was called a 45…because to hear the music a turntable had to spin at 45 revolutions per minute (RPM)…My parents had a 45 RPM record player, but all we had was Polka 45s that my father liked. I did get a few records of my own over time and wore them out. The grocery store was a Winn Dixie, and with “your” purchase you got “Green Stamps.” These could be accumulated like saving cash and taken to the nearby Green Stamp Store to get stuff, almost anything…pots and pans, dishes…and my mother was kind enough to get me a guitar or maybe that was just to shut me up.
The new mall’s design was basically open-air style. Stores lined two sides and the center was an open area like a park, partially covered by large arch-like structures, providing some shade and little true cover. I recall getting soaking wet when a rainstorm would hit. There were plants and sitting areas in the inner mall area—it was just a nice place to be.
Before this original mall was built, my closest friends Jimmy, Chuck, and I would be in the creek behind my house headed to the swamp that would later become the mall. It was amazing walking barefooted through the white sand with crystal clear water and catching and releasing animals. We caught snakes, Congo eels, crawfish, minnows, and our biggest catch was…a humongous alligator snapper that bit off the end my broom stick (walking stick). Later would come the huge shopping center that Mary Skinner so aptly described.
Today I find myself in a unique place, looking backward and forward. Some friends asked me to join the Gills Creek Watershed Association (GCWA), as if I knew what a “watershed” is. My wife and I have lived in this area of town for many years. We suffered significant damage from the flood of 2015. I now know what a watershed is and how good management and planning can help protect us from flooding, provide adequate natural space for wildlife, and ensure our continued enjoyment of the nature that is basically in our backyards. Let’s hope the newly developed Richland Mall will bring back some of those wonderful experiences and those of a cherished community shopping location.
Come join in at the GCWA as we promote a balanced approach to preserving our natural beauty throughout our small 40,000 acres of back yard. www.gillscreekwatershed.org