Mall traffic may be down in recent years, but during their 1980s heyday, shopping centers had everything. Food courts, edgy clothing stores with racks full of JNCO jeans, and centrally-located water fountains.
Malls had something else, too: An event schedule. With reliable foot traffic, show organizers found malls ideal places for promoting entertainment properties and other attractions. Take a look at some of the more memorable spectacles from the ‘80s shopping mall era.
1. Tiffany in Concert
The epicenter of sweet teen bops in the ‘80s was the mall. Not only were record stores full of albums by acts like Debbie Gibson and New Kids on the Block, but some patrons were treated to live performances. Singer Tiffany is credited with helping to popularize mall tours, appearing live to perform hits like “I Think We’re Alone Now” and sign autographs. Her Tiffany Shopping Mall Tour ’87, which was conceived by MCA Records then-vice president Larry Solters and spread over 14 sites, helped bolster sales of her self-titled debut album. Solters said that the mall appearances helped her hit demographics beyond the teen market. (After the tour, Tiffany entered her junior year of high school. She was just 15 years old at the time.)
2. Nintendo Demonstrations
When the Nintendo Entertainment System arrived in the United States in 1985, the video game market was in shambles. Atari had flooded the market with subpar games and retailers were wary of investing in a new console. To help stir interest in the NES, Nintendo focused on the New York City area first. Their strategy included a tour of malls in both New York and New Jersey, where shoppers could sample games like Duck Hunt or Baseball. The event also included R.O.B., the robot packaged with the first wave of systems (though he moved too slowly to impress anyone). Nintendo rival Sega also launched a mall tour in 1988 to promote their slate of games.
3. Costumed Character Appearances
Kids in the ‘80s who dreamed of meeting their pop culture heroes or heroines could depend on their local mall to come through. A number of characters like He-Man and Barbie made personal appearances, posing for photos and signing autographs. Fans could also catch the likes of Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, Doctor Doom, and Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
4. Nick at Nite’s TV Land Mall Tour
For people in the ‘80s nostalgic for the ‘50s and ‘60s, Nickelodeon had a solution. The channel’s Nick at Nite programming block of vintage sitcoms got a big push when the TV Land Mall Tour was launched in 1989. Visitors could check out trivia as well as a replica car from Car 54, Where Are You? and a Mr. Ed puppet.
5. The NBA Mall Tour
Hoops fans could get their fix in malls when the NBA promoted an event in 1988 that allowed visitors to compete against one another in everything from foul shots to tying their sneakers. Video highlights of slam dunk contests were also on hand.
6. The Jedi Adventure Center
Though it hardly needed any more promotion, the Star Wars saga got the mall tour treatment in 1983, when the Jedi Adventure Center began moving around the country to support the release of Return of the Jedi. Attendees could view original production artwork and other material related to the making of the films as well as backdrops for photos and costume contests. Fans could also walk through a miniature Ewok forest, though using Stormtrooper helmets as drums likely wasn’t permitted.
7. Patrick Duffy
Actors from both primetime and daytime soaps were frequent visitors to malls; the appearances were good publicity for their series and third-party promoters might pay $2000 and up for a few hours of work. Dallas star Patrick Duffy went on a mall tour in 1982 and was apparently besieged by amorous fans. “Oh my God, he’s gorgeous,” admirer Aggie Usedly told The Detroit Free Press. “He has beautiful dark hair, wore cowboy boots and jeans, and is taller than I ever imagined. I was just as exited as any other fan in meeting him.” Another attendee was said to have sat in Duffy’s lap and began kissing him before being removed by security.