I’ve told you this before, but it’s worth repeating: I grew up in the country in the middle of nowhere, and in order to encounter a town of any kind, you had to travel for at least ten miles. If you were cosmopolitan enough to want to go to a WalMart or a Target, you’d up your journey to a minimum of thirty miles.
I lived smack-dab in between two large (or, they seemed large at the time) cities: Watertown and Brookings. Brookings was about thirty miles south, and Watertown lay thirty miles north. My mom worked in Brookings, so that’s where we’d go for things like dental appointments. However, if we wanted to shop for Christmas presents (or anything else, really), Watertown was a much better choice. I love Brookings, but Watertown had more shopping options than Brookings. Unlike Brookings, Watertown had not only a Target, but a fairly respectable mall.
Oh, that mall.
When I was a kid, the Watertown mall was THE place to be. They had everything that a rural South Dakotan could ever want, no matter what your age. The ice cream shop and the arcade were my go-to places when I was young, and I eventually aged into the super cool mall stores like Maurices and Bath and Body Works. They even had a Sam Goody (remember those?) and an Osco. Osco was the weirdest store, and I don’t think I’ve seen another one anywhere else. For the longest time, there was an ice cream parlor thing right by Herberger’s, and my mother could usually be convinced to buy me an ice cream cone. (But only when I was little and cute. The older and crabbier I got, the less likely ice cream cones became.)
(Fun fact: the ice cream parlor was eventually replaced with a few massage chairs and a photo booth, which my friend Bob and I made good use of. Three dollars well spent, my friends.)
In my early Watertown mall days, the place was kind of a strange amalgamation of stores. (It still is, actually, but the stores have changed.) You had the three big anchor stores: Herberger’s, JCPenney, and Kmart. It is all one floor, and the mall itself is basically a slightly curved line with a few offshoots for exits.
I have great memories of the Watertown mall. In my younger days, the Watertown mall had everything I thought I’d ever need: they had a Maurices, a Claire’s, and a Bath and Body Works – all three of which I was obsessed with at one time or another. Mom would take us to the Watertown mall for Christmas shopping – and for whatever-else-we-needed shopping, for that matter: everything from school supplies to birthday presents to my high school graduation dress could be found at the Watertown mall. It was closer than Sioux Falls and much more convenient – besides, my mom had a short fuse when it came to Sioux Falls traffic.
When my friends and I became old enough to drive, the Watertown mall was our go-to place. After all, we were still scared of the busy streets of Sioux Falls, and Watertown wasn’t nearly as threatening. My friends and I would pile in whatever shitty car we happened to be holding the keys to and head north.
My friend Allison and I frequented the Electric Rainbow, which sounds like a gay bar but was actually an arcade. (Sad but true story: it’s been gone for ages.) It was right by JCPenney, and we spent pocketfuls of tokens on air hockey and skeeball. We would amass huge piles of tickets and waste them on junky arcade prizes from the grungy glass case up front. However, after one particularly successful PacMan stint, we left our strings of tickets behind the video game along with a note saying “it’s your lucky day” or something like that. The Good Samaritans of the Electric Rainbow, that’s what we were.
Allison’s and my Watertown mall adventures weren’t without struggles. One Saturday, we had taken her 1989 Chevy station wagon to the Target in Watertown. Upon returning to the car, we found – much to our dismay – that the car wouldn’t start. So what were we to do? Continue our day of shopping, of course. We walked to the mall, where – as luck would have it – we ran into my mother. (This was before either of us had cell phones, so this was extraordinarily fortunate.) Mom drove us back to the car, which still wouldn’t start. It was on to Plan B: Mom drove us to our house, where Allison and I picked up my car and drove to her house in Arlington. Being the plucky sixteen-year-olds that we were, we were determined to solve this on our own. We Googled “how to jump start a car,” and with jumper cables and printed instructions in hand, we drove back to Watertown – and totally got the car started on the first try.
Believe it or not, that is not the only misadventure I’ve had in/around the Watertown mall. My friend Meagan and I went there one Saturday to buy new clothes for our upcoming trip to the South Dakota State Fair. (Remember: we were small town girls, so going to the South Dakota State Fair was a BIG DEAL.) We wandered around the mall, trying on this and that, and we eventually planted ourselves on a bench to discuss our purchases and our excitement for our upcoming trip to Huron. (Note: that was the first and last time I’ve ever been excited to go to Huron.) We managed to completely overlook the fact that the mall was totally empty – except for us. When we finally decided to leave, we headed to the exit… only to discover that the door was locked. We were locked in the mall. Meagan and I roamed around for a solid ten minutes before we could find a security guard to let us out.
And that’s how I found out that the Watertown mall closes early on Saturdays.