In the interest of research, I recently had a chat with my childhood friend Deby Eisenberg to conjure up some memories of what it was like shopping as preteens in suburban Chicago. We reminisced on the phone for awhile, and then she sat down and jotted down her thoughts. They're worth sharing.
It is June, 1961 and it is a simpler, safer world. We are two typical suburban Chicago preteens of the time — gawky, self-conscious, and a little bit silly, and we are in ecstasy having received permission for an important rite of passage. Longings for car keys and driving privileges will be reserved for 3 or 4 years in the future. Right now we are content to venture forth ourselves, alone, on the bus, to our favorite shopping center — Old Orchard in Skokie, Ill.
As 12 year olds, we proudly carry our own change purses for maybe the first time (remember, this is before young girls flaunt Coach or Kate Spade wallets). We plunk our coins into the fare box and scramble to seats. For this 20-minute ride, we are obnoxiously pretending to speak French to each other, perhaps emulating new First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, or just trying to appear foreign and exotic. (Fast forward to today's same bus route, and the languages will be authentically foreign to our ear: Russian, Spanish, and a mixture of Middle Eastern tongues will fill the same aisles.)
In our wonderfully naïve world, exempt, at least we think, from drug dealers and sexual predators, our parents' biggest fear was our losing our bus money. (Remember, we're not carrying portable phones for backup.)
Some things never change — young girls have always and will always love to shop, especially for accessories (In the ancient photo, I'm the one on the left, with a purse I got for my birthday and something horrid on my head; Beth is on the right.) Then, we would rummage through the discount bins at Kresge's (or was it Woolworths?) for pink barrettes. Now, girls go to Claires' for scrunchies. But like us, today's shopping center preteens are still giggling, still running in packs, still trying on make up and clothes, still looking for boys.
In our day though, boys were not mall rats. Video arcades were nonexistent and movie theaters were stand-alone buildings down the block, not multi-screen mall anchors. My boys were riding bikes to the park.
We try to remember the names of the individual stores of our Old Orchard, but it is not easy. Only a few come to mind — Bakers for low-priced shoes; Chandlers, if you were a rich kid. Now, we could name by rote all the stores in all the malls we encounter in Chicago, New York or even Boca Raton. They are all the same — Gap, Limited, AnnTaylor, White House/Black Market, Crate and Barrel, etc.
And we struggle to come up with the name of the one restaurant in 1960's Old Orchard. It was Edwards, and it was the only separate eatery in the smaller version of the center, where Marshall Fields was the classic department store. Now Fields, Saks, Nordstrom, Lord and Taylor, and Bloomingdale's shoppers are fed by (you guessed it) by The Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, Bennigan's, Maggiano's and more. And how our preteen souls would have enjoyed today's “food court.” And you know what else — the boys would have come for that.
Location: Skokie, Ill.
Size: 1.8 million square feet
Anchors: Saks, Nordstrom, Marshall Field's, Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor