By Judith Whitehead
The Boulevard Mall in Amherst was built in 1962; it was the first of its kind in the area where many stores were put under one roof for shoppers to enjoy. It was a novel and wonderful concept that we all enjoyed for many years. The main purpose of the mall was a convenient way to shop for clothing, etc., in one place but it served to be much more than that. Its purpose morphed into many ways to enjoy this large covered structure.
My first job was working for Jenss, which was a bustling store with many departments. As soon as I turned of age to work, it was the only place I wanted employment while going on to college. Many of my relatives and friends worked there at the time and it was like a “family” of people that welcomed me into the retail world. I loved that job and always ate at the lunch counter in the store across from Jenss.
Even before I was of working age, my friends would gather at the mall to spend a few hours shopping, visiting and meeting people. Where else could you gather for free at the age of 16? My good friend Sandy and I would park ourselves across from Hickory Farms and eat a cheese snack while watching the world go by. It was free entertainment at the time and who had a lot of money at age 16?
There were no problems with kids walking the mall as there are today; no curfews or adult supervision was required. No cellphones, computers or videos being taken, just good clean fun. I worked in the mall for three years.
In the 1970s the mall began to serve another clientele: the mall walkers. Back then it was not the fashion to join a gym as it is today; in fact there were very few of them. My parents, along with many others, figured out the mall was a great place to walk for good health and exercise.
My mom, having gone through her first heart surgery at age 45, was a trend setter. She and my dad mapped out how many rounds of the mall would make up 6 miles and they walked it every morning. There was no need to fear theft; they would leave their coats on a central bench while walking.
No teenagers would be up that early to walk; it was all middle aged people or seniors walking for their health and before long it became a social hour for many. The merchants did not mind because after their walks they would stop at McDonald's or do some shopping.
My parents walked that mall for about 20 years, until Mom's demise in the late 1990s.
During the last few years the footprint of the mall began to change. The invention of computers and advancing technology was a mixed blessing. Soon most people could afford a home computer and began to realize that they could shop online for their purchases. Today you can buy just about anything online without leaving your house. Our society has sped up its lifestyles immensely and now it is a priority to make the best use of time management and focus energies elsewhere.
Ever since the year 2000, the usefulness of the mall has declined; it no longer serves the important purpose it was intended for many years ago. Many malls in the area have become “white elephants,” with tenants closing up and moving to online stores. The mall, which was once an uplifting place to frequent with its music, rides to amuse the kids and gathering of friends, no longer serves that purpose; it is very sad to see.
I am glad to have been raised in the 1960s, when life was simple and people had to talk to others to communicate and not message or text to each other to save time. The mall is just one symbol of an era that will fall by the wayside.
Judith Whitehead, of East Amherst, had her first job at Jenss, in the Boulevard Mall.