All’s Quiet At Sunrise Mall
About two years ago I was a guest editor on the now defunct website VitalViper where I maintained the weekly humor column 3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days in the Life Of Dracophile (don’t worry, if you’re interested in reading these articles they’ve all been reposted here on GatorAIDS and dated accordingly). One of the articles I claimed as a WIP but never had the chance to write was this very one. I resigned from the website rather unceremoniously due to personal reasons and took most of my article WIP’s with me; this particular one has sat at the bottom of my “ideas” list since then only because its subject matter isn’t something that I felt I could portray as “funny”. The article is more somber than anything, depressing if you’re in the right frame of mind mostly because it’s a kind of “tour” of sorts of a large mall that is basically dead, and I mean dead. Aside from a Sears there’s literally nothing inside of Sunrise Mall; it’s about as hollow as a cheerleader’s skull.
With that said I’ll still do my best to present this tour of a living-dead mall in a humorous light though it’s kind of hard to do so when you’re explaining how grand a place where you spent your childhood used to be.
First, a brief history lesson. Sunrise Mall was constructed in 1979 in Corpus Christi, Texas with a number of anchor stores. “Anchor” stores are the businesses occupying the giant (and usually dual-floor) spaces in a mall and they’re called “anchors” because if you lose them your mall will float directly into the Bermuda Triangle; the aforementioned Sears is the only anchor store remaining in Sunrise Mall. (Well, that and a Burlington Coat Factory. They must sell a fuckton of coats but considering the temperature in Texas never drops below 100 I’m going to assume Burlington is a drug front.)
According to Wikipedia (who also agrees that multiple stroke victims have higher vital signs than this property) the mall met its first decline when the Frost Bros anchor store closed in 1988 (it was later bought by Burlington Drug Factory). If there was a decline then I missed it because during the 1990’s Sunrise Mall was still booming. They had a Cinemark movie theater for $1 movies that had already enjoyed their runs in the regular cinema circuit, a brand new food court, more parking garages, a Stein Mart store, and Montgomery Wards. Sunrise Mall was still a better alternative than the mall right down the street: Padre Staples Mall.
Padre Staples Mall in the 1990’s was what Sunrise Mall is today: a decrepit and run-down building that smelled of urine and dead homeless people. Padre Staples Mall was a mess, it had stores but for the most part each business sat between two closed storefronts and the food court almost seemed like an afterthought. The mall had a giant carousel in its center foyer but given the atmosphere of the place there was a 100% chance that if you rode it you’d be groped by at least three child predators hiding underneath the spinning tea cups. To summarize, I remember going into Padre Staples Mall once before and finding what appeared to be baby shit all over the floor by the entrance doors. I have yet to find doo doo at Sunrise Mall but honestly it’s only a matter of time.
The Wards picture up above is kind of a spoiler but honestly you can mark the more rapid downfall of the mall with the closure of that particular store. Montgomery Wards (no relation to the flea market of the same name) fell apart financially around the end of the nineties. In an effort to save money they hacked “Montgomery” off of their name and became just “Wards” (I think to save on the amount of money it cost to have those giant light-up marquees made) but it wasn’t enough. The company went bankrupt and liquidated all of its assets and the Wards at Sunrise Mall closed. Mervyn’s followed suit a few years later after Sunrise Mall just had to build Mervyn’s space special for the outlet to open. There was a Stein Mart (a general clothing store) on the property that helped keep the mall alive but the problem was that Stein Mart was only accessible from the parking lot and it was connected to the mall by a long corridor. Stein Mart didn’t close but they said “fuck this” and moved their business to the shopping center across the street next to Target and a grocery store.
Sears is still open because they are fucking Sears; they could open in the middle of Chernobyl and still stay in business because they’re a successful company. There are two parking garages at Sunrise Mall, none of them are near Sears, therefore none of them are ever occupied. The parking lot outside of Sears is about the only place you’ll ever see cars at the mall and that’s only because people are there to buy a new lawnmower, a tool set, glasses, and shirts. Burlington Coat Factory is still open because, like I said before: drugs.
In 2008 the property was foreclosed on by the bank and their energy provider had enough of Sunrise Mall’s non-paying bullshit and cut the power temporarily. If there were any businesses there by this point they were long gone, enough was enough. Presently, and I’m being serious here, there is one place in the food court, the movie theater, the aforementioned anchor stores, a glow-in-the-dark miniature golf course, a POW/MIA memorabilia store, an ironic unemployment office, and about three dozen empty stores and broken dreams. There are no “middle of the walkway” kiosk stores, all of them went bankrupt and closed. At best you’ll run into about seven people walking around inside the mall and eight of them are going to be old people walking around for exercise looking at the various storefronts and talking about what used to be there.
So, that’s it for Sunrise Mall. There’s nothing left and the property is only really open because there’s a Sears. Late at night the entire mall closes down except for the movie theater which has only stayed alive because people apparently don’t mind watching damaged films for $1 (50 cents on Wednesdays). What follows below is a breakdown of what the mall looks like today along with my insight or reflections on what used to be there.
When it had more than just the suspiciously named “Orange Creations” the food court at Sunrise Mall had about a dozen outlets you could eat at. Among them were a Wendy’s, two Asian food places, an ice cream bar, Orange Julius, a pizza place, and a handful of others all strung together side by side with a giant faux boat whose deck made up the majority of the dining area. One by one as traffic began to subside the eateries all closed until only Wendy’s and Orange Creations were left. There’s another Wendy’s in the mall’s goddamn parking lot (which is still open) so the chain saw no need to have two locations that were essentially next to each other; the food court Wendy’s closed.
As a kid, back when there were actually places to eat at in the mall, I can fondly remember seeing movies with my mother and getting a bite to eat afterward; there were a lot of options. My favorite place was a restaurant front called Famous Corn Dog. Famous Corn Dog, like the name implies, was a Mexican food place. No, I’m kidding. They sold corn dogs and that was about it. When you’re five years old a restaurant that serves nothing but corn dogs and chicken nuggets is like and early Christmas; these days I probably wouldn’t eat there unless I was doing so for nostalgic value but honestly walking alongside the empty storefront really made me want another one of their dogs. At least I can remember what it was like to sit on a giant fake boat and eat one, though.
Once the mall began to fall apart the food court fell into disrepair (like the dead neon above shows). Places started routinely failing health inspections and it got to the point where no restaurant, even the Wendy’s, could score above a “B” with most places reeling in C’s and D’s and dare I say F’s. It wasn’t because they didn’t take care of their stuff, it was solely because the mall owners just couldn’t afford to keep the place clean. Walking through the food court you can really see artifacts of age, like soda machines touting logo stickers from the 1980’s, things that really needed to be replaced 20 years later but never were.
Great American Cookie (or whatever the company used to be called in the 1990’s had a pretty prominent place in the mall while it was open. You could buy little cookies of various flavors and styles or a “cookie pizza by the slice” kind of thing where you could get a big slice of iced chocolate chip cookie. They also offered whole cookie pizzas for sale for any occasion, most of which turned green when the example pizzas were left in the display cases for too long. Great American Cookie sold cookies by the truckload during the height of Sunrise Mall’s life; they sold so many cookies that they had special permission to build a fucking oven into the outside wall with a window that let you see the baking cookies inside.
For some reason the lights at Great American Cookie still operate which has let the advertisement pictures fade to hell and back.
Entertainment & Specialty Stores
Like any mall Sunrise featured a lot of clothing stores. When you’re a kid clothing stores are fucking lame and when you’re older guess what? Still lame. If you wanted me to I could sit here and reminisce about places like Melrose (which is still open) or Tuxedo Junction or Street Threads but honestly does it really matter? They sell clothes and that’s it. The more memorable places inside of a mall are the entertainment outlets, places where you could hang out and network with people over more than gaudy sweaters. Sunrise Mall was home to a lot of these kinds of places, the last of which finally closed as recently as a year ago (wherein it was the last of such places for almost a straight decade).
Take the place known only as “Trains” for instance. I’m pretty sure they didn’t sell anything, it was just a space occupied by a bunch of train and model enthusiasts. It sounds ridiculously stupid until you stepped inside and saw that the whole “store” was taken up by a massive model train set. Fine, it still sounds stupid, but look at it this way: I think trains are retarded and even I thought this place was fucking awesome. The amount of attention to detail put into the hand-painted models and mountains and the towns the trains traveled through was just incredible. It was the same WIP set every time you went there but you kept going back because you wanted to see what the new additions would look like. When I took the picture of the storefront I could still see a lot of stuff inside of there so supposedly they may still be open but I was there at 3 o’clock and they weren’t so I have no idea of what their hours could be.
Here’s the obligatory arcade creatively called “The Arcade” (formerly Aladdin’s Castle). As you might imagine when the mall was really jumping this arcade was incredibly busy. They had a “birthday party zone” in the far corner that was always decorated with party hats like someone was expecting a party but the party never came. Never once did I ever see a birthday there except for the time when one of my cousins actually had a birthday party at the arcade. Other than that one though, nothing. The games presently in the arcade have been there a long time and the arcade has been in lock-down for quite a while. Much like the train place I have no idea when it’s open. The last few times I was there every arcade game had a price tag on it, they were all for sale. Most of my memories of this place are all pretty recent, like walking by this air hockey table where a friend and I would waste afternoons playing against each other.
Like most arcades you could win tickets, and somewhere around here I actually have about 50 tickets from this place, but I hold onto them rather than trading them in for Tootsie Rolls because I know this place is basically doomed.
I believe the place above was once called “Fun Park” (or “Fun Land”, not sure on that one). It was one of the first stores to close doing so in the very early 90’s. Fun Park was a lot like The Arcade except it was aimed at very young guests, kind of like the kiddo section at a Chuck E. Cheese’s. Fun Park had Ski-Ball, (mini) mini golf, an obligatory ball pit, and a jungle gym among other stuff I cannot quite remember. The only memory I have of this place is one of the oldest ones still rattling around in my head; I could not have been older than three or four when I was last there. I was playing miniature golf and tripped over something (probably my own putter) and cut my knee open on a sharp metal corner of a coin-op machine next to me. Mind you, this was the 1990’s, toys were still pretty goddamn dangerous and weren’t made of 100% Nerf like they are today. This was back when you’d get hurt and suck it up, but of course seeing a patron get injured was bad for business so the arcade clerk helped patch my knee up, gave me a bunch of free tokens, and an Icee on the house.
Fun Park closed about a year later.
Every mall has one of those “buy by the pound” candy stores, here’s Sunrise Mall’s. It was called Candy Castle and was inhumanly resilient to closure even while everything else around it fell apart and burned to the ground. The Castle stood tall among the death offering jelly beans and gummy sharks for far more than they’d cost if you went to a gas station to buy them instead. There wasn’t a whole lot special about Candy Castle other than the fact that it was there almost forever and seemed to have a very exclusive contract with the mall’s owners. Candy Castle was free to build on the OUTSIDE of their storefront and even renovate the floor, artifacts of their creativity are still visible to this day even though the neons are long gone.
Fact: Candy Castle’s space is worth 25 cents more than those around it because there’s a quarter embedded in the floor where the gumball machine used to be.
In the 1980’s and partially into the 1990’s it was still en vogue to play Dungeons & Dragons. It seems to be making a cult comeback today but in recent years if you still played that game people would look at you with judging gazes and shake their heads in slow dismissal at you and your LARPer friends. The place photographed above used to be Gamers’ Guild, a hangout spot designated for tabletop RPG’s and card games. They were able to bend the physical properties of the universe to fit an obscene amount of tables into their store plus a snack bar. They also had a miniature store where they’d sell collectibles and books at about 400% markup.
Gamers’ Guild was the hangout for the more pretentious lot, the kinds of mouthbreathers who would hold a five hour argument over whether or not George Lucas ruined Star Wars by making Episodes I through III. Every single stereotype about assholish comic store owners was echoed with the people you would encounter in that store and they hated younger customers, especially those who wanted to use their tables to play Pokemon. Those kinds of customers weren’t completely dismissed, however, there was a special place for them:
This place used to be Collectible Treasures. They were a “general purpose” collectors’ store and sold things like Beanie Babies and, uh, Beanie Babies but when Pokemon was in full swing they made the bulk of their money selling and trading cards and other paraphernalia. Collectible Treasures was always busy. Always. It was full of Pokemon fans buying starter decks, booster packs, single cards, posters, books, movies, everything. Fucking everything. They didn’t have the greatest deals in town but if you were looking for something in particular they had it. They always did. To this day I believe in their backroom they either had some kind of magical teleporter that led straight to Japan or they kidnapped a small portion of a Thailand assembly line and ordered them to make Pokemon products.
For a store that had so much they also had little to no breathing room. The entirety of the store was floor to ceiling Pokemon. If you wanted to hang out with other “trainers” you had to do that outside the store, which was fine because right in front of Collectible Treasures was a spacious foyer with benches and there used to be a table where you could chill out and play a round of Pokemon or trade or just do whatever.
And like the rest of the mall, it’s dead.
That’s Pretzel World, and yes it’s open. Aside from the Orange Creations place in the food court it is the only other snack/food shop open in the entire mall and all they sell are pretzels that are like $3 each. It blows my fucking mind. You’d think at that price they’d have been one of the first shops to go, especially even today considering the amount of nothing that occupies Sunrise Mall, but for some reason Pretzel World hasn’t closed.
They must be working with Burlington Coat Factory.
Last but not least, here’s the only other place that has as much sentimental value to me as Collectible Treasures. I spent my entire middle school life hanging out playing Pokemon in the mall but when I was in high school I started kicking around the Rock & Roll Plus store, a slightly more adult atmosphere (okay they sold cock piercings so I guess it was a lot more adult). Rock & Roll Plus was a general pop culture kind of store that occupied three storefronts. They had combined two of them into one store and had another storefront dedicated to advertising their location in the mall. They meant business and when I mentioned at the beginning of this section there was only one specialty store that closed within the last year this one was it. I frequented the Rock & Roll Plus store all the way up through college.
The one thing I kept my eye on during all the years I spent there was a locked display case full of incredibly overpriced but totally awesome dragon figurines, the really bad ass kind. The first time I saw that case I was in 9th grade and every so often I’d check up to see if any of them had been clearanced out. I checked for what spanned almost a decade and the owners never marked their figurines down even when they were closing their doors the dragons were the special asterisk at the end of the “90% off everything must go” banners. I didn’t really need the figurines, they’d have been nice to have, but they were cool to look at. I don’t think I had room for them at my place anyways so I guess it’s for the best that I never bought them.
When Collectible Treasures closed down a lot of their inventory showed up at the Rock & Roll Plus store in their own version of a collectibles department. While they were closing I folded and bought a palm-sized PVC Charizard figurine just because I knew that the last decent place in Sunrise Mall was about to close for good and this would be my last opportunity to take something home from a place where I spent the better part of my childhood kicking around.
Charizard sits on my desk.
The Rest of Sunrise Mall
Walking around the mall today has a strange eerie feeling. It’s literally empty, it’s like being able to explore an abandoned property — with all the dangers of doing so — except you can buy a fucking pretzel if you wanted to. The fucked up thing is that unlike Padre Staples Mall (which has been bought out by Trademark Properties and turned into the incredibly high-scale La Palmera) Sunrise Mall has some history behind it like the fact that portions of what was meant to be a blockbuster Generation X movie were filmed on location there. The house where that movie was filmed is in impeccable condition, but the mall? Well, you’re right in the middle of that tour.
Save for the lights, and that’s pushing it, nothing works at the mall anymore. Everything has been shut down to save on power or water. The escalators have been turned off for years and much like the obvious Mitch Hedberg joke, no, they don’t have signs that say “temporarily stairs sorry for the convenience”.
You can see part of the water display between the escalators. The pool is arguably the most iconic feature of the mall and for a point in time it had recently been renovated to actually function again but due to a lack of patrons and the expense to keep it running (Texas is presently in the middle of a drought) it was of course shut off once more. Presently people toss pennies in there out of irony, I believe. There’s also an elevator in the mall that looks like a time machine from the 1980’s but I don’t dare use it; elevators cost money, money that I know Sunrise Mall doesn’t have so I just take the stairs right next to it.
There’s also a huge beautiful mural painted on the wall inside the tunnel that connected Stein Mart to the rest of the mall. It’s full of aquatic life painted with gorgeous detail. I’m happy to see the art is still in good condition but sad that if the mall ever closes people won’t be able to enjoy it. The dolphins from the beginning of the article are a part of this mural, but here’s more pictures of the rest of it so at least someone can enjoy it when the doors likely close for good:     
The most depressing thing in the mall, if I had to pick one, is how obvious it is that the owners realize they basically have no money to properly keep the place looking nice. Floors are cracked, lights are burnt out or broken, outside marquees need to be repainted or replaced, and metal closure gates need to be repaired. Sunrise Mall is presently owned by International Bank of Commerce, the bank who is owed the most money by Sunrise Mall, because the property was purchased at a foreclosure auction. That’s right, one bank repo’d the mall, another one bought it.
Part of the reason why Sunrise Mall is a hollow shell of its former self (literally) is because people refuse to see it as anything more than that and honestly this article really isn’t helping matters. You can’t really blame us though because most of the people who say the mall is dead are comparing it to the way we remember it, before it looked like the set of I Am Legend. If you heard the Rapture was about to take place and you hid inside of Sunrise Mall when you stepped out of hiding you’d look around and shout “FUCK” and believe that the Rapture actually happened. You could kill someone and hide the body in this mall and nobody would find it for at least three months, guaranteed. Even if you threw the body right in the middle of the empty pool the odds are still stacked in your favor.
As much as I’d like to see the mall bounce back, and trust me I hope it does, it just seems futile. I’d still walk around that place and see where Candy Castle used to be and think of nothing else than buying blue candy sharks and refuse to enter the new store. Unless it was like, an adult dragon and dinosaur novelty store. Then I’d consider it.
Fuck it, I’d go in there.
(You can read more about Sunrise Mall at Deadmalls.com.)