Monday, July 9, 2012


Today, Highland Mall in Austin Texas is only a former shell of what was once a hub of activities during the 80s. Now, only thirty percent of its spaces are occupied by commerce, and that is shrinking every day. Seriously, it has all the vibrancy of a rest home. No one’s really sure what’s happening with the place either. Management has made some pretty bizarre attempts to keep the place alive by renting it out for quinceaneras and teen fashion shows. Upstairs, they even let some shyster run a Saturday night variety show in the space that used to be some clothing store for fat ladies. Get this, the food court fucking serves beer! Even though this place is clearly struggling, whenever someone’s lease runs out they refuse to let the business re-sign. They even hedged out Dillard’s, which has since become a fucking FEMA headquarters! Just bad decision after bad decision has bent this once-great mall over a rail, and fused it in place. In fact, this place is so ravaged that I have taken to affectionately referring to it as "Wasteland Mall."

One of the last hold outs at Highland is a store called Gamefellas, a surprisingly large store that resells games for various obsolete systems as well as DVDs. They also have a wall of VHS toward the back along with a limited number of laserdiscs. When I first discovered them, I was shocked to find a number of old Paragon tapes still shrink wrapped.

I fast became the weird and probably only guy who bought tapes. I’d routinely spend 20 to 50 bucks at their store while the clerk shown a smirk like they were selling me a bridge to Manhattan. Eventually, the manager mentioned that they had several huge sheds full of tapes and he told me if I bought more that they’d continue to replenish the shelves. Apparently, during the PS2 days, Gamefellas ran a promotion, where if you brought in 100 VHS tapes for trade you could get a brand new PlayStation 2. They’d then go on to retail the tapes for 5 bucks a pop. Eventually, interest in their tape section waned, and they wound up stuck with hundreds of tapes – some of which were quite rare.

After several years, they stopped putting out new tapes, and before I’d walk out empty handed I would ask the manager if he’d consider letting me into those sheds he’d mentioned. Each time, he’d ask for my number and tell me he’d think about it. This same song and dance went on for five years – until last month.

I decided to take my friend Blake to Highland Mall, as I really enjoy watching people react to this absolutely desolate and depressing environment. Blake’s response would be the best since he used to go to the mall during its actual hey-day. The contrast was pretty stark for him, and he kept muttering, “dude, this is brutal.” Truly, if you’re looking for deals at Highland, turn right around. However, if you’re looking for a mall to kill yourself in, this is the place.

Before we took off though I decided I’d yank Blake out of the darkness and end on a brighter note by checking out Gamefellas. As I walked in, the manager and I connected eyes, and he said, “I’m about to make you a very happy man.”
                I asked, “Oh, yeah?”
                “Oh, yeah,” he said, “I actually lost your number and was hoping you’d come in here. We restocked the VHS, and we have a ton of other stuff in the back. I don’t do this for everybody, but you’ve been waiting like five years for this, so I’ll let you grab whatever you want.”

Within a few minutes, Blake and I had started sweating profusely with the fever of a mania as we hunkered between narrow steel cage shelves in the back of the store, pulling gem after gem from the shelves. For however oppressive the atmosphere at Highland Mall is, it was worth trudging through the despair to get to this exact treasure.

I walked away with around 60 tapes, including shockingly pristine stuff from the likes of Video Gems, Paragon, Media, and even Unicorn. Meanwhile, Blake broke the bank at 112 tapes.  Truly, this was a honey hole of the gods.

Here are just a few of the titles I snagged that day:

The moral of the story is that you just never know where you're going to find the next great hall. It could happen anywhere. You might find pure gold on some podunk gas station's spinner rack next to a Ray Stevens cassette display. Or even at some shitty estate sale. Or yes, even a video game store in a mall. You just never know, so keep your eyes peeled. 

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