Remembering the Marketplace of the Midsouth

B. Dalton Booksellers

B. Dalton booksellers was an offshoot of Waldenbooks and they had a lot of books there that werent at Bookland - Kristen 6/08

9/12/2010

I have to politely correct Kristen. B. Dalton Booksellers wasn't an offshoot of Waldenbooks. I know because I worked at the B. Dalton's in the Mall of Memphis from 1986-88. B. Dalton had originally been a small independent chain bookstore owned by Dayton's department store, based in Minneapolis. (Trivia: Dayton's is the store seen behind Mary when she tosses her cap in the air on the opening credits of the Mary Tyler Moore Show). Dayton's sold B. Dalton to Barnes and Noble shortly after I was hired there. Today Barnes & Noble owns Bookstar in addition to B&N branded stores. I believe the B. Dalton Booksellers chain is now entirely defunct. Most B. Dalton stores were located in malls, though there were some freestanding ones. Kristen may be remembering Brentano's, which was a specialty division of Waldenbooks located in the Hickory Ridge, Saddle Creek, and Oak Court malls. I worked at the Hickory Ridge location from 1989-93, and if there's ever a website for that mall, some people will flee the country over the stories I have to tell!

When I started working at the Mall of Memphis, B. Dalton's store manager was Michelle Repass, a sassy party girl/ Linda Blair lookalike from Kansas City. The assistant manager was Ann-Marie McClain, who was rather infamous among Elvis fans. Ann-Marie was the treasurer for a notable Elvis fan club and had been awarded the moniker "Buttons" because she always wore a long vest that was covered in a buttload of Elvis buttons. Ann-Marie loved bagged popcorn and romance novels, both of which she devoured in the backroom while I suffered alone on the sales floor. At that time, book store sales were going into a decline, and the early morning shifts often consisted of just two employees. We were located on the second level, north side, near the JC Penney's entrance in the mall.

The first thought that comes to mind from my days at B. Dalton's would be tripping over the effin' parquet floors. The floors were only about five years old at the time, but the small wooden pieces were rapidly becoming unglued. Because of the chemical composition, the wood would only adhere to very specific types of glue, expensive glue, and apparently Home Office wasn't willing to pay for it. All of us on staff would constantly stumble over loose wood and curse like sailors, and invariably, some guy who was secretly reading Playgirl in the back of the store would peer around the corner to see who uttered such sacrilegious remarks. In the middle of the store, there was a raised platform that was enclosed on three sides. It had originally been designed as an information desk/second cash wrap. Whenever staff tripped over loose parquet floor pieces, we would pick them up and toss them over into that enclosed platform, where they rapidly piled up.

In the mid-80's, the Mall of Memphis was rocking. Literally and figuratively. I will never forget the first time I felt the floor (and seemingly whole building) quiver like a bowl of cherry Jello. At B. Dalton's, we were constantly joking about the mall being constructed on a precarious landfill, and once we had the Big Earthquake, (which had been predicted for eons) we were certain that the MoM would simply collapse and vanish back into the earth, taking all of us with it.

Fridays and Saturdays rocked in a different way. The drinking age in Tennessee had been raised from 19 to 21 in 1984, so anyone under 21 could usually be found at MoM on the weekends. It didn't hurt that Chelsea Street Pub was notorious for their lax carding standards. Weekend nights were particularly fun because visitors came in from neighboring states, as well as military personnel from the Navy base in Millington. I was only about 20 at the time and enjoyed that clientele better than the annoying blue-rinsed morning mall walkers who banged furiously on the doors half an hour before opening time. They generally wanted a newspaper and would either pitch two quarters at me without so much as a thank you, OR they would try to pay for the paper with a $20 bill, wiping out the till before the store even opened.

If I arrived early enough, sometimes I would saunter down to the food court. One of my favorite morning memories is going to Chik-Fil-A before our store opened and getting a chicken and biscuit with country gravy. I loved to eat in the food court, watch the skaters far below at the Ice Chalet, and hang my head over the railing to feel the cool rush of air from the rink. It had an aroma all its own. I can still smell it if I think hard enough.

One thing about working in a mall is that each day is a surprise. We never knew what we were going to get when we walked through the door. It could be a moderately busy day. It could be totally dead, nary a customer in sight. Or we could run our tails off all day trying to answer the phones and ring out customers simulatneously. On the slow days, or when we were in an especially perverse mood, we'd amuse ourselves with some arch game. One of my favorite employees was Melanie, a young African American student at Rhodes. Mel had a tremendous sense of humor, and we would devise crazy names for our B. Dalton's name tags. We printed our names on a hand-held Dymo label maker that we referred to as the "click, click gun". We'd click away. My name became Mahaark while hers was M'elohnee. Sometimes for kicks for we'd simply have our real names, but we switched name tags. That really got some strange reactions from customers!

About a year into my tenure at B. Dalton's, we had our first major booksigning. There was a woman named Lucy de Barbin who had written a book in which she claimed to have been Elvis Presley's secret lover back in the 1950's and supposedly had given birth to his love child Desiree. Both Lucy and Desiree were to attend the signing. I remember that the event caused quite a stir, with a number of people worried about retaliation from Elvis fans. We had special security on hand and even the local television stations showed up to tape the event for that night's news broadcast. I think I still have the report from Channel 13, which was then still an ABC affiliate, on an old VHS tape.

I left B. Dalton's in 1988 and jumped ship to Brentano's at the Hickory Ridge Mall; however, I remember going back to the MoM in the fall of 1991. A special commercial was being taped to commemorate the mall's 10th anniversary, and mall employees were invited to participate. I still had dear friends who worked at B. Dalton's, so I went back late one night with them after closing to play a mall patron. It was supposed to be a "then and now" type scenario, so I wore an early 80's type shirt under one of those ubiquitous 90's type sweaters. We taped scenes riding the escalators in 80's clothes and then in 90's wear. I remember staying until about midnight or 1am to tape those scenes, which aired during the holiday season of 1991.

I don't think I ever stepped foot in the MoM again until around 2002 when I needed to get my driver's license renewed. I was amazed at how neat and clean the facility had remained and was quite sad about all the empty spaces. At the time I worked there, I was a silly, pretentious kid who was no doubt embarrassed about working in a mall, which seemed the epitome of American bourgeoisie. However, looking back on those times as a 40 something adult, I can truly appreciate my experience. It was absolutely a fun time. I feel privileged to have grown up in a more innocent era. The 80's were a blast. We had so much fun; it wasn't tinged with all the anger and violence that threatens kids today. And there was an energy about the Mall of Memphis that I never felt at Oak Court or the Wolfchase Galleria, neither of which appeal to me in the least. Allowing the MoM to be razed is no doubt one of the biggest mistakes ever made by our notoriously inept city government. It really was a remarkable place with so much life left in it.

My coworkers in the 80's included these wonderful, interesting, funny people: Nevin Gokturk (aka "mon cherie" the assistant manager), Jeff McMillan (assistant manager/student at Memphis College of Art), Valli Jacobson (the incorruptible, and oh how we tried) , Joel Pope (blue eyes, black hair, nose in a book, split for the West Coast) Bart Stafford (Twin Peaks aficionado and the sweetest guy ever), Don (with the crazy hair), and Melanie (who attended Rhodes College). I loved you all. Thanks for the memories.


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