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Last Updated on December 12, 2022
When we think of the decade of the 90s, many iconic things come to mind but perhaps the most iconic of them all is the shopping mall. It was more than a place to shop, it was a point of encounter, we might even say it was an institution in itself.
And, if you’re a 90s kid, chances are that you spent quite a bit of time inside the nearest mall with your friends. After all, our parents would drop us off like they were playing hot potato, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
As a meeting spot, the mall had it all: great eating spots, lounging corners, and plenty of aisles to walk around. But the most important part of it was its iconic stores where we could dilly daddle our time away while listening to the newest music singles (at Sam Goody), try wide-legged jeans for the perfect booty (at Wt Seal), and pick a movie or two (at Blockbuster).
Sadly, some of these iconic 90s stores are no longer around. Now that online retailing has taken over the world, brick-and-mortar stores are fewer by the year and kids don’t go perusing the marvelous alleys of the nearest Toys R Us.
If I got you feeling nostalgic already, you won’t regret scrolling through for a complete rundown of stores from the 90s that closed their doors. Some went out of business because the technology simply changed (we mourn you Blockbuster!) and others simply disappeared into obscurity.
“Nothing in life was certain except Wet Seal’s wide-leg jeans. May you (not) R.I.P. (because I love my jeans!)”
Wet Seal was one of the most popular 90s clothing stores. I might go as far as say it was the trendiest while it lasted, carrying jeans and lingerie-style camisoles among other era favorites. It appears it went down in a bad combination of pricey payouts and hemorrhaging cash to stay afloat. You can still shop online, but there are no brick-and-mortar shops left since 2017. It is still a great find to encounter at thrift shops though!
Another huge success of its time, Dress Barn sold its last around May 2019. It closed down all 650 stores in locations all over.
The Limited was a rave clothing store in the 90s. What was once a favorite of young women with its mix-and-match styles and closet staples is no more. The only remains are our beloved memories of trying out stuff and an online shop.
It abruptly shut down its doors in 2017. All 250 of its shops shut down and went home. The world has never been the same.
“Our shared love for clothes will continue to light my way. Despite not being able to spend my allowance at your stores anymore”.
As a teenage girl during the 90s, I knew we all had something in common: at least one graphic tee from Delia’s. Or a halter top, a pair of lavender platform shoes, or maybe a chain belt? Whatever the case, it gave us something in common with characters in movies and TV series (like Charmed, Roswell, or Sabrina the Teenage Witch).
Originally created by two Yale University alumni, Delia’s jumped to popular status after it became the embodiment of 90s style and it began to be featured in every mall available. In 2014 things went south when its parent company filed for bankruptcy but some merchandise from Delia’s can still be found in online thrift stores or second-hand shops.
Steve & Barry’s
Despite selling inexpensive sportswear clothing for teens, this beloved 90s store closed all of its stores in 2009.
Among 90s clothing stores, Gadzook was a popular teen clothing store that closed around 2005. It catered to the alternative dressers of the 1990s. Think weird graphic t-shirts, JNCO jeans, and chain wallets. Nothing too drastic either.
It was supposedly purchased by Forever21, which closed all of its stores in 2020.
“My love of shoes was only understood by two 90s staples: Carrie Bradshaw and Thom McAn. I’ve already survived one big loss… Hang in there Carrie!”.
This chain of shoe stores was super popular until 1996, every mall had one until… well, they didn’t. And the only place you could find Thom McAn shoes now is Sears or Kmart.
This brand used to be a staple in my closet since the early 90s. First as a young girl and then as a budding professional, it had everything I could want and need.
In 2019, it announced that it would close all stores. After filing for bankruptcy, the brand came crashing down, killing our hopes that someone would revive it.
“On the worst days of teenagers’ lives, you were there… feeling our days with music. May the angels hear the last Britney CD I bought from you”.
Due to the declining CD market, many music stores closed by the late 2000s. Such is the case of the Virgin stores that were gone by 2017. That logo instills instant nostalgia every time I come upon it!
This shop was one of the largest and most famous music stores in the 90s. It just couldn’t keep up with the rise of digital music and closed in 2006.
“You were always in my head, giving my most epic moments the proper soundtrack (even if my Discman skipped a bit of two)”.
Before there was Spotify, we only had two options: making mix tapes out of the radio or getting a CD from a music store. And when it came to CD stores in the 90s, there was no place as iconic as Sam Goody. They had it all, soundtracks from epic movies like Titanic, or hits like the ultimate Spice Girls tour. Plus, you knew to rush on Tuesdays when releases dropped at your local store because new stuff flew off the shelves!
Another great loss, since this store was done for by 2012. In 2006 they filed for bankruptcy and eventually closed all stores in a couple of years. I guess there was no outliving streaming music.
This store was opened by the same guys behind Sam Goody and it was cut from the same cloth, just bigger. It was last heard of in 2006. Then it went silent, permanently.
“Thanks to you, I knew the marvels of VHS and movie-watching as a sleepover group activity. So long, Blockbuster. May you live forever in retro tv series”.
Arguably the most famous 90s store that shut down. How many of us treasure our childhood memories of perusing its aisles in search of movies we hadn’t seen? Or knew the joy of finding the last copy of the latest release? Sadly, this hugely popular video chain was closed in 2013 all over.
This educational channel was so popular it had its own chain of stores to sell educational books, videos, and gifts. There were more than 103 stores that ended up being lost by 2007. Maybe someday, someone will discover their ruins… (pun intended).
“Good forever night, may your dreams be full of magical adventures and not of R.L. Stines Goosebumps (like mine were back in the 90s thanks to you)”.
As it was, many book chain stores have been absorbed by Barnes & Noble. B. Dalton suffered the same fate in the year 2010.
When Barnes & Noble wasn’t on our radar, we used to hit the local Waldenbooks ( before it joined Borders as part of the Borders Group Inc.). I adored getting my summer reading books and a bunch of new CD’s there.
Something similar to what happened to B. Dalton happened to Waldenbooks. After it was merged with Borders in 1994 because of its decline in sales, it lost its own name and fell further out of popularity. Sadly, this merge didn’t save them and it was closed down completely by 2011 (yes, Borders went down with it too).
Borders Books & Music
You might not have heard about it, but these stores were quite big until 2011.
Toys R Us
“No one spread more love in one lifetime as you did. Be it a birthday, Christmas, or your parents buying your forgiveness, we will forever be grateful for the toys you rendered into our hands”.
When it came to toy shops, there was no 90s shop that was as beloved as Toys R Us. Founded in 1948 by Charles Lazarus after he came back from WWII. He was inspired by the baby boom and the need to cater to all those new parents.
I mean, if you wanted Beanie Babies, Ninja Turtles, or My Little Pony toys, you knew you would find them all at Toys R Us. It was also responsible for creating Mr. Potato Head, Geoffrey the Giraffe, and other iconic toys of the era. Being inside a Toys R Us was an amazing experience. The shop in New York City even had a fully functioning Ferris Wheel.
That being said, it finally closed down in 2018 after mounting competition from Walmart and Target. In 2019, it made a tentative comeback after it was purchased by Tru Kids Brands. And in 2022 it opened in-store shops at Macy’s department stores across the US. Perfect timing for the 90s era revival, I must say!
Rise from the grave once more, Toys R Us, you owe it to your founder!
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This educational toy store started closing at the beginning of the 90s, and by 2003 it has been completely taken over by Toys R Us.
“That which we love doesn’t truly go away. I will keep your memories safely tucked in a box, together with my Little Ponies and Barbies of days of old”.
If you got your Barbie Dream House at K. B Toys, you know why this store was so awesome. With over 1300 stores, this toy chain store was present in every single state and, of course, a favorite of children of all ages. No one saw it coming when in 2008 it announced it would close shop.
In 2016 Strategic Marks purchased what remained of it and announced it would reopen its doors. Another epic 90s comeback? We shall wait and see!
Warner Bros Studio Store
Disney store’s biggest competitor, it had everything you wanted and more of your favorite Looney Toonz. It had all the gear you could ever want from all your favorite characters, from Elvira to Bugs. It was quite fashionable too and it was not uncommon to catch people wearing stuff from them long after they were shut down, even as late as the 2000s.
It closed all of its locations in 2001 so that is quite a long time to last. Like Bugs Bunny would say… That’s All Folks!
“Lost now, but loved forever. Despite many generations not knowing the dark secrets of technologies past (like cleaning computer mice, blowing a VHS or saving in diskettes), I will treasure the knowledge you gave me”.
Counting more than 10000 stores, Radio Shack came to an end in 2017.
As far as electronics chains went, Tweeter was as big as they came. That’s until it was closed for good at the end of 2008. Guess it just couldn’t compete with its audio, video, and car stereo goods.
“You were swallowed by a giant, but so long as I have a desktop computer, I will keep you in my dreams”.
Specializing in computer hardware and software, CompUSA was the place to go if you needed anything for your brand-new PC (or laptop if you had the $$). However, BestBuy soon took over it and by 2012, it had closed.
“Life is not measured by the number of years we have, but by the number of things from Ames that still survive in our parent’s house”.
With over 700 locations at its peak, Ames was a huge department store chain that our parents used for everything. The last few petered out during 2001.
Hecht’s Department Store
This one was actually quite big until it got bought out by Macy’s around 2005 and its stores got either turned into a Macy’s store or fully closed.
“You gave us linens, furniture, and more. No matter Macy’s erased your name, your memory of endless aisles and cheap prices shall never die”.
Another popular name that got retired by Macy’s, this department store was huge but it had over 44 locations at its peak.
Linens ‘n Things
Homer decor fans knew their local heaven was at their closest Linens ‘n Things. Despite still doing business online, this huge department store with over 500 shops during the 90s, closed its doors to the public in 2008.