How Stranger Things used retail nostalgia to build a 1980’s mall
The latest season of the hit show Stranger Things featured an unexpected star: a fully furnished 1980’s mall. Created in an unused part of a dying mall in Georgia, the Starcourt Mall included replicas of 80’s retail staples such as Waldenbooks and Jazzercise. Over 80 people worked for a month and a half to turn a half empty retail space into a homage to the golden days of consumer shopping.
The writers created their own pop-culture calendar
To recreate the gist of suburban life in the 1980’s Midwest, the Stranger Things writing team made their own pop-culture calendar. The result was the inclusion of nostalgia-inducing items such as the New Coke, the song “Careless Whisper” and even a quirky Jazzercise session.
Although the Stranger Things production team tried to stick as much as possible to 1985, they made an exception to include one of the best-remembered stores from the 80’s: Glamour Shots. This photography studio chain opened its doors in 1988, yet Stranger Things decided to create an off-brand version of Glamour Shots which kept the kitschy backdrops and clothing that made this retailer famous.
A scrapbook inspired the atrium’s interior
As the design team struggled to come up with ideas to fill the cavernous space of their location, they found a scrapbook with old pictures taken at a mall garden. This inspired them to turn the atrium area into a homage for 1980’s interior gardens, by fitting dozens of Areca and Chinese fan palms. They also included a huge neon sign which contrasted with the greenery, and painted the rest of the atrium’s furniture in dusty colors.
Almost all stores were completely furnished
Over 40 stores were constructed and furnished to make up the Starcourt Mall. Only a dozen of them are seen up close, but the rest were ready just in case they appeared in the background. Every single retail shop was researched, adapted to the space, furnished, and stocked with products from the era. The mall even had a fully-functioning Wicks ‘N’ Sticks, a shop mostly recognized for their novelty candles and sculpted wax figurines.
In addition, most stores from the food court were furnished with 1980’s equipment and registers. The only exception to this was Scoops Ahoy!, an ice cream parlor which was created for the series and had to be designed from scratch.
Over 1,500 people were dressed as 80’s mall rats
To bring the mall to life, Stranger Things hired more than 1,500 extras to roam, browse, and enjoy mall life in the 80s. Each of them was dressed with era-appropriate attire while their hair was gelled, curlied, or permed. In the case of the main cast, their wardrobes were updated to showcase how the retail boom influenced them.
“What would a girl who was -you know- so sheltered and living in a cabin wear when she gets out to the real world and gets to go to the mall and buy her own clothes?” was the question costume designer Amy Perris used as inspiration to dress teenage El.
To dress the actors playing retail workers, the costume department bought original uniforms from eBay. And in the case of Hot Dog on a Stick, the company was so excited to be depicted that they provided replicas of their 1980’s uniforms.
Startcourt Mall was designed as a symbol of change
The inevitability of change was the concept that drove the Stranger Things team to create the Starcourt Mall. To highlight how much the main characters have aged and grown, the mall scenes portrayed how middle-class America dealt with the huge economical and tech changes that took place during the 80s.
Unfortunately, nobody can visit the Starcourt Mall as the entire set was taken down after the third season shoot ended. Carlos Trujillo, Stranger Things production designer, explained to the LA times why this fictional mall was so captivating: “It’s fun to see that blind capitalist optimism in full swing where no one is feeling guilty about the good time they’re having.”