Still hanging in there, Kingsgate Mall celebrates a half-century of glorious sadness

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      How does one celebrate sadness?

      The first step is to accept that it’s not impossible. Think of that time you visited the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, where poor Dewey sat alone in a bird sanctuary display with a broken foot, a sprained wing, and a resigned look that suggested, “Why me, God?” Despite it all, Dewey was somehow an inspiration—a testimony to the power of not giving up. 

      Then there was that time you saw Frankie Goes To Hollywood at the Rage in Vancouver with precisely zero original members—the only person even tangentially connected to the group being a session bassist who looked even more embarrassed to be than the assorted fops, dandies, and rubes on the dancefloor. Which didn’t stop FGTH from ripping into “Relax” like they were there at the beginning.

      And that time—actually, make that every time—you’ve found yourself at Kingsgate Mall over the years trying to decide between the Pepperoni Pizza Dog and the Chili Cheese Dogs at Orange Julius, shopping for no-name runners at Fields, and perusing the clear vinyl sofa protectors at Home Highlights.

      Some malls—West Edmonton, Istanbul Cevahir, Dubai—are famous for their grandeur, audaciousness, and ambitiousness. Others are infamous—at least in Vancouver—for their long histories of downtrodden weirdness.

      Hello, Kingsgate Mall, which celebrates 50 years of puzzling existence this year. How do we know this? Easy—the DIY signs currently tacked up around the Little Mall That Could, the best part being they look like they were created on a Commodore 64. 

      Those with a John Mackie-like knowledge of Vancouver history know that Kingsgate Mall is located on the site of the former Mount Pleasant School, originally built as an eight-room structure back in 1892. 

      Following the school’s demolition in 1972, the Vancouver School Board decided to turn the site into a shopping mall because, well, that was a thing back in the day. Once upon a time, a half-century ago, you made the rounds to your local mom-and-pop butcher, grocer, and buggy-whip outlet. Then, seemingly overnight, the world became a place where everything had to be in one convenient place—fuck small businesses, not to mention fresh air and sunshine.

      Progress? Before you answer that, think of all the grand, historic Vancouver theatres that were demolished to make way for Pacific Centre Mall.

      Seriously, the late, great Mojo Nixon knew what he was talking about in “Burn Down the Malls”. 

      But let’s not get off track here.

      In the early years, Kingsgate Mall was alternately known as Hellsgate Mall, which had something to do with the fact that East Van in the ’70s and early ’80s was a place where you tended to get a free beating and bonus ass-kicking with your shopping. There’s a reason the ’hood is marked with a giant cross today.

      Maybe Kingsgate Mall’s size is why it’s a place that neighbourhood residents go when Oakridge, Brentwood, and Metrotown seem too far away. Assuming your name isn’t Billy Barty, Mini-Me, or Joe C., you can walk the entire mall in something like 160 steps. 

      Most of us head there for the government-run liquor store, which has been there—along with a Shopper’s Drug Mart—since the beginning. But over the years, it’s also been the place where the dreams of small business owners often go to die. Which explains why, if you were hoping to get your hands on a “CAUTION Slippering when it wet” t-shirt at Mirage, that ship unfortunately sailed a half-decade ago. 

      Today, even though it’s been marked for redevelopment for what seems like a decade, Kingsgate Mall is still standing proud. Or maybe more accurately, it’s still standing—down, but not out.

      Today it’s home to stores like Lolli Pretty, whose website promises “fun new dresses” and “printed blouses.” If you’ve got cellphone problems, it’s definitely the place to be, with Rogers, Freedom Mobile, Fido, Fast Cell Repair, Mobilyf Cell Care, and Nextgen Bell all in the house.

      While its slogan—“Go easy”—is simple enough, something called Easy Home is a little harder to wrap one’s head around. Based on the Easy Home site, it offers everything from Dynasty sofas and chaise lounges (only $19 per week!) and Dinsmore bunk beds to Amana front-load dryers, discount Xboxes, and cash loans (up to $20,000!!).

      For all your bong, vape, and grinder needs, there’s the Kingsgate Smoke Shop. 

      All this might explain why, for all of its sadness, Kingsgate Mall is somehow still weirdly beloved. Its fan site—@kingsgatemall on Twitter—is largely dormant, but still a great source of comedy gold. 

      It’s the kind of place so horribly uncool that it’s almost cool, making it a great backdrop for videos co-starring your favourite Vancouver alt-pop stars. 

      Vancouver hipsters even write songs about Kingsgate Mall, paying tribute to Scalie Shoes, Buy-Low Foods, and benches where senior citizens sit there proudly farting. You think anyone's ever written a song about Oakridge?

      Happy anniversary, Kingsgate. You’ve earned it for hanging in there. Now would someone please bring the Orange Julius back, because the Pepperoni Pizza Dogs really were delicious.