There was almost no one in the photo.

That was the first thing that struck me when clicked on a recent story by the Index-Journal’s James Hicks. The piece chronicled the City of Greenwood’s ordinance requiring folks to wear masks in public places amid COVID-19, and specifically looked at how that might be affecting business at the Greenwood Mall.

It was a responsibly reported piece, and the theme ended up being a bit of a mixed bag. Some store representatives said business was down a little bit since the mask law, others said things had been pretty much normal. The photo associated with the story was a long shot of the mall’s main corridor, virtually empty save for three customers walking along and another taking a break on a bench.

But, if we are all being honest here — really honest — the hard truth is, mask ordinance or no mask ordinance, that photo was a pretty accurate portrait of the mall — both the Greenwood Mall and “the mall” as larger construct in our culture — in the modern era.

Simply put, while Greenwood Mall (which was for years known as Crosscreek Mall, a fact likely remembered rosily by the type of people who still wish the Index-Journal was delivered in the evening) was once the unquestioned retail and entertainment hub of the Emerald City, it has been a fading jewel for quite a number of years now.

Before I go further, it’s important to note a couple of things. One, the biggest factor that has impacted traditional malls, in Greenwood and across the U.S., is the unquestioned rise of internet commerce. That has been a cataclysmic shift in American retail. Second, there are, indeed, still stores in Greenwood Mall, some of which I’m sure are doing well, and they employ folks who work hard at their jobs. And we all hope that can continue along.

But people of a certain age no doubt remember the “Crosscreek” of a different era. I’m one of those people. Like many others, I was a mall kid.

In my preteen and teen years — this would have been in the 1990s — I could kill countless hours in that mall. A whole Saturday, no problem.

The first stop on the tour would, unquestionably, be Musicland, which later became Sam Goody. Remember actually going to a music shop and buying records (and later tapes, and then later CDs)? Tape singles were always my jam. They were cheaper than full albums — always key when you’re 14 — plus you were guaranteed to get a hit, in a sense. If you got lucky, maybe the clerk would look the other way if you were buying a tape that came with a “Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics” label.

Lunch usually came next, and likely at Chick-fil-A, which for years had a location inside the mall. To be clear, this was the old school Chick-fil-A style, not the amusement-park-like experience it has now become. This was just a chicken sandwich and maybe a piece of lemon pie and Miss Helen handing out toothpick-skewered chicken nugget samples up near the front of the restaurant. If we were feeling adventurous, maybe we’d hit Corn Dog 7 instead, or maybe the Orange Bowl for a slice of pizza and an O-Joy.

Of course, Aladdin’s Castle was also a must. A pocket full of tokens would make you a rich man in there. My daughter plays video games now on her iPad. When I was her age and a bit older, we lined up at the arcade on Saturday.

It’s funny, I’m in the media business now and we’re always looking forward. What’s happening RIGHT NOW? What’s in the paper tomorrow? But what I wouldn’t give to go back, for just one afternoon, to Aladdin’s Castle, and play The Simpsons or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with my brother. (I always played as Donatello, while he played as Michelangelo.) My brother and I still spend plenty of time together, between jobs and spouses and kids and mortgages. But I miss those Saturdays when our only worry was whether we could take down Shredder on TMNT and then go see a Jim Carrey movie at the Crosscreek Triple.

So, yeah, I was a mall kid, and it was fun. But time marches on.

I’m sure I’ve still got a couple tape singles tucked away, somewhere.

Chris Trainor is a contributing columnist for the Index-Journal. Contact him at ChrisTrainorSC@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisTrainorSC. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.