A few years ago, my mom and stepdad moved into the brand-new Sequoya Commons complex. The condos sit above retail space that houses Sequoya Library, EVP Coffee, Whoops and the Chocolate Shoppe -- your basic grandparent mecca.
My kids will probably grow up thinking Nana and Papa Doug owned the entire building, as most visits involve either a dish of Super Man ice cream, Tootsie Rolls from the coffee shop register, a new trinket from the toy store, or very likely all three at the same time. As much as I enjoy Sequoia Commons, it's not without a pang for my 1980s childhood spent at Midvale Plaza -- a layer of mini-mall ruins now buried beneath Sequoia Commons Phase II rental units.
A strip mall before anyone called it a strip mall, Midvale Plaza had everything a grade school girl needed for sustenance and entertainment, mostly while she waited on the business of others. Childhood is filled with waiting -- waiting for a ride, waiting in the car (when the "way back" was a fully accepted, if not licensed, childcare provider), and waiting on someone older than you to finish whatever list of errands brought you to Midvale Plaza in the first place.
When I wasn't waiting in the car, I waited in the library. Seated in a molded plastic chair, I waited at the wood-styled Formica tables for a babysitter, older sibling, or parent to find their books in the stacks. Sometimes I had my own business to attend to. How I admired the librarians' elegant fingers dancing across the formidable wooden card catalogue, helping me secure sources for my first hand-printed research papers on Abigail Adams or the tropical rainforest. I remember listening to stories on cassette and record player, attached by the now trendy (but then cutting-edge) enormous headphones.
I remember failing to return three books, not telling anyone about it, and receiving a late notice for $27. But mostly I remember the waiting, and the quiet, and the hope for a visit to the Hobby Shop or Baskin Robbins before returning to the car or my blue-sparkled banana-seat Schwinn for the ride home.
The Hobby Shop displayed lavish and completely furnished dollhouses, as well as glass cases full of dollhouse accessories: miniature books with real printed paper, china place settings with metal flatware, and tantalizing tiny foods. I coveted a coin-sized porcelain Jell-o salad mold complete with suspended fruit and a lettuce garnish, set atop a micro Corningware serving dish.
Staring at tiny treats whet my sweet tooth, which could be sated at one of three convenient locations in Midvale Plaza. The best of 31 flavors, Baskin Robbins' Pink Bubblegum ice cream or Gold Metal Ribbon (depending on how mature you felt that day) satisfied, despite the lure of a freezer display full of upside-down sugar cones decorated as clowns with piles of frosting for hair. As an accompanied minor, you understood without even asking your guardian that clown-head novelties fell completely outside of your menu of options. Which kids got those, anyway? Probably the same ones whose parents bought them the big white colonial dollhouse with electric lights, wall-to-wall Berber, and very likely working intercoms, instead of the open-faced wooden minimalist version I had.
If the parental mandate of the day did not include ice cream or candy from the IGA grocery store checkout, R&Z Company hair salon offered a bowl of free sugar cubes in the coffee area while you waited for your mom to get her nails done. For my first haircut, Monica at R&Z took me from two braids to a Dorothy Hamill. She still recalls the half-bottle of conditioner required to de-snarl my hair at every trim. When R&Z remodeled, they allowed my brother and I to draw all over the pink-striped wallpaper with magic markers.
After both R&Z and Baskin Robbins left the Midvale Plaza, the Chocolate Shoppe moved in. I never could quite get used to eating my Espresso Oreo scoop where I used to sit under a bubble dryer.
As is typical with youth, I never considered my fondness for Midvale Plaza until I knew of its demise. While I wouldn't categorize it as an eyesore, it certainly didn't possess the ambiance of Sequoia Commons. But somehow, all that concrete and retail teemed with coziness. I envision archeologists someday unearthing a layer of Midvale Plaza mini-mall ruins, and that with a fragment of porcelain dollhouse gelatin, a shard of R&Z's sugar bowl, or one fully intact enormous headphone, they might get a sense not only of a marketplace, but also of a childhood in 1980s Madison and a very nice place for a young girl to wait.