15 Big Businesses from the ’90s that Disappeared
I am a ’90s baby. I was born in the Spring of 1990, during a time when technology was steadily growing and about to change the world in ways nobody could have expected or foreseen, before our thin and efficient iPhones were in the making. While it really wasn’t all that long ago, times were very different.
Mall rats were a real thing. If you didn’t walk the mall with a Slurpee or an over-sized pretzel, eat delicious and fast Chinese or Philly cheesesteaks in the food quarts, meet your friends at your favorite exit, you missed out on one of the purest joys of the ’90s. It wasn’t always about shopping though, a huge part of the mall rat life was just walking and talking and being with and among people. There were even people who went to malls just for the exercise, who made their rounds every morning right as the mall opened during the colder months.
Every generation has pieces of their childhood they are reluctant to let go of. Mine is big pretzels and mall shopping and movie rentals. Let me share with you 15 big businesses from the ’90s that disappeared, but still have a place in my heart.
1 – Blockbuster
If you were anything like me, you took your weekly trip to Blockbuster. You ran over to the new releases before scanning your favorite isles methodically, making sure not to miss anything. You eyeballed the popcorn and Twizzlers and begged your parents for a quarter so you could get gum from the gumball machine. Those were the days.
While I love and appreciate technology and all the convenience that it has brought into our lives, I do miss the excitement and simplicity of going to Blockbuster to pick up that new release you’ve been waiting a month for, or that movie you’ve seen dozens of times but haven’t gotten sick of yet. I even miss the disappointment that came with realizing the movie you wanted is gone. That delayed gratification made watching the movie all the better.
Due to the evolution of technology and stiff competition, Blockbuster filed bankruptcy in 2010. Did you know that though most Blockbusters were closed, there is still one, lone Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon? They have even recently served as an Airbnb where customers can stay overnight in a ’90’s style staged living room complete with a pullout couch with ’90s style bedding.
What I miss most
Here are the top 4 nostalgic things I miss about Blockbuster:
- Rewinding — Am I the only one who misses rewinding movies? The purr of the VHS spinning and rewinding was soothing. It was a methodical process to one-by-one rewind your movies before taking them back to rent a new movie.
- Old-school previews — The previews for movies always gave me an idea of what to rent next, or what to spend the next month looking forward to. Again, delayed gratification made finally renting a new movie added to the excitement.
- Social interaction — Seeing other kids picking out their movies, making friends, and seeing classmates at Blockbuster was half the fun. It was a reason to leave the house and interact.
- Snacks — The snacks at Blockbuster were the best. They had combos with popcorn and Twizzlers and chocolate so that you had something sweet, something salty, something to savor.
2 – Zany Brainy
For 10 years, Zany Brainy brought joy to kids everywhere. They had toys for every kind of kid with every kind of interest. There was so much to look at and see. I only visited this store once that I can remember, but that one time was enough to leave an impression. Many of Zainy Brainy’s products were aimed at education and enrichment, hence the name “Zany Brainy.”
Zany Brainy Opened in 1991 and closed in 2001. Like many of the companies on this list, Zany Brainy was forced to file bankruptcy. However, they currently have a very limited online shop you can browse if you are feeling extra nostalgic.
What made Zany Brainy great
- Decor — Zany Brainy was a happy, happy place. It was colorful and there were stars and sloths and dinosaurs everywhere. Every doorway and empty wall was decorated and colorful.
- Interactive — In the middle of Zany Brainy locations, there was a section where there were interactive toys and tables with different products you would test and touch and get curious about.
- Learning — As a kid, I loved to learn. People are curious. We want to know things. Even kids who don’t enjoy school enjoy learning on a level that is all their own. Zainy Brainy had toys that didn’t just look pretty, but that taught you something too. Getting toys that you liked but that also taught you something had a real long-term payoff.
3 – Waldenbooks
In every major shopping mall, you could always count on finding a Waldenbooks. Because it was a subsidiary of Borders Books & Music, the selection, pricing, and organization were similar but on a smaller scale. I loved to sneak away here when I was supposed to be picking out shoes or shirts for school. In my world, shopping almost always involves books and has since I was a preteen.
Since Waldenbooks was a subsidiary of Borders, Waldenbooks liquidated in 2011 along with Borders Books & Music.
Walden chains and more
Walden wasn’t just Waldenbooks, but a chain of various stores.
- Waldensoftware — Do you remember Waldensoftware? As the name suggests, they sold computer software as well as video games.
- Walden Kids — Walden Kids was another store part of the Walden chain that sold toys, most of which were educational.
- The Great Depression — Did you know Waldenbooks actually started in the 1930s as a brick and mortar, before it became the book chain we all remember?
4 – Toys R Us
Toys R Us was the best toy store. If I was going toy shopping, Toys R Us was the first place I had in mind. First, as a kid, I shopped there with my parents for myself. As I got older, I shopped there with my parents for my little brother’s birthdays. We bought him Transformers, legos, and Bob the Builder building sets. I shopped there into adulthood to reminisce, take a step back into childhood.
In 2018, Toys R Us filed bankruptcy and closed its doors. In 2020, they rebranded as Tru Kids, and reopened. Due to financial setbacks related to COVID-19, they closed again this year. Currently, they are still considering other options like pop-ups in airports and online sales.
R US chain
- Babies R Us — I remember looking at onesies with my mom for my little brother at Babies R Us.
- Kids R Us — Kids R Us didn’t make it quite as long as the rest of the chain, closing in 2004 due to sales.
- Online Shopping– If you are really missing Toys R Us, you can still shop with them online. Though it simply isn’t the same as shopping in person, the brand and the website seem to be the same old Toys R Us we know and love.
5 – KB Toys
The ’90s were all about shopping malls and food courts (and green slime, but that’s another story). Where else were you supposed to meet up with your friends, walk around for hours and hours, and eat Chinese and pretzels the size of your head? Another mall-based chain, KB Toys was the toy store we all begged our parents to visit each time we went to the mall. Could you really visit the mall in the ’90s and not go to KB Toys?
KB Toys closed in 2009 due to bankruptcy.
KB Toys facts
- Sales — Did you know, in its time, KB toys was the 2nd biggest retailer after Toys R Us? Toys R Us even bought what was left of the company after bankruptcy.
- Candy- KB toys didn’t start with selling toys at all. KB toys started out selling candy in the 1920s, but decided to switch to what ended up being a much more lucrative business in toys.
- KB — Did you ever wonder what the KB in KB toys stood for? Kaufman Brothers started the company in the 1920s and that’s where the KB in KB toys comes from!
- 2019 — In 2019, after Toys R US went bankrupt, KB Toys was planning on making a comeback, though it hasn’t happened yet.
6 – Sam Goody
Before Limewire and iTunes, Sam Goody was the place to go for music. Sam Goody had a bit of everything. Music, records, CDs, cassettes. movies, musical memorabilia, and much, much more could be found there, and it was often a go-to for that newly released single my friends and I had been waiting for. Sam Goody was fun to stroll the isles in because there was always something unexpected or unique to find. Sam Goody, like many of the stores on this list, were could be found in malls.
Did you know there are still 2 Sam Goody locations? One is in Oregon and the other is in Ohio.
Sam Goody facts
- FYE — FYE is actually an attempt to rebrand Sam Goody after it was taken over by Trans World Entertainment in 2006. So, anytime you visit an FYE near you, you are actually visiting the new and improved, and renamed, Sam Goody.
- Best Buy — Did you know Best Buy actually bought Same Goody for a short time in the early ’00s? While Best Buy failed to maintain the companies sales, and that’s when it was sold to Trans World Entertainment.
- Samuel Gutowitz — Sam Goody was a real person and the original owner of Sam Goody stores. He was nicknamed Sam Goody and the nickname stuck with him. Naming the store Sam Goody just made sense!
7 – Gadzooks
Gadzooks was my second favorite clothing store in the mall in my early, preteen years. This is where the cool kids shopped in the ’90s and early ’00s, and they had both clothes for girls and boys, which wasn’t very common in the ’90s. However, a couple of years before closing, they stopped selling menswear, and focused on clothes for teenage girls. The store had a somewhat sordid past of promoting inequality after letting go of their menswear line. the attempt to reach young women with odd marketing slogans, flopped, which factored into the chain closing in 2005.
- Forever 21 — Did you know that Forever 21 bought out Gadzooks? When you go to Gadzooks21 or 21Men, you are actually shopping at what’s left of Gadzooks. After Gadzooks filed bankruptcy and was bought out by Forever 21, Forever 21 closed most of the stores left and rebranded what else remained.
- Volkswagen Beetle — If you shopped at Gadzooks in the ’90s or early ’00s, you may remember that the stores had Volkswagen Beetles inside them. I’d be lying if I didn’t spend my early years really, really wanting a Volkswagen and it’s all Gadzooks fault.
8 – Wet Seal
If Gadzooks was my second favorite clothing store, Wet Seal was my first. Wet Seal, originating from SoCal, had cool, Westcoast vibes and the best jean skirts. Plus, they weren’t just a store for teens, they marketed from teens to women in their 20’s and had sizes for everyone! I had a tank top in almost every color from Wet Seal. In fact, I still have a tank top my dad bought me with little, red hearts on it from when I was in high school.
Wet seal closed all its retail stores in 2017. Wet Seal had a rocky financial history involving two separate bankruptcies. Did you know Wet Seal made a comeback after their last bankruptcy in 2017, and shortly after focused on their online presence and now operates completely online?
Wet Seal today
- Online — While fashion trends have changed since the ’90s, Wet Seal still seems to be focused on affordable fashion that focuses on today’s trends and still maintains quality according to their website.
- Products — While all of this sounds very exciting, I couldn’t find anything on their website. Their website lacks products. I couldn’t find any shirts, skits, or other products to buy. The only products viewable are in their lookbook, but to actually purchase something or do some online shopping, proved difficult.
9 – Discovery Zone
Discovery Zone. The name says it all. Do I really have to type anything else?
Just kidding. Discovery Zone was a place of Discovery. It’s here where many of us ’80s and ’90s babies satiated our growing curiosity, learned new things, made friends, and gave our parents a much-needed break. There was really no supervision needed at Discovery Zone. There was so much to do, we never got in any trouble, or I didn’t at least.
Despite being a wonderful playland where you could jump around on things and not get in trouble for it, Discovery Zone only stayed in business for a short 12 years, closing in 2001. However, Discovery Zone decided to make a comeback last year and there is currently a location that is up and running in Cincinnati.
The fun that was Discovery Zone
Do you remember all the fun things you could do in Discovery Zone?
- Z Bop — Do you remember the robot Z Bop? I was always scared of him. He looked too much like a clown with his big blue nose, but he was a part of Discovery Zone and gave it a bit of charm and you could interact with him.
- Ball pits — As an adult, I’m all too aware of how dirty the ball pits probably were, but there was no joy better than sliding down a tube slide and landing in a ball pit.
- Climbing and mazes — Discovery Zone was basically an indoor playground where you could climb and crawl and swing from rope to rope. There were slides, tubes, and little windows in the tubes that I waved to my parents from.
10 – Disney Store
If you grew up in the ’90s, you probably owned a ton of Disney movies on VHS. Maybe you still own them. If you watched the movies, on the living room floor with your Little Mermaid coloring book and Crayola crayons like I did, then you know the Disney store was like walking into a dreamland where all your favorite characters could come home with you. Stuffed animals of your favorite Disney characters, Barbies of all the most beautiful Disney princesses and princes. Cups and legos and puzzles with their faces and adventures on them.
The Disney store was magic. It was so magical that up until this year it stayed afloat and brought happiness to kids across the country. However, over the years, stores have closed, and as of 2021, about 35% of the remaining Disney stores in the United States are closing. Disney will be focusing on selling its products online instead of in stores.
Why this breaks my heart
- Magic — The Disney store really was magic. Even as an adult, if I was near one I wanted to stop in and look around. There was something for everyone. While not all of the stores have closed, a vast majority of them are disappearing seemingly overnight. While online shopping is fun, there is nothing like picking a toy out in person.
- Toy stores — With the closing of many major toy stores, this is kind of the cherry on the cake. When will it stop, and when it does how many fun toy stores will be left for kids to just be kids?
- Interaction — Here is a reason to leave the house, look at pretty things, and see people who like the same things you do. You can’t do that online. Reviews don’t supplement human interaction. What human experiences do we miss out on by not being able to go in-person to a store and pick out that toy that makes you feel something?
11 – Borders Books & Music
I had one of my first dates at Borders Books & Music. I was as excitable in a book store then as I am now, and as I perused all my favorite sections and book, genres, and authors and artists, he followed patiently behind holding my books and asking questions about each book I pulled out. He even snuck away to buy me a book I had wanted and inscribe it, which I still have today,
Borders had tons of comfortable seating, music, a wide selection of books on any topic and in any genre, and Starbucks. For introverts and book hoarders like me, it was heaven. Despite its popularity, Borders was forced to liquidate due to bankruptcy, close in 2011, and it never made a comeback.
Why I miss Borders
- Home — Borders always felt like walking into someone’s home, someone who owned a lot of books. The lighting was dim, but bright enough to read. The music wasn’t too loud as to break my concentration when I was reading. I even found myself sitting hunched over in the isles with a book many times. I felt at home there enough to sit anywhere and read.
- Barnes & Noble — Don’t get me wrong, I love Barnes & Noble, but only because Borders isn’t around anymore. Borders was a big chain as well, but it never had that feeling when you walked into it. I never felt like I was in a chain store. At Barnes & Nobles, I do feel like I main a chain store. Perception is everything.
- Regular — I was a regular at Borders. When I say regular, I mean I went almost once a week for years. You get to know the people and the location and that familiarity is nice. There were other people who went there as often, or more often, and it was like having distant neighbors that liked to read as much as I did.
- Selection — The selection as Borders was much better than most book chains. They also had music, so you could buy background music for your next book. It was lovely.
12 – Rave
Rave was in every mall that I can remember growing up. I went to Rave to buy flares and t-shirts and matching scrunchies once upon a time. While Rave was an incredibly popular spot for teen girls in the ’90s and early ’00s, there are very little Rave or Rave Girl remnants online.
The last the company was reported to be open, though it was going bankrupt, was between 2006 and 2010.
BCBG apparently bought the companies Rave and Rave Girl in 2006, but their timing was unfortunate. Due to the recession, BCBG dealt with financial difficulties and the age of Rave was no more by 2010.
- Rave and Rave Girl — While Rave and Rave Girl were sister stores, owned by the same company, they weren’t necessarily the same store. They had some small marketing differences outside of the name.
13 – Chi Chi’s
Chi Chi’s Mexican Restaurante was my favorite restaurant growing up. Maybe it was the fried ice cream. Maybe it was the seafood enchiladas. Maybe it was both. Either way, on the rare trips my family took to Chi Chi’s, I always got a side of refried beans, a virgin Shirley Temple, and Mexican fried ice cream.
Unfortunately, Chi Chi’s has a controversial history. In 2003, Chi Chi’s went through both bankruptcy and a Hepatitis A outbreak at the same time, where hundreds caught the disease and 4 died due to the green onion at the Monaca, Pennsylvania location. It was a tragic and devastating event for the customers who contracted the illness. The business couldn’t survive these unfortunate events, and, as a result, closed the following year. However, you can still buy Chi Chi’s brand foods.
Chi Chi’s Mexican Products
Here of some of my favorite Chi Chi’s products that are still available today!
- Chi-Chi’s Original Salsa
- Chi-Chi’s Mild Thick & Chunky Salsa
- Chi Chis Medium Thick & Chunky Salsa
- Chi-Chi’s Medium Fiesta Style Chile Tomatillo Verde Salsa
- Chi Chi’s Diced Green Chilies
- Chi Chi’s White Corn Tortilla Chips Rounds
- Chi Chi’s Burrito Style Flour Tortillas
- Chi Chi’s Fajita Style Flour Tortillas
14 – CompUSA
CompUSA was a popular computer reseller in the ’90s. While the store was known for selling computers, CompUSA also sold other various electronics like video cards, printers, computer accessories, various software, and cords. CompUSA even had its own in-house computers made by Acer brand.
CompUSA was bought out by Gordon Brothers Group LLC in 2007 and subsequently closed the following year, but their products still live on if you are a major fan and want to make your vintage tech dreams come true.
If you love retro computers and CompUSA
- Factory Assurance — If you are still running Windows ’95, ’98, or ’00, you can still use Ontrack software with your vintage PC. So, while CompUSA closed, you can still use some of their products!
- Vintage Computers — Interested in vintage tech? Missing your old, vintage computer? Why not give it a go? Try out vintage CompUSA computers.
- CompUSA T-shirt — If you want to represent CompUSA, you still can! There are many CompUSA t-shirts and other merch out there.
15 – Sharper Image
Am I the only one who thought that this was the place to go for gifts? Father’s day? Sharper Image it is. Christmas and have no idea what to get dad? Sharper Image again. You could always take a break mid-shopping to sit in one of the many overpriced massage chairs before buying your loved one a weird gadget and crossing your fingers.
Sharper Image was definitely part of my childhood. Sharper Image liquidated and closed its doors in 2008.
Sharper Image today
Sharper Image may have shut their literal doors, but they are still in business virtually!
- Massage chairs — While you can’t take a nice little nap in their massage chairs, you can always buy a massage chair and then shop online from the comfort of it, right?
- Fresh and Clean — Sharper Image is now known for its Fresh and clean cleaning products, like its vacuum broom, but don’t worry, they still have a bunch of cool gadgets and a whole menu full of tabs for gift buying for your loved ones.
16 – What businesses do you miss most from the ’90s?
Tell us about your favorite businesses from the ’90s below!
Next: Read about the coolest trends from the ’00s that just aren’t cool anymore.
16 Things That Were Cool in the ’00s That Aren’t Cool Today
’00s trends that stopped trending but still have a special place in our hearts.