Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com
Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

‘Stranger Things’ dismantling what’s left of Starcourt Mall at Gwinnett Place Mall

Originally posted Wednesday, July 10, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

After “Stranger Things” came out with season three last Thursday, fans online figured out that the fictional Starcourt Mall was actually a portion of the now ghost-like Gwinnett Place Mall.

Gawkers began visiting the area in hopes of catching a glimpse of a 1985-era Orange Julius or Chess King or the focal Scoops Ahoy ice cream show where Robin and Steve worked and decoded Russian messages with Dustin. 

It didn’t help that websites were encouraging people to stop by and take selfies. Security hired by Netflix to keep the place in order were overwhelmed. So Netflix decided to just dismantle it so people wouldn’t vandalize or steal souvenirs. Starting this past Monday, crew began taking the set apart. TMZ was contacted Tuesday to ward fans away

Oddly, Netflix kept Starcourt Mall more or less in place for several months after production wrapped. Lisa Anders, who is executive director of Explore Gwinnett, said she had heard Netflix was considering turning the space into a more permanent tourist attraction as promotion for the show. It didn’t come to fruition.

“It was a great missed opportunity ,” Anders said. “We were geared up to do it. We would have loved to have done it.”

An employee helping dismantle the space who declined to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak about it said he was told to nearly pack away the set of Scoops Ahoy intact, possibly for a future “Stranger Things” amusement park attraction. 

Netflix leased out only a small portion of the actual Gwinnett Place Mall, maybe 15 or 20 percent of it to build out about 40 shops. I first visited in May of 2018 when “Stranger Things” was first building out the mall space and sadly, the rest of the mall looks no better in 2019 than it did in 2018. 

Most of the real mall now remains empty with only a handful of mall staples remaining such as Foot Locker, Finish Line, Victoria’s Secret and Macy’s. 

But the area Netflix built out was an incredibly accurate re-creation of a mall from the MTV days: Waldenbooks, Radio Shack, Sam Goody, Claire’s, Wicks-n-Sticks, Kaufman Shoes, et. al. There was a movie theater advertising “Back to the Future” and “Fletch,” plus a jazzercise studio. Survivors of that era like the Gap, Zale’s, Ground Round, JCPenney and Burger King are included as well. 

>>RELATED: My story about the creation of the mall from May, 2018

The Starcourt Mall in all its full glory during production.
I took a not-so-clear surreptitious shot of the interior upstairs space of what was Starcourt Mall on the morning of Wednesday, July 10, 2019, two days after Netflix began dismantling everything. There isn't much to see with all the store signage down.
Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

The minute I got close to the one entrance to get into the Starcourt space, a wary security guard stopped me, tired of the constant flow of intruders. He shooed me away. 

This guard shooed me away from the entrance to the fictional Starcourt Mall at 10:10 a.m. Wednesday, July 10, 2019.
Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

The upstairs space entrance was blocked off completely:

The upstairs of Starcourt Mall blocked off.
Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Outside the mall, I was able to see evidence of “Stranger Things” junk being dumped. 

Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

And there was detritus like the front of a car grill:

This car grill presumably was from a vehicle that ended up inside the mall itself.
Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

In “Stranger Things,” there were hallways behind the stores featured as a way to sneak into the movie theater. One leading to Starcourt itself was open from the outside so I snuck in myself for a few seconds:

Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

What’s funny to me were the names of old mall stores that used to be at Gwinnett Place Mall. They remain on the signs leading into the back employee entrances  of retail shops of yore: Forever 21, Camelot Music and Kay-Bee Toys. 

Gwinnett Place Mall stores that used to exist there but whose names remain on the back doors.
Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

And Chess King’s sign appeared to be one of the last still up as of Wednesday, July 10: 

One of the few signs still up as of Wednesday, July 10, 2019 from Starcourt Mall.
Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

I met up with some dedicated “Stranger Things” fans Kianna Dudley, 20, and Rachel Craig, 19, came to the mall twice - all the way from Jefferson - to check out the scene. They convinced an employee to walk them through the set but couldn’t take photos inside. 

Kianna Dudley (right) and Rachel Craig (left) considered dumpster diving for souvenirs but given the height of the dumpsters and the security, decided against it.
Photo: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Last July, 2018, Anthony E provided a walking tour of a portion of the set: 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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