I was 15 when the large brick & mortar “entertainment superstore” arrived seemingly out of nowhere to bless my small college town of Auburn with more music, video games, books, and, well … stuff … than it had ever seen in one place. Hastings made an immediate impression on anyone who walked through its doors during its spring 2000 opening; it was bright, colorful, huge, and full of variety. Where else could you listen to the new 311 CD, buy a Dreamcast controller, make fun of greeting cards, rewind your VHS rentals (seriously), drink fountain soda, and leave with a movie and popcorn to finish what remained of the day? Auburn had not asked for an entertainment superstore, but an entertainment store we had been given. All we had to do was be there.
As the years went by, Hastings became THE Friday night destination, filled with young people looking at magazines and drinking free, terrible coffee in those cushy green chairs that separated kids’ and adults’ books (though both age groups were reading Harry Potter anyway). One of those Friday nights in 2002, I saw a girl reading an issue of Alternative Press with the punk band Saves the Day on the cover. This might sound like a seemingly uneventful occurrence, but for a 17-year-old boy with spiky hair and tickets to the New Found Glory show that May, this was a revelation. Here, right in front of me, was a girl just looking at Alternative Press like it was no big deal. I casually talked to her and her friend – all the while, my heart beating out of my chest - about music and life.
I had not planned on meeting my future wife that night, but I did. Hastings was a place where good things just happened. All I had to do was be there.
One of the coolest things Hastings offered – other than love interests - was its midnight releases for basically anything that could draw an audience of 10 or more people. I stood in late-night lines with friends and strangers in anticipation of products ranging from Halo 2 to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to, well … myriad books and movies I never planned to read or watch. I just wanted to be there for the spectacle and the stories. I remember break dancers, people in costumes, and the newbies who cringed at their first sips of the “coffee.” It didn’t matter that most of these late night launches were on Monday nights/Tuesday mornings; anywhere from 10-200 Auburn people would assemble to fulfill their consumer duties while talking with people in line about their five favorite movies ever made.
Hastings was about the people, pure and simple. Yes, we spent money there; yes, we traded things in for store credit; and yes, we even bought over-priced candy. But we were paying for more than that stuff. We were paying for the ambience, for the cultural hub for people who were difficult to come by in our small, southern, college town. We were supporting the arts … and we didn’t know it. But like all things, an ending was on the horizon.
By 2009 it was becoming clear that Hastings was seeking a new identity in light of America’s refusal to pay for music or boxed copies of films. I had moved to a different state for a few years during the early 2010s and was confronted with questions every time I came home and visited Hastings. Why were there so many coffee mugs and Bob Marley tee-shirts? Were people really paying $30 for Doctor Who costumes? How many Pop! Vinyl figures could this store hold? But, deep down, I understood. This is that thing old people talked about when I was young: The world changes without you. So I learned to accept that I was no longer 17, or 21, or 20-anything, and I kept my visits to Hastings professional: I stayed fewer than 20 minutes, didn’t look around, made my purchase, and left.
Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending, as I’m choosing to completely disregard the closeout days of the store from June-October of this year. Instead, I want to focus on a special night in early 2016 that recaptured the brilliance and excitement of my first visit to Hastings. On the night of the Daddy-Daughter Dance, my then 3-year-old daughter and I left the event to get yogurt. After a few minutes, my precious girl who has reminded me so many times of the beauty of youth, looked at me and asked, “Daddy, can we go to Hastings?” I was surprised, as going to Hastings was something we only did from time to time, and it was a store that was mostly off her radar. I smiled and agreed, driving us the short distance to that same store I had driven to so many times before. To that same store where I had met her mother so many years before. To that same store where I laughed at dumb jokes and heard great bands so many years before. To all of the memories.
My daughter and I looked around at the new children’s toy section for several minutes and played with some My Little Pony stuffed animals. I stood with my young companion as she chose a movie to watch the next day, and we made our way to the register for what would be one of the final times I would visit the store, and thus, my youth.
I don’t know what the Hastings building will become; I don’t know if people will ever care about brick & mortar retail again; and, I certainly don’t know what my daughter and all of the other kids in the next generation will do for fun. But I do know this: Sometimes the good things in life just happen … and though those good things used to happen at Hastings … they’ll happen somewhere else now. All I have to do is be there.
Joshua Hillyer is an instructor at Auburn University and a writer for most any place that will have him.