By Anne T. Donahue
I spent at least half of my young, shopping life frequenting Zellers. As a tween, it was a mecca of affordable lip gloss, nail polish, face masks, and whatever I believed would transform me into the star of a TGIF series. As a mall employee, it was where I got snacks, lunch, and spent up to 20 minutes per break roaming the aisles, determined not to go back to American Eagle even a second too early.
Then, it was replaced by Target, which was eventually replaced by several Spirit Halloweens. The world was bleak, and so were affordable shopping options near a food court. Nostalgia took hold, and by the turn of the 2020s, we’d begun romanticizing the ease in which we once waltzed into a local department store. Suddenly, we longed to cross paths with and apologize to the institution we forsook for an American chain, and revel in the memories of being young and eating hot chicken sandwiches and gravy for lunch daily.
Enter: Zellers 2.0, the long-awaited revival set to open in select malls on March 23. As a resident of Cambridge, Ontario (where there will be a Zellers I plan to walk around in like the 2006 incarnation of myself), I’m psyched as hell. As a woman largely obsessed with recapturing the magic of her youth through very specific avenues that no longer exist anymore, I am hysterical with enthusiasm.
So, in the spirit of resurrections (and the belief that we manifested the return of Zellers, so why not manifest the rest?), these are the relics of yesteryear I need to survive. Join me while we unlock some core memories.
I own an alarming amount of Smackers (yes, in the year of our lord 2023), and if it ever disappears from store shelves I will scream loud enough for the year 1997 to hear. However, for literal eons (or for a decade – whatever), we have lacked access to Bonne Bell cosmetics. To Lip Lites. To Gear. To Lip Lix. To the Emotions perfume line that evoke the feeling of finding a nail polish that matched your Mariposa-bought graduation dress. Bonne Bell makeup was a right of passage for wee baby teens who weren’t allowed to wear real makeup, or who’d rather make their babysitting money last by investing in several products instead of a “real” lipstick you were bound to lose.
I miss Bonne Bell like I miss having to decorate a folder as part of a middle school art project. I miss it like I miss the ease of putting my wet hair in a bun, going to school, and then shaking said bun out and allowing my hair to air-dry into a triangle. I miss the scents. The shades. The feeling that I’ve finally figured out my face. I want to go back. I need to go back. I think of the Raisin shade Lip Lix every time I take a breath.
Tommy Girl perfume
According to the internet, this still exists, but I haven’t been able to find it anywhere, and yes I’m actively looking for it.
Does this mean that something’s wrong with me? That I’m so desperate to rekindle the magic of ninth grade semi-formals that I’ll cover myself in a scent that in no way works with the adult habit of having a perpetual headache? Yes. Over Christmas, I went to a Tommy Hilfiger outlet, a Wal-Mart, several Shoppers, and many websites, and I found nothing. It didn’t – and doesn’t – matter that I currently own and wear Ralph, Happy, and Gap Dream because none of those transport me back to my best friend’s house where we’d go for lunch and plan and plot how to make the boys we liked like us back. I want to smell like what I thought sophistication was, and I want to do it on my own schedule.
Hard Candy nail polish
Nothing in the world called to me like Hard Candy nail polish, adorned with a simple plastic ring that was always a little too small for my fingers. “Thanks, it’s Hard Candy” I’d say, shoving my hands into the faces of barely-friends I was desperate to impress after shout-announcing, “Look at my nails!” (which were terribly painted).
Hard Candy, to me, was the Holy Grail of what I assumed teen culture was. It was chic. Bold. American. Each painted nail brought me closer to my dream of being Bianca from 10 Things I Hate About You, and each torn out Seventeen advertisement assured me that my great taste guaranteed I was on the right track.
I wasn’t. I’m still terrible at painting my nails. But so help me whatever-higher-power-you-believe-in, I would do anything to shove one of those rings on my pinky finger while shouting, “Look at me now, graduates of Mr. Noonan’s eighth grade class! Hard Candy!”
L’Oreal Kids Watermelon Shampoo/Conditioner
Is this still around? I don’t know because my adult hair necessitates the type of conditioner you pay $30 for at the salon and use in a week because nothing in the world can help at this point. But deep down I believe that if I had access to the shampoo and/or conditioner (or both?) that smelled exactly the way Watermelon Fruit By-the-Foots tastes, my hair would return to its long-ago glory and I would once again be able to do absolutely nothing to it and somehow look not completely unhinged.
Maybe, just maybe, the mere presence of Zellers will summon the spirits of these fallen heroes. Maybe we’ll find ourselves in an aisle chalk-full of Bonne Bell cosmetics that transport us to a time where decent makeup cost maybe $2. Maybe a rich person will read this piece and think, “Eh, I should bring back everything Anne just mentioned – she can’t be the only one who’s stuck in the past.” Maybe, just maybe. All by the glow of the Zellers sign, accompanied by the memories of hot chicken sandwiches.
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