‘Stranger Things’ production brings new life to suburban mall built in the 1980s

Gwinnett Place Mall opened in the 1980s, the days of big hair, “Back to the Future” and mega-mall culture. But since its heyday, the shopping center has seen changing economic trends that left much of it permanently closed.Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 2.51.18 PM

Now it’s getting an economic boost from a TV phenomenon set back in the ’80s. Netflix’s “Stranger Things” has been filming its third season there all summer.

That has meant plenty of work for extras willing to undergo an ’80s hair and style transformation. More importantly, it has brought financial support for the mall.

Georgia’s multibillion-dollar filming boom has been great for businesses and governments in rural communities as well as the state’s bigger cities. With examples like this mall makeover, it’s also providing new uses, and revenue, for places that have drifted out of the spotlight.

In this case, it’s unknown exactly how much money is being generated. The mall’s owners have declined to discuss details of the production, and Gwinnett County is trying to assess the broader impact.

“Stranger Things” is at least the third production to use the mall in recent years, since Georgia began its tax incentive program for film and TV productions. “I, Tonya” and “Den of Thieves” with Gerard Butler filmed there, as well. Gwinnett has issued more than 100 filming permits throughout the county in recent years, said Lisa Anders, executive director of Explore Gwinnett.

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 2.50.44 PMMuch of the mall remains empty. The lack of use adds to its attractiveness for productions, along with it being an indoor, controllable space, Anders said.

The “Stranger Things” crew started moving into the mall around April, and shooting has been going on since June.

The production has taken up a wing of the mall that is permanently empty, so no businesses have been displaced. The crew has taken it back in time, with signs identifying Gwinnett Place as Starcourt Mall. Inside are ’80s era storefronts for Radio Shack, The Gap, Chess King, Waldenbooks and more. (Remember Spencer’s Gifts?)

The cinema has a Coming Soon poster for “Back to the Future,” which came out in the summer of 1985, giving a knowing ironic wink to the “Stranger Things” series. It is set in a fictional Midwestern town in the 1980s where a group of ’tween pals battle supernatural monsters.

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