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How 'Stranger Things' made the Starcourt Mall

Meredith Blake, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

No doubt about it: The Starcourt Mall is, like, totally awesome.

In the latest season of "Stranger Things," the newly opened shopping center captivates the residents of Hawkins, Ind. The Starcourt offers everything a Midwestern consumer in 1985 could ask for, and then some: a Jazzercise, an Orange Julius and, oh yeah, a portal to the Upside Down controlled by the Russian military.

Series creators Matt and Ross Duffer understand the potent nostalgia of the 1980s, and part of what has made the Starcourt the breakout star of Season 3 -- along with newcomer Maya Hawke -- is the throwback thrill of revisiting the heyday of the American mall.

Once bustling temples of consumerism and popular gathering places for suburban teens, hundreds of malls across the country have closed and many more are in jeopardy thanks to online retail and other economic forces. Like other abandoned places, these ghost malls have become objects of curiosity.

One of these struggling shopping centers, located in suburban Atlanta, was revitalized -- at least for a few months -- for "Stranger Things 3." We talked to production designer Chris Trujillo about the enormous task of bring a mid-'80s mall back to life for the latest season of the sci-fi horror series.

This season was filmed at Gwinnett Place Mall, a shopping center in suburban Atlanta that has seen better days.

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Trujillo knew that building a set from scratch would be prohibitively expensive, so he spent weeks scouting the Atlanta suburbs for an existing space he could transform into the Starcourt.

"You'd be shocked at the number of malls, particularly derelict malls, in the area," said Trujillo, who eventually settled on Gwinnett Place, which opened circa 1984 and was once a major attraction for shoppers across the state but has since fallen on hard times. "It's a massive mall that's slowly been collapsing on itself for probably the 30 years it's existed."

While still operational, much of the mall was vacant and "in a state of almost complete disrepair" when they began to prep for Season 3 last year, Trujillo added. "It's a very sad, kind of abandoned feeling."

The empty space felt immediately right for the period setting -- and the Duffers' filmmaking style.

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