Back in summer 2003, I went to the Galleria in Houston for the first time, and it made such an impression on me that I actually typed up a three-page document about that day, and that visit would make a profound impression that caused me to keep tabs on the Galleria later in my life. I remember bringing this document to school but I don't think I wrote it actually for an assignment. I didn't want to go through old files on my parents' computers, so I decided to base it off of the original printing, and just rewrite it entirely using the original document as a reference instead of trying to edit the writings of a 12 year old, besides, the file wasn't even a format that's used anymore (.cwk and AppleWorks). In 2003 it was somewhat of a tradition go to Galveston beach every summer, involving splashing around in the waves, eating at a fast food restaurant or packing a picnic lunch, and then getting home around 10:30 at night.
My father and brother wanted to cut the trip short this year and visit the Apple store, which had opened in Houston in the Galleria. Naturally, I was a bit upset about that, but interest from my family waned as we saw what the beach was actually like. High winds earlier that week from a mild hurricane had caused the beach to be very damp (useless for sandcastles) and covered in seaweed. So around 10:00 in the morning, we packed up and headed back up to Houston. Short of visiting the museums about three years prior, I had never actually been to Houston proper and we had mostly driven around it, where I would drift asleep looking at the stores along the freeway, such as Service Merchandise (one of my favorites for some reason) before they all closed down. I'm sure I also saw things like the Auchan but back then it was just a big store with a strange name.
The first of many interesting sights was seeing the Meow Mix Mobile. I don't think the Meow Mix Mobile has run for years, but I did find an excellent photo of it on Flickr. It is indeed the same car, as I had noted the license plate was MEOW4U, and that can be seen in this picture which is not mine but it gets the point across. We may have a picture but I think it was only from the back. My Dad had also pointed out the Astrodome, the "Eighth Wonder of the World" which his father had showed him many years before, but it was dwarfed by an even bigger stadium, Reliant Stadium, which had opened just a year prior. A massive traffic jam greeted us before the Galleria exit, and although it was 610 before construction had changed some of its exits and entrances, it was unusual even for Houston standards. I noticed two limousines in the mess, and it later turned out that the President was actually in the area for a fundraiser, but we didn't find out until later that day. It also helps that it pinpoints the exact day without having to go back to old photos and looking at EXIF data (July 19, 2003) I do remember a protester outside (just walking around) holding up a effigy of President Bush with a Pinocchio nose.
Since I wasn't actually driving, I could take in the sights of the Uptown area, like the Williams Tower or a large marble building that had the Dillard's name (it was far bigger than the small locations at Post Oak Mall). It turned out that Dillard's wasn't actually part of the Galleria, and Uptown Houston itself was a real treat. There were futuristic-looking stoplights, parking garages, and building-sized fountains, or at least that's how it looked as a kid. So we made our way into the mall via the Red Parking Garage where we were greeted by a modern two-story shopping mall. This actually was a brand-new addition, "Galleria IV", which had opened earlier that year. Most of the rest of the 2003 "story" talks about us finding the Apple store, other stores in the mall, and some embarrassingly bad writing with "[My brother] spiffed his eyeballs out" coming to mind. Other cringe moments in that original document include "With my sandals and cool clothes, I felt right in" which I assume wasn't meant to be ironic considering my Wal-Mart clothes and a Pokémon Pikachu 2 GS hanging from my neck on a shoelace. I do remember comparing the experience of it all with SimTower (with the attached office tower and integrated hotel, which made for a dramatic atrium), but imagine if I found out back then that downtown more closely related to the SimTower experience I was looking for, which actually had a condominiums, hotels, skylobbies, and all that jazz, but in reality.
The mall directory was the real prize, but listed below are some of the stores that were specifically mentioned in the text or other memories from that time.
Apple - The reason of course we went. I write that it was "possibly the only store in the whole Galleria without a name pasted on top of it". The Apple stores in those days had a "theater" area in the back with soft spherical seating (Genius bars were on the side) and of course had far more computers (the last few times I've been in an Apple store I've been depressed at how their displays are now almost entirely mobile devices now). This being in a pre-iPhone age, the few mobile devices were limited to the iPods (which looked far different than today) and Palm Pilots (including a color one that I really liked). There was also software, which I gazed upon. Most of them were overpriced Aspyr Media ports like SimCity 4 which I still remember I really wanted.
Bath & Body Works - My sister wanted to go here because she was looking for some lavender soap. They had none, but they did have soaps shaped like scoops of ice cream ($10) and their current promotion, all-natural body and bath essentials made of honey (this was back when Burt's Bees was still somewhat of a niche product). The posters outside had mostly naked women with the naughty bits covered up with large honeycombs. Being pre-pubescent at the time, I remarked that it just felt "a tad bit extreme", and frankly it felt too pandering.
Club Libby Lu - Club Libby Lu was located right next to the Apple store and I remember just how bad it smelled with bad hair spray and other things just being able to smell it from four feet away. It's been gone for years (the chain closed down in late 2008), and frankly, any store that throws glitter on you deserves to go down.
Kid 'n Kaboodle - This was a toy store if I recall correctly (a display offering Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards was in front). The store was strange as it was located under a stairwell and had a sloping ceiling (retail can fit anywhere, apparently). In the 2003 document, I noted that my cousin had mentioned that there was previously a cat merchandise store in that spot. Later on I asked about that in an Internet forum, the answer that I got, if I recall correctly, was "Cattitudes", which sounds right but I can't pull up the page where that was.
RadioShack - No real memories of this place today just that I stopped there. I can picture a generic RadioShack store in my mind, though.
Thirstys - The smoothie shop that accompanied eating pretzels (see below). The water fountains around lunchtime did not work. Coincidence? I think not...
Wetzel's Pretzels - What we ended up eating for lunch, despite all the options available at the Galleria. My sister and I got a cinnamon raisin pretzel, my brother and mother got an original (salted and buttered), and my dad got a garlic one. Recently, I dug out a menu for the exact names of said pretzels but as of this writing, I misplaced it.
I think it's been a fair while since I visited The Galleria in person again, especially after all the construction. You can see how much the Galleria has substantially changed since 2003. Lord & Taylor closed in 2005, and was converted into smaller stores including (most notably) a location of Borders Books & Music, which closed soon before their bankruptcy and became a Forever 21. Foley's was converted to Macy's in 2006 as the older original Macy's became known as "Macy's at Sage" until it closed and was demolished. The stores directly to the north of it were gutted for a Saks Fifth Avenue which also built on top of the old Macy's at Sage portion, while the old Saks Fifth Avenue became new retail space. The remainder of the space is/was to become a condominium/hotel tower as of 2016 but that hasn't happened yet.Kaim Merchandised Mall Like Store