Hopewell was a college town, and any large public space in a college town is a magnet for crazies. The HPD had a reputation for being a little fascist despite the open campus policy, so repeat offenders tended to congregate at a nearby venue: the Hopewell Heights Mall.

On any given day, colorful characters abound. There’s Erica Erotica, a very prim and proper looking matron of retirement age who comes in and writes the most tawdry, sex-drenched prose in giant letters in a pink gel pen (reserving blue and other colors for her occasional “clean” writing). No one is sure what happens to the erotica once it’s penned, but theories ranging from tin-under-the-bed to lucrative-POD-publishing-on-Valkyrie.com have been advanced.

Hermit Harold sells pet hermit crabs at the behest of an absentee employer who pays his kiosk rent and salary seemingly independent of the fact that few if any crabs were ever sold. Faced with such a steady income and lack of an incentive to succeed, Hermit Harold responds by showing up to work stoned out of his gourd and making awful ribald puns on the fact that he “has crabs.”

There’s Bathroom Bessie, the 40-something sex addict (noticing a pattern here?) who is functionally homeless but uses the HHM washrooms to clean herself up before aggressively pursuing single-looking males, only stopping when she was offered “a ride home.” No one ever complained vociferously or consistently enough to bar Bathroom Bessie from the premises, though.

And who could forget the denizens of Hopewell National Forest, which abutted the property? The deer that crashed through the plate glass window to roam the mall unchecked for two weeks has become legend, as has the colony of bats that bedeviled security guards with butterfly nets for over a year.

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J. Wheeler Cameron was known to the denizens of his hometown as the eccentric if basically goodhearted proprietor of The Ceramics Nook. The Nook offered handmade ceramics and supplies for enthusiasts to make their own, and more than one citizen wondered how Wheeler Cameron could afford to keep the lights on given how little business he must have attracted.

Then again, J. Wheeler Cameron was not known to the denizens of his hometown as the last living heir to the Casterman furniture finishing fortune.

While he’d chosen to live simply and devote his life to the pursuit of ceramics, Wheeler Cameron was worth nearly $100 million when he died in 1985. With no heirs, his will left the money to the town under one condition: it could have $50 million to do with as it pleased so long as the remaining $50 million was held in trust to establish, subsidize, and maintain an “arcade of interesting and independent shops.”

Despite attempts by the city government to get the whole pot, Wheeler Cameron had known his stuff; as such, the Wheeler Cameron Boutique Arcade opened in 1987. Its name changed to the Wheeler Cameron Mall in 1991, by which time the city had pissed away its $50 million and was left only with the prospect of maintaining the bizarre and generally unprofitable mall as it soaked up the interest from a $50 million investment in 1985 dollars.

Thanks to Wheeler Cameron’s specifications, the shops therein were an interesting lot:

The Ceramics Nook – Continued under the management of designated heir Lampert Filmore, who took the pottery in a decidedly psychedelic and often borderline illegal direction.

Plenty o’ Pins – Designer gold and silver pins as well as mundane safety and sewing pins (only available in bulk packages of 1000 or more. No items in the store could themselves be pinned (except for proprietress Sandy Squigmire-Guss).

The Voodoo Hoodoo – Ingredients and amulets from a variety of colorful and controversial traditions, from Voodoo to Wicca to Fear Factor. Their popular line of smoked and edible endangered creatures often led to temporary closures.

Hail a Taxidermy – Specializing in exotic imported animals that had been killed and mounted overseas. A full-size stuffed African elephant was its signature attraction.

The Umbrella Group – From full-size to purse-size, the only dedicated brolly shop in North America.

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