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Filene's Basement to Friendly's: Why are we obsessed with the past?

Filene's Basement to Friendly's: Why are we obsessed with the past?
Filene's Basement to Friendly's: Why are we obsessed with the past? 05:00

BOSTON -- It can be an old video of "the running of the brides," or a stroll into the WBZ archive of commercials -- we love talking about where we used to eat or shop. 

Filene's Basement might be at the top of the list: 

"Hopping off the train on my way home from work, running in, buying a couple cashmere sweaters and run home," one woman recalled. Another said, "look for the bargains, fight all the other ladies for the bargains." 

Comedian and pop culture enthusiast Ken Reid can't get enough of it. 

"I just kept this because it's got a Filene's price sticker on it," he said showing WBZ-TV's David Wade an old ornament. 

They met outside an old Friendly's in Stoneham, another spot on his list of favorites. "We could bust in and get ourselves a Fribble," Reid joked. 

Reid's coffee table is covered in old catalogs from Service Merchandise and Sear. His garden has a walkway with bricks from iconic Boston retailer Jordan Marsh. 

"North Shore Mall Jordan Marsh. When they were tearing it down, the salvage yard was selling the facade bricks and I was like 'this is cool and they're Jordan Marsh,'" said Reid. 

Wade went on Twitter to ask which spots people miss the most. After hearing back from more than 500 people, Bradlees, Top of the Hub, Lechmere, Brighams, Anthony's Pier 4, and Caldor topped the list. 

A lot of those memories aren't about what you bought or what you ate - it was the experience. But why do these memories mean so much? Is there something that's happening physically in our brains? 

Dr. Heidi Moawad, neurologist and professor at Case Western Reserve, has published articles on nostalgia. 

"We have deeply embedded memories in the limbic system of our brain," Moawad explained. 

She said the often untapped limbic system also holds emotions and it can awake from a slumber when we hear the name of something we loved. Your brain can go into turbo mode of self-reflection.

"It gives you this continuum of who you are, who you used to be, and who you are now, and a lot of time that evokes good feelings in people," said Moawad. 

"It's a shared experience, it's a great unifier," said Reid. "We only have Friendly's in Massachusetts, so we only go there when we're home." 

But these places come and go for a reason. 

"For all of us that have nostalgia on some of these lost huge name plates, we all have to look in the mirror frankly because there is a reason they didn't survive, it's because we as consumers decided to go elsewhere with our dollars," said Jon Hurst, president of the Mass. Retailers Association. 

"We'd go to this Friendly's every day and complain about it," Reid said. "It's like a family member. You'd be like 'that service is terrible' whatever and then it's closed and you're like 'how dare you.'" 

Moawad said nostalgia can also be unhealthy if you become obsessed with the good times.    

"You might be proud of who you were before and you're not so proud of who you are now but that's OK if you deal with it and think about what those features are that made you so proud before and see if you can get that person back," said Moawad.

For most, like Reid, it's just for fun. 

"Stepping on Jordan Marsh right here. You wouldn't take my coupon now, I walk all over you," Reid said. 

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