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Nostalgia Galore at 90s Con: ‘Saved by the Bell’ Stars and Iconic ’90s Moments

 

Before Elizabeth Berkley, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and Mario Lopez took the stage Sunday at the Tampa Convention Center, a special announcement played over the loudspeaker for fans who’d packed the conference room to see the “Saved by the Bell” stars.

Due to the ongoing strike by writers and actors, it said, the actors on stage would not be permitted to reference shows or characters by name to avoid violating union rules.

Luckily, this crowd had shown up wearing Bayside High School T-shirts and carrying “Vote for Zack” campaign signs — knowing references to the classic Saturday morning TV series. They had no trouble following along when the stars referenced “the show” they were on from 1989 to 1993.

When Berkley noted that she was “so excited” to be taking part in the panel — a subtle wink to one of the most famous (and truly unhinged) moments of “Saved by the Bell” — the crowd exploded in laughter.

The “Saved by the Bell” panel was part of the final day of 90s Con, a three-day convention celebrating the pop culture of the 1990s, with some of the decade’s most memorable TV actors and musicians in attendance. It was a day for nostalgia and looking back, so it was hardly a speedbump when Gosselaar had to stay silent when someone brought up the new NBC series in which he plays a sinister kidnapper.

Sunday’s schedule included a panel with cast members from “Beverly Hills, 90210,” from 1990 to 2000, and a music panel featuring Chilli and T-Boz from the R&B group TLC. They appeared alongside A.J. McLean, Howie Dorough of the Backstreet Boys, and Joey Fatone of NSYNC.

With so much current fashion taking inspiration from 1990s trends, it was sometimes hard to tell what a costume was. But there was no shortage of butterfly clips and brightly colored all-over print shirts, including many printed with a very on-the-nose “’90s, ’90s, ’90s” pattern.

There were no fewer than four Chers in attendance. Not the singer, but the iconic character portrayed by Alicia Silverstone in 1995′s “Clueless.” They were immediately recognizable by their yellow plaid jacket-and-pleated-skirt combos.

Jenny Albano, 37, of Tampa, left, peruses a rack of 1990s-themed T-shirts during the 90s Con event at Tampa Convention Center on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023. Albano came to the convention dressed as Cher from "Clueless."
Jenny Albano, 37, of Tampa, left, peruses a rack of 1990s-themed T-shirts during the 90s Con event at Tampa Convention Center on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023. Albano came to the convention dressed as Cher from “Clueless.” [ CHRISTOPHER SPATA | Times ]
 

At the vendor booth for New York-based brand Ilikecools–t, owner Jaime Bautista handed out stickers in the design of Blockbuster membership cards, a nod to the defunct video store chain, while wearing Beavis and Butthead slippers.

Tampa’s Chris Hilbert, 34, lay on a table in the convention hall as a tattoo artist inked the character Reptar, a green dinosaur from the Nickelodeon cartoon “Rugrats,” on the back of his calf. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, said Hilbert, who only has one other tattoo. But why?

“Because that’s my childhood,” he said as the needle buzzed. “That’s it.”

Alexandria Martucci, 32, of St. Petersburg, poses with the Golden Gays "Golden Girls" tribute group during 90s Con on Sunday at the Tampa Convention Center.
Alexandria Martucci, 32, of St. Petersburg, poses with the Golden Gays “Golden Girls” tribute group during 90s Con on Sunday at the Tampa Convention Center. [ CHRISTOPHER SPATA | Times ]
 

St. Petersburg’s Alexandria Martucci, 32, visited the booth of the Golden Gays, a drag tribute to the characters Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia of TV’s “The Golden Girls,” which ran from 1985 to 1992. She dropped a few dollars in the jar, reading “Tips for Cheesecake.”

Asked why she thought so many people were nostalgic for the 1990s, Martucci thought deeply for a moment.

“It’s the best decade ever,” she said. “There were no constant videos on social media. We were all living in the moment. Now, everything has to be recorded and documented. And the music.”

Not everyone in attendance remembered the ’90s firsthand. Raegan Townsend, 11, and Rylan Townsend, 9, of Valrico, were born in 2012 and 2014, respectively. At the back end of the main hall, the girls took turns sitting beneath a bucket while wearing clear plastic ponchos as it flipped over to drop a thin green liquid on their heads referred to as “slime.” The girls were unsure when asked what precisely the slime had to do with the 1990s.

“Double Dare?” their mother, Jennifer Townsend, prompted them. They nodded but still seemed unsure. The girls are fans of “Fuller House” and “Girl Meets World,” reboots that have introduced 1990s shows to a new generation, but they have checked out the originals, “Boy Meets World” and “Full House.”

Rylan Townsend, 9, presses a button to drop "slime" on her sister Raegan Townsend, 11, during 90s Con at the Tampa Convention Center on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023.
Rylan Townsend, 9, presses a button to drop “slime” on her sister Raegan Townsend, 11, during 90s Con at the Tampa Convention Center on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023. [ CHRISTOPHER SPATA | Times ]
 

Their impressions of what the ’90s were like based on their limited data?

“Thin eyebrows,” said Raegan.

“From watching ‘Fuller House,'” Rylan said, “I think there was a lot of hugging.”

Jeff Franklin, Scott Weinger, Dave Coulier, Andrea Barber, Candace Cameron Bure, and Jodie Sweetin attend their panel at 90s Con on Sept.16, 2023 in Tampa, FL.
Jeff Franklin, Scott Weinger, Dave Coulier, Andrea Barber, Candace Cameron Bure, and Jodie Sweetin attend their panel at 90s Con on Sept.16, 2023, in Tampa, FL. [ ADRIAN RUIZ | That’s4Entertainment]
Nick Carter performs at the 90s Con after party on Sept. 16, 2023 in Tampa, FL.
Nick Carter performs at the 90s Con after party on Sept. 16, 2023, in Tampa, FL. [ ADRIAN RUIZ | That’s4Entertainment]
Visitors to 90s Con at Tampa Convention Center on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023 walk past vendor booths.
Visitors to 90s Con at Tampa Convention Center on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, walk past vendor booths. [ CHRISTOPHER SPATA | Times ]
Lisa Sanchez sits at her vendor booth with a t-shirt reading "Introverted but willing to discuss boy bands" at 90s Con at Tampa Convention Center on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023.
Lisa Sanchez sits at her vendor booth with a t-shirt reading “Introverted but willing to discuss boy bands” at 90s Con at Tampa Convention Center on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023. [ CHRISTOPHER SPATA | Times ]

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