Crossroads Mall is located on the south side of Fort Dodge, in north central Iowa, population 25,000. However, don’t let the seemingly small size fool you, because Fort Dodge is essentially the only population center for miles around. Of the nearest larger cities: Ames is 60 miles south, Des Moines is about 100 miles south, Waterloo is 100 miles east, and Sioux City is 120 miles to the west. According to J Herzog Inc, the mall’s owner, the mall draws from an immediate trade area of 117,000 and an extended trade area of 284,000 in a 60-mile radius. For hours in any direction there are nothing but mostly corn and soy fields on flat or gently rolling plains, dotted by the occasional one-horse town. As an aside, take a look at this interesting photo tour of Fort Dodge, including the mall. It shows many of the interesting things in the city, including the very old downtown. Like many cities established during the frontier and industrial heyday, Fort Dodge has experienced a significant decline and economic stagnation in recent years, complete with the problems of much larger cities like urban decay, poverty, and a downtown straight out of 1960. Despite this, it still remains a unique and interesting place and a close-knit midwestern community.
Crossroads Mall is a typical regional shopping center straight out of rural middle America in every way. Anchored by JCPenney, Sears, and Younkers, the mall also has about 50 other smaller stores including many national or regional chain retailers such as B. Dalton, Christopher and Banks, Foot Locker, FYE, Maurices, and Shoe Sensation, just to name a few. It contains about 480,000 square feet of retail space (including the anchors), making it a substantially sized enclosed mall.
I visited Crossroads Mall in April 2002 and took the pictures below. J Herzog indicates the mall was renovated when they acquired it in 2000; however, I saw almost no signs of this. The mall probably got a few new fixtures and a new coat of paint or something, because much of the infrastructure of the mall appeared to be at least 20-30 years old, if not more. As the mall draws from such a large area, it is mostly successful when you consider the demographics. You won’t find Banana Republic (or even the Gap) here, you’ll have to drive an hour down to Ames to find that. Instead, the stores here are more typical of a hard working-class, agricultural area. With lots of grandmas (keep reading).
On a more personal level, the mall amused me with endless randomness more than anything else. In the middle of the mall hallway was something that vaguely resembled a mailbox, but was instead for hearing aids. There were several errant hearing aids strewn about beneath the mailbox, indicating they missed their intended destination somehow, which was kind of odd (and gross). Strolling farther down the mall I noticed an unused kiosk that had a locked display. Behind the glass it was papered with flyers created in MS Word or something that exclaimed “Meet Grandma!” and had pictures of grandmothers grinning ear-to-ear followed underneath by the Grandmas’ complete descriptions, likes and dislikes, and what they do for fun (Casinos and doll collecting, anyone?). Inside the display case were apparently one of the Grandmas’ robes, some of their personal Grandma-accoutrements, a video (possibly about Grandmas, I don’t remember?), and a completely random cloth bag full of different colored tissue papers. I moved on. In another part of the mall, on the outside of what appeared to be a dead Walgreens store, was a handmade sign which simply read “Live Spiders” – needless to say I kept my distance from that. In the same vain there was another sign that randomly read “Coin toss” down a side hallway. Then there was the display of “vintage catalogs” strewn about a table in front of JCPenney, apparently in connection with their 100th anniversary that year. I started looking at them out of curiosity when an elderly JCPenney employee frantically waddled over and exclaimed, “Those are old catalogs! You can’t buy anything from them!” and I told her very politely I realized this and that I was just browsing them. She apparently didn’t hear what I said at all (or ignored me) and quickly said “I’ll get you a current catalog. Can’t buy anything out of those, they’re for display purposes only!” and she waddled off into the store somewhere. I almost said “Are you featured on the Grandma kiosk?” but decided against it and ducked out the side exit to the mall. I’m going to bet she turned in her hearing aid to that yellow mailbox a bit early. I just hope she didn’t miss…