Kennedy Mall; Dubuque, Iowa

Kennedy Mall new sign in Dubuque, IA

Dubuque is a small city of almost 60,000 people located in eastern Iowa, along the mighty Mississippi River.  The first city in Iowa, Dubuque is known for its bluffside architecture and scenic riverfront vistas.  Locally, Dubuque is the economic hub of the entire Tri-State Region, which radiates from Dubuque and extends into nearby regions of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Kennedy Mall theatres sign in Dubuque, IAThe definitive retail strip for Dubuque is mostly along U.S. 20/Dodge Street in the city’s growing West End District, west of downtown.  This strip includes several big box strip malls and one enclosed regional mall.  Kennedy Mall is a 700,000 square foot center anchored by Younkers, JCPenney and Sears with junior anchors Steve and Barrys and Borders Books. 

Kennedy Mall has changed significantly since it debuted as Iowa’s first climate controlled mall.  It all began in 1964 when Montgomery Ward decided to move from downtown Dubuque to the West End.  William Cafaro, whose company still owns the mall today, also lured Younkers and Roshek’s, a local department store, out to the same site.  In 1970, Kennedy Mall officially opened with 60 stores connecting the three anchors. 

Kennedy Mall JCPenney in Dubuque, IATrouble brewed for Kennedy Mall in the early 1980s as both Rosheks and Wards left the mall within one year of each other, in 1982 and 1983, respectively.  Fortunately, JCPenney and Armstrong’s, a Cedar Rapids based department store, stepped in and said “Never fear!” – or something to that affect – and replaced the vacant anchors as soon as they vacated.  JCPenney is still open today; however, Armstrong’s closed in the late 1980s as the entire chain went under.  Once again, Sears emerged to save the day and took over half of the Armstrong’s anchor; the other half would become a second Younkers location.  In addition, at the end of the 1980s a new food court opened at the northeast corner of the mall, following the mall’s second brush with a tornado.

Kennedy Mall Younkers in Dubuque, IAThe 1990s and early 2000s were mostly stagnant at Kennedy Mall.  It chugged along successfully, and retained its position as the commercial center for the entire Tri-State region as it is the only enclosed mall within one hour in any direction.  No foolin’. 

Kennedy Mall directory in Dubuque, IABut, in recent years, changes have been taking place more rapidly as more Big Box and strip malls have opened to the west of the mall, giving it competition for the Tri-State region’s spending dollar.  The large food court area was truncated in 2005 to make room for a Borders store, and that same year Best Buy also opened in the mall’s overflow parking area.  Walgreens recently left their outmoded in-line mall location for a stand alone, 24-hour prototype, leaving a large empty frontage.  Also in recent years, venerable space-taker Steve & Barry’s opened inside the mall.

So what about decor and design?  Well, it’s pretty standard.  Much of the decor is reminiscent of the late 80s post-tornado renovation.  Without much nearby mall competition, the only reason to renovate or reposition is to offset competition from the new big box and strip retailers in town.  As for design, Kennedy Mall is mostly one level, with a main hallway between Younkers and JCPenney and a small side hallway leading from the main entrance back to Sears. 

Kennedy Mall escalator to nowhere in Dubuque, IA

The most fascinating thing about Kennedy Mall, by far, is the ‘escalator to nowhere’ located at the end of the side hallway/Sears/Younkers wing.  It leads from the main mall concourse level up a long slope, and is flanked on each side by graduated steps of planters.  The whole thing looks really grandiose, and there’s even a neon sign above the escalator inviting you to go up there.  However, once at the top of the escalator, only two options exist.  You can either go into the upper level of Sears, or the upper level of Younkers.  Nothing else.  In order to make it even more grandiose, the whole thing is flanked with mirrors everywhere, which make it look huge, or at least like it goes somewhere.  I’m guessing the escalator was put in after Armstrong’s vacated at the end of the 1980s, after the decision was made to split the anchor in two.  Either way, it’s kind of neat to be able to access both the upper and lower levels of each anchor from the mall, but it’s simultaneously kind of anti-climactic as well. 

The pictures featured with this post were taken in February 2007.  Leave some comments and let us know what you think. 

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Kennedy Mall Younkers in Dubuque, IA 

Here are some vintage photos of Kennedy Mall courtesy of John Gallo.  Most appear to be from the mid-1980s with the exception of the Sears/Younkers one.

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Kennedy Mall JCPenney in Dubuque, IA Kennedy Mall Younkers in Dubuque, IA Kennedy Mall Armstrongs in Dubuque, IA

Kennedy Mall Sears Younkers in Dubuque, IA

Update 6/25/08:  Kennedy Mall is undergoing an extensive renovation, which will give it a more welcoming and modern look.  Comfy seating arrangements have been installed in the mall corridor, inviting shoppers to take a break and relax during their outings.  In addition, the ceilings have been updated with a cleaner, more modern design featuring skylights and elegant, arched entryways along the main mall corridor.  Not only does this give the mall a more upscale feel, it provides bright, natural light.  Also, a Borders has been added to the renovated food court space.  While the Borders has shrunk the space for food court retailers, it is definitely a more efficient use of the space and a positive addition to the mall. 

The following pictures were provided by Cafaro Company, who owns the mall:

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Kennedy Mall renovation in Dubuque, IA Kennedy Mall renovation in Dubuque, IA

31 Responses to “Kennedy Mall; Dubuque, Iowa”

  1. By the way, you might want to clarify that Steve & Barry’s took the old Walgreens.

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  2. My bad, no it wasn’t. Walgreens is still empty.

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  3. Definitely an interesting outer limits style of design with that escalator with the staircase stacked planters going up with it. Reminds me much of the Latham Circle Mall with some inexplicable staircase and placement.

    There’s one designed just like that at a few Connecticut malls; Trumbull Mall in Connecticut has an escalator surrounded by those stacked planters (goes to the rest of an oddly designed mall) which I recently took a slew of pictures at, but did not get that staircase since that’s usually central territory for security patrol and station (I’m hoping Labelscar will cover this mall soon since it’s one of Jason’s (CT) favorites ).

    Meriden Square has one too, and made more mysteriously when they built the Lord & Taylor (since become a Dick’s). Just when you think it leads to an upper merchandise level, it goes right to nowhere but the car park area.

    I’m finding the fascinating malls are the ones with the questionable, haphazard architecture (like Latham Circle and even this one).

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  4. The Younkers looks a little weird. The two level portion of the exterior looks vastly different than the one story portion, like it’s in a different mall or something.

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  5. Yeah, I assume that’s mostly due to them splitting up the gigantic Roshek’s anchor in the 80s for two smaller, two-level anchors which share the space (currently Sears and Younkers home).

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  6. It’s interesting that the Sears and Younkers anchors have an escalator within the mall so you can access the 2nd floor of both those stores next to each other(unlike most single-level malls, where you have to go inside the anchor store to access the upper level of a particular store).

    In many other single-level malls I’ve seen, the only reason escalators are placed in single-level malls are to access the upper level of a parking garage(a good example of this that comes to my mind is Harlem-Irving Plaza in Norridge, IL).

    And is it just me, or did whoever take these pics did so right before the stores in the mall opened for the day? (aka if it’d been done during “mall walking” early hours) Sure seems like this to me….

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  7. You are correct, I took the pictures on a Sunday morning at about 9am, during mall-walking hours. There’s generally less of an annoying security presence and fewer shoppers, though the octogenarians walking around probably thought it rather strange I was in there with them snapping pictures at that time.

    It’s interesting to think about the nonstandard use of escalators or stairs in one-level or even multi-level malls. Many times, like Harlem-Irving Plaza, they go up or down to some parking structure, but there are other nontraditonal uses as well. At the Pentagon City mall in Arlington, VA, escalators go directly from the mall down to the Washington, DC subway system. In both Southdale Mall in Minnesota and South Shore Plaza near Boston, escalators go down from the first level of the mall to directly access the basement of an anchor. But this is the only one I can think of where an escalator goes up to the 2nd floor.

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  8. Before Chinook Centre in Calgary was renovated, you used to be able to take an escalator directly up to the second floor of Sears. It was very bizarre.

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  9. As a kid I grew up about 50 miles south of Dubuque in the Quad Cities. Although my metropolitan area was much larger, Dubuque received an enclosed mall before we did. I can remember making an annual fall drive with my parents and grandparents to Dubuque to see the trees change color and to stop at Kennedy Mall.

    Later on in life, I remember stopping at the Bishops Buffet in the mall with a friend from the south side of Chicago who was surprised by the concept of “all you can eat”

    As for the comment about the Southdale Mall escalators above: I now live in Minneapolis and the reason for the odd layout at Southdale mall is due to a remodeling the mall went through when the Mall of America was opened. The owners of Southdale/Rosedale/Brookdale/Ridgedale (The ‘Dales’) didn’t want their most important anchor in the new mall. (Dayton’s at the time, later Marshall Fields and now, to the distress of all Minnesotans, Macy’s). So they agreed to build a new anchor building for Dayton’s at both Southdale and Rosedale. The new building was attached directly to the former store, and once Dayton’s moved to their new building the shell of their former stores was converted to inline retail. However, in both cases Dayton’s retained the basement of their previous facilities. The old escaltors were also left in place, making it possible to go directly to the store’s basement from the main mall

    I suspect the oddly placed escalators at Kennedy Mall are from the same sort of reconfiguration. When the old Roscheks was split in two, the architects probably left the original store escalators in place.

    Incidently, now that Macy’s has ended up with what was the Dayton’s chain, we now have Macy’s at all 4 malls AND the Mall of America.

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  10. I came to this site from the Dead Mall link and I hate to see that the Kennedy Mall is listed among the dead and dying. It isn’t that I haven’t seen D&D malls before, but as the article said, this is the only one within about 75-100mile radius!

    I think it’s still to premature to list it as a dying mall though. Although a large outdoor strip mall has been place on the NW fringe (Asbury Plaza I think it’s called), Kennedy Mall is still the largest shopping center in the area. The mall is in the very center of Dubuque (Downtown is actually on the eastern edge of the city because of the Mississippi river), and unlike Ashbury SC which is miles from the nearest highway, KM is right on the main corridor through Dubuque (Hw20) surrounded by lots of other businesses.

    The inside of the Mall still has all it’s major anchors. and has added two major retail stores to it’s property including Borders which is attached and Best Buy which is in the parking lot. Around the mall is Shop-Ko (a smaller Northern US version of Target), Petsmart, Walgreens, Staples, and smaller other stores.

    I live in a small town about 50 miles to the south and generally go to the mall everytime we’re up there. It seemed always to be a solid medium size mall with a few vacancies. I believe the reason why it seems that the mall has suffered in the last 2-3 years is because of two things. First is when Walgreens moved out which left a noticable empty spot in the mall. The second is due to an actual addition to the mall when Borders was added. Most of the once open foodcourt was swallowed up leaving the remaining food stands squeezed along one side of a narrow corridor. Since this now really isn’t such a good space to have a food stand, half of the foodstands as of when I was there were abandoned. However the guys at Gamespot said that another subplace was supposed to come in.

    Over all I think that Kennedy Mall in some form will service the area for a long time due to it’s location, size of community, and other logistics.

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  11. Wayne — To clarify, we don’t just write about dead malls here, and I don’t think either of us would consider Kennedy to be dead, or even close to it. Rather than just dead malls, Labelscar is devoted to the study of the evolution of shopping centers, malls, and retail chains, as well as the preservation of artifacts of all of the above. We’ve featured many thriving centers here before, and will always continue to do so.

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  12. Ok, thanks.

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  13. I grew up 20 miles from this mall and continue to. I remember the Armstrong store. The esculators when up smack dab in the center of the store to the second floor of Armstrongs. There was a cookie vendor set up under the esculator. Being a kid at the time I’d remember the cookies. When Armstrongs closed a big remodel was done and they split that part of the mall to accomidate Sears and Mens/Childrens Younkers. The esculators are in the middle of the stores. I remember going to the mall as a child and riding the esculators for fun. Now my kids do. Nice mall. In a nice town.

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  14. I live in Dubuque. Currently the mall is going under renovations- we’ll see what that does. Kennedy Mall was designed after malls in New York and Chicago etc but it surely needs some help. Walgreens continues to sit empty, steve and barry’s took a couple empty store fronts including a jewelry store that escapes me. Journeys recently went out and we now have 2 coach-houses in one mall. The weirdest thing – to me- about the mall is the fact that younkers womens and childrens section is on the north (?) side of the mall, mens is to the west and above that (by taking the escalator to no where) you go to the housewares…. crazy

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  15. Reading this brought back memories of the heydays of Kennedy Maill in the early 1970’s.
    Does anyone else remember Gildners, The Clothes Horse, Horse of a Different Color?? Or the really cool two level Country Cobbler?? Or had to sit through lunch with your parents at Walgreens??
    The last time I was in Kennedy Mall was April of 2001. By that time it had become almost dreary, with a Gap and Eddie Bauer and a food court.

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  16. it saddens me that kennedy mall, once being a powerful retail center has faltered as stand alone big box stores have left the mall. throughout eastern iowa, large shopping centers have suffered from suburban growth.two examples include: Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids, built in 1980s is under 50% occupancy with only the major anchors left. And the Old Capital Mall in downtown Iowa City greatly suffered business when the Coral Ridge Mall power house opened in 1998. It has recently begun a major renovation and the University of Iowa now occupies almost the entire 2nd floor.

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  17. The escalator in the Kennedy Mall was in the middle of the Armstrong’s Department Store. When Sears was added the old retail store was cut in half on each side of the Armstrong’s. The old store entrance was removed and the concourse was extended all the way to the escalator. We used to take the escalator up in Armstrong’s to see Santa as a kid.

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  18. I have lived in Dubuque all of my life and have many times seen stores come and go. Every time a new store comes into the mall, I hope and pray that it will be something other than a “Valley of the Kings” (a nick-knack store) or a “Merle Norman” (Cosmetic Store that rarely has customers in it.) I find myself driving to Davenport or Iowa City, just to do some decent shopping. A few years ago, I worked at Sears and got many complaints from out-of-towners about the esclator leading to ‘nowhere.’

    It was mainly for the use of Sears, because the Younkers next to Sears had an esclator inside of the store leading to the second level. Last year, Kennedy Mall began remodeling, and I hoped that they would add some interesting stores…all we got was carpeting and skylights in the center of the mall.

    If coming to Dubuque to go to the mall, please think twice…there really isn’t much here.

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  19. well, now there is only one coach house, and it looks alot nicer than the other 2 that were there. no new stores have entered and that is rather disappointing. But the mall is not dead. As an employee, we still have good amount of bus….. except in the summer

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  20. Hi there. I just came across this thread of comments on Kennedy Mall, and felt compelled to give everyone an update. My company owns and operates the mall, and is now into Phase 2 of a renovation that began last year. That first phase created a much brighter, comfortable interior for the mall. There was the addition of new lighting, flooring, skylights, soft-seating areas, and on Saturday, June 21, a children’s soft play area opens for business. Sponsored by The Finley Hospital, it’s not just a lot of fun, it also incorporates information about healthy lifestyles. On the outside there will be an all-new facade and renovated parking lots. All in all, it’s a VERY different mall than the one portrayed in the original posting. I’ll try to send along some current pictures.

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  21. I am pretty sure this (http://mallsofamerica.blogspot.com/2006/07/kennedy-mall.html) is a picture of what the center court fountain used to look like in the 70’s – 80’s. I grew up with the mall in that time period and used to love that fountain. Sad to see it is no longer present.

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  22. With the remodeling, what happened to the “escalator to nowhere”?

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  23. steve and barrys went out of business and is now for sale. and the escalators are still there but there is childrens play area in the big empty space just before it.

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  24. Where was the Woolworth? Did it become the food court?

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  25. also with the renovating… there is a coffee shop in the middle of the mall and also they have re-done the parking lot and the main entrance.

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  26. Elevator to Nowhere:

    The elevator to nowhere was originally in the center of the 2-story Rosheks Department store…which moved from the current IBM building on Locust Street in 1970 out to he mall.

    When Rosheks closed, Armstrongs tried to fill the entire space but couldn’t. When Armstrongs went bankrupt, the orignal front of that space was pushed back to the escalator, a distance of 100 feet or so, extendding the public hallway, while creating smaller ‘anchor’ spaces similar to the other 3 ends of the ‘X’ shaped mall that Sears (and later Younkers) could successfully fill.

    The ground floor space is more desirable, so you have the wierd situation of Sears / Younkers with side x side two story locations instead of one on the ground floor and one above.

    My entire family shopped almost nowhere BUT the very ‘happening’ Kennedy Mall in the 70s and 80s. I remember this escalator well. The family loved Rosheks, but mom had a thing about escalators and would never use this one. She always used an elevator in the back of the store while we rode what’s now the elevator to nowhere.

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  27. Went into this mall for the first time in five years today when visiting a friend in Dubuque…it appears the old Walgreen’s is being gutted for a Dick’s Sporting Goods. Likely will be a welcome addition to many–except for the smaller Hibbett Sports in the same mall.

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  28. I found this mall by accident earlier this year, it’s a pretty decent place. two thumbs up for shopping, although i think the prices at best buy are rather expensive.

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  29. Just visited this mall today. JCPenney did a good job, IMHO, of converting the former Wards. It’s hard to tell the store even was a Wards. WTF does Younkers build such small stores in some markets? Burlington, IA is the same way as the Women’s store (original Younkers) here.

    Sears is really odd. Saw the elevator to nowhere – only way within Sears to access both levels. The Younkers Home/Men’s store at least has an escalator inside the store.

    Dick’s is open, and the renos look great. Nice little gem of a mall, IMHO.

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  30. Does anyone remember the name of a store in the mall in the 70’s that had a black and white checkerboard floor? It carried everything from household to clothes to jewelry. Very big lighting fixtures.

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  31. its funny i’ve lived in dubuque all my life and the escalater was always just our climbing toy :p

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