Located in Brooklyn Center, an inner-ring suburb 10 miles northwest of Minneapolis, Brookdale Center is a behemoth of a mall living on borrowed time. Opened in 1962, Brookdale debuted to a new, sprawling post-war building boom which eventually levelled off as the area became built out. Over time, many original residents serving the mall’s purpose moved up and out to newer and better suburbs, and were slowly replaced by those with a different socioeconomic status. Today, Brookdale is in serious decline, existing as as an ever-dwindling collection of stores inside the husk of a super-regional mall on the precipice of closure.
In the early part of the 20th century, Brooklyn Center was a far different place. It incorporated in 1911 to stave off annexation from neighboring Minneapolis, in order to remain remain the rural, farming community it had been since pioneer days.
Fast forward a few decades. After World War Two, masses of returning GIs and their growing families needed housing, so large neighborhoods of single-family housing were built quickly and cheaply. Brooklyn Center and other formerly rural communities close to Minneapolis were no longer able to resist development, and became built out over a relatively short span.
With the suburban housing boom and post-war automobile culture came shopping centers. Long before the Twin Cities had the Mall of America, which opened in 1992, they had the ‘Dales’ – a foursome of enclosed, super-regional malls that were developed by Minneapolis-based Dayton’s department store and built between 1956 and 1974. First came Southdale in 1956, which debuted as one of the first regional malls in the country, and was located in well-to-do southwest suburban Edina. Next came Brookdale, in northwest suburban Brooklyn Center, which opened in 1962; later came Rosedale in Roseville, between Minneapolis and St. Paul, in 1969; and finally, Ridgedale opened in west-suburban Minnetonka in 1974.
In addition to the ‘Dales’, the Twin Cities also had other regional shopping centers like Apache Plaza, which opened in 1961 in the northeast suburbs of Minneapolis, and Knollwood Mall, which opened in 1955 in west-suburban St. Louis Park. All of these malls were moderately to extremely successful throughout the years, and all of them exist today in some form or another – redevelopment or otherwise. Only one – Brookdale – is in dire straits today, following an extended period of decline which began slowly during the 1990s. Ridgedale and Rosedale are still immensely popular, and despite some recent trouble still remains viable.
Brookdale Center was originally conceived by Dayton’s department store to provide a northern complement to its successful Southdale Center. Famous mall visionary Victor Gruen, who also created Southdale, was hired to design the mall. Elements of his influence are still present today in the wide spaces and tall ceilings in the main corridor. Also, unlike the other ‘dales’, which are all two levels, Brookdale was designed to be one level because it is situated on a former swamp; as such, it has always been the smallest of the four malls.
When Brookdale opened in 1962, it was anchored by a two level, 180,000 square foot Sears and a tw0 level, 50,000 square foot JCPenney (dry goods only at first). The mall was expanded in 1966-1967 to include Dayton’s and Donaldson’s stores, and JCPenney expanded to a full-service format. The mall was extremely successful and drew patrons from the entire northern half of the Twin Cities metro, until competition and demographics began to change the game.
In 1972, some competition arrived for Brookdale Center in its north metro trade area. Northtown Mall opened in Blaine, approximately 10 minutes north of Brookdale. However, this wasn’t a huge blow for Brookdale, as Northtown is across the river and serves a mostly different set of suburbs (Coon Rapids, Blaine, Anoka, Fridley). In fact, Brookdale even remained viable into the 1990s, as numerous other malls and even the humungous Mall of America opened across town in 1992. The late 90s weren’t as kind to Brookdale, though, as it battled a 30 percent vacancy rate and a foreclosure in 1996.
Not long after Brookdale began its first spiral of decline, the mall was renovated, expanded, and temporarily saved, beginning in 2001 with a driven commitment by Talisman Corporation, its new owner. The 2001-2002 renovation replaced and modernized the flooring and general decor of the indoor corridors, which had not seen a significant renovation in decades. In addition, several popular national brands were wooed to the mall, including Old Navy, Gap, American Eagle, and Hot Topic, and the mall was given a weird new logo. At one point in late 2003, Brookdale rebounded to a 95 percent occupancy rate and had all four anchor stores filled. The expansion involved tearing down the northwest wing of the mall and replacing it with a brand new, slighty larger wing containing a new food court and a Barnes and Noble store.
Several anchor changes have taken place at Brookdale through the decades. There were barely any major changes from the 1960s until 1987, when north anchor Donaldson’s was sold to Carson Pirie Scott of Chicago and operated as a Carson’s until 1995. The Carson’s purchase in Minnesota ultimately turned out to be an unprofitable mistake, so all Carson’s stores except Rochester were sold to the parent of Dayton’s, Dayton-Hudson, who then converted all the stores to its Mervyns division that same year. Mervyns was a better fit for the space, and lasted until Dayton-Hudson -who in 2000 renamed themselves Target Corporation – sold all of its non-Target stores in 2004. A group of investors bought Mervyns from Target and immediately began closing all of the Minnesota stores, including the one at Brookdale. It has been vacant ever since, despite an attempt, in 2007, by Wal-Mart to secure a store there, which was blocked by Sears in a lawsuit. Sears said they believe their tenant agreement gives them the right to approve the stores there. The lawsuit soured Wal-Mart, who later said they are no longer interested in pursuing the location.
The east anchor, which opened as Dayton’s in the 1960s, became Marshall Field’s in 2001 when Dayton-Hudson decided to consolidate its brands in Minneapolis (Dayton’s), Chicago (Marshall Field’s), and Detroit (Hudson’s) under one nameplate. They chose Marshall Field’s because the venerable Chicago store was not only representative of the largest city and number of extant stores among the three brands, but also because of the venerability of the brand. It all ended up being sort of a moot point a few years later, when Marshall Field’s parent Target Corporation decided to focus on the Target stores and get rid of everything else, selling Marshall Field’s to May Company. Then, after owning Marshall Field’s less than a year, May became acquired by Federated Department Stores (Macy’s), who rather quickly decided to consolidate all of the May nameplates, including Marshall Field’s, into one unified Macy’s banner in 2006.
After the May acquisition, Macy’s suddenly had hundreds more stores covering 90 percent of the country, and they also inherited some unprofitable stores as well. Macy’s has gone through several rounds of closures to help eliminate these, and in 2008 they decided to eliminate the store at Brookdale. It closed in March 2009 and remains empty as of early 2010.
Here’s a shot of the east anchor, Dayton’s, in April 2001:
Here’s the same shot from April 2010:
Now take a look at a similar shot from April 2010. Sad, isn’t it?
Brookdale’s south anchor, which had been JCPenney since the mall opened, operated for over four decades before closing in February 2004 and relocating to a brand new standalone store in Coon Rapids. However, the anchor wasn’t dead long, replaced in September 2005 by Steve and Barrys, a flash-in-the-pan cheapo clothing anchor that expanded quickly nationwide in the mid- to late- 2000s, often taking dead mall anchors and having no qualms operating in dead or dying malls. Not surprisingly, Steve and Barrys quickly became insolvent, and closed for good at the end of 2008. The Brookdale store was shed a few months before the entire chain closed, though, as they attempted to focus on their more profitable stores. The anchor remains empty as of early 2010.
The western anchor, Sears, has remained the entire time since the mall opened, and currently has no plans to close. A Kohls Department Store also still operates on the mall’s periphery and is included in the Brookdale complex, but is not part of the mall structure.
In addition to losing three of its four anchor stores over a span of five years, Brookdale has also had to deal with increasing competition in what was left of its trade area – the northwest Twin Cities suburbs – when a large retail district and lifestyle center opened in nearby Maple Grove in 2003. Lacking a downtown of its own, northwest suburban Maple Grove began growing at a breakneck pace in recent decades, attracting a more affluent base than inner-ring suburbs such as Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park. In order to take advantage of this affluent suburban growth, Maple Grove constructed a new downtown in phases, and the entire development is referred to as Arbor Lakes. Included in the development is over 6 million square feet of retail space, clustered around a large lifestyle center and a neotraditional Main Street. Nearly every retail chain and box store in the country is represented in Maple Grove, including those traditionally located in enclosed regional malls. Located just ten miles from Brookdale, this development more than any other has dwindled Brookdale’s waning viability, essentially nudging it out of having any trade area at all.
Faced with increasing competition, many of the updates Talisman materialized in the early part of the 2000s disintegrated by 2005. After losing two anchors in – JCPenney and Mervyns – in 2004, Old Navy, American Eagle, Gap, Pac Sun, and many of the other stores brought in by the renovation closed in short order. Most of the other stores operating at Brookdale are local stores, and the number of national, popular chains has dwindled. In 2009, shortly after Macy’s jumped ship, Barnes and Noble left as well, creating even more empty space.
In late 2009 and early 2010, the owners of Brookdale Center, Florida-based Brooks Mall Properties, defaulted on their mortgage. Then, in February 2010, Brookdale was purchased by its mortgage lender in a voluntary foreclosure sale, for $12.5 million. It’s currently anyone’s guess as to what the new owner plans to do with the site, although rumors from office to residential to a new Vikings stadium have emerged. I say make the whole thing one huge kitty condo. One thing is for certain – the mall has almost no viability in its current state, especially at its current size. So to all you dead mall or Victor Gruen fans – you better get to this one soon before it’s too late and the doors are closed for good.
Brookdale’s website still exists, but is over a year out of date – indicating both Steve and Barrys and Macy’s as being open, as well as numerous in-line stores which have also closed. The mall advertises having 70 retailers, but only about 30 remain open as of early 2010. Brookdale also put up a new pylon a couple years ago along Highway 100, featuring the dumb logo which is moderately illegible against the big bird-yellow background, and features a smattering of stores that have since departed. You know your mall is in trouble when a local cell phone store shows up on the pylon. Just sayin’.
I’ve visted Brookdale many times, beginning as a little kid in the 90s, and have witnessed the roller coaster death spiral first hand. Even then, I remember Brookdale being a ‘lesser’ alternative to the malls in the southern and western suburbs. But I also thought that it was so incredibly cool how dated and cavernous the mall was, with amazingly wide and tall corridors. And who could forget the parking lot locator animals? I know I parked in the elephant lot at least a couple times.
Also, don’t forget to check out this more in-depth (and hilarious) commentary from dumpystripmalls.com, a blog that highlights – and lampoons – Minnesota retail. There are also a few vintage shots from Brookdale here – believe it or not, the interior looked essentially the same until the early 2000s. As an aside, I hope she updates her blog soon!
Feel free to leave your own comments/experiences with Brookdale. And, if anyone happens to have any pre-renovation pictures I’d love to see them.
UPDATE 4/2010: I visited Brookdale Center in April 2010 and noted the following stores open:
- K Fashion
- K Fashion Casual
- Champs Sports
- Wet Seal (who had their own uniformed security guard)
- Sears (the only anchor)
- Q Studio (a photographer)
- Jackson Hewitt (tax return kiosk outside Sears)
- Skyway Jewelers
- Payless ShoeSource
- Twinstown (athletic/urban wear)
- Foot Locker
- Harold Pener Man of Fashion (urban wear)
- T2 (urban wear)
- Chinamax (the only food court stall open)
Most of these stores are located between Sears and the food court wing. There was only one store in the Mervyn’s wing, and one in the former Macy’s wing. Also, I noticed now that Macy’s has closed there are distinct Dayton’s labelscars on the building – that’s neat. Surprisingly, there were at least a couple dozen people walking around the mall when I visited on a weekday afternoon. One girl was even using the dilapidated, ripped seating in the former Macy’s court to sit and read a book – it’s peaceful down at that end. Despite all the closures, mall management has not updated any of the directories or signage in a couple years, and a mural in the food court depicts many stores that have long since closed. They haven’t even taken down little stand-up signs which direct shoppers on a wild goose chase down mostly abandoned wings of the mall to stores that no longer exist. Sad.
Also, I unfortuately witnessed some trouble when I left the mall via the food court entrance, as both the police and mall security were interrogating some rowdy looking people who were in a van in the parking lot. Then, as I left the mall, a couple who were walking to the mall were having a heated argument, and a large group of teens were walking abreast in the ring road, completely oblivious to traffic. Fun times and anarchy abounds at Brookdale!
While all this is undoubtedly very grim, a nugget of hope for Brookdale is possibly on the horizon. Brookdale popped up in the news in late March 2010, as murmurs of Wal-Mart have emerged once again. According to KARE 11, the NBC affiliate in the Twin Cities, owners of two stores at Brookdale have recently been approached by Wal-Mart representatives, who asked if they would stay if Wal-Mart came to the mall. The owner of K Fashions, who has been at the mall 12 years, said he would definitely stay and would welcome Wal-Mart to the mall. Apparently the option in Sears’ lease regarding anchor approval expires this year, so Sears will no longer be able to veto Wal-Mart, or any other anchor for that matter. I think if Wal-Mart came to the mall, it could possibly reverse the trend of closing stores and might even save the mall from certain death. We’ll keep you up to date.
UPDATE 5/6/2010: Brookdale is officially closed, as of April 26, 2010. A local film producer wants to buy the mall for studios and a technical school, and possibly reopen a portion to retail.
I recently stumbled upon a set of vintage pre-renovation photos of Brookdale from April 26, 2001 – eerily, exactly 9 years to the day before the mall closed permanently. Note the original dark tiled flooring, wood paneling, and the presence of all four anchors – including Dayton’s just weeks before it was rebranded Marshall Field’s.
Photos from April 2001:
Photos from April 2009:
Photos from April 2010: