Opened in 1987, Northbridge Mall was the second enclosed mall for Albert Lea, luring shoppers away from then-20-year-old Skyline Mall across town. Its anchors are ShopKo, a Green Bay, Wis. based discount retailer similar to Target and Wal-Mart, and Herberger’s, a Minnesota-based mid-tier department store now owned by the Bon-Ton Stores Inc. Northbridge Mall has about 250,000 square feet of retail space and contains room for approximately 30 stores, services, and restaurants including a food court. There’s also a 7-screen movie theatre. Also, I suspect it was built as a complement to Southbridge Mall in Mason City, Ia., which is about 40 miles south of Albert Lea. Could be a coincidence, but I don’t think so.
But why was Northbridge built anyway? Skyline Mall was only about 20 years old at the time Northbridge was built in 1987. Plenty of malls last longer than 20 years, but here are some reasons Skyline was outmoded then. First, Skyline had already lost anchor Montgomery Ward, IGA, and several other stores during the mid-1980s. Instead of renovating and repositioning Skyline to be the modern mall everyone in the 1980s wanted, the residents of Albert Lea elected to build an entirely new mall closer to the growth corridor along I-90 and I-35 completely across town from Skyline. In doing so, Northbridge Mall and the nearby Interstates provided a magnet for other retail growth in the area. In fact, most recently, Wal-Mart left its post at Skyline Mall, leaving it anchorless, as it built a brand-new Supercenter along I-35 not far from Northbridge Mall. Although it is small at 250,000 square feet, Northbridge Mall was what Albert Lea wanted and needed when it opened, a bright, modern palace of retail located close to transportation and growth. Skyline mall was the opposite of this, so it was left in the dust.
The decor of Northbridge Mall, at least as of 2001, reeks of the 1980s. Huge walls of circular bulbs, blue and pink neon on the ceiling, and geometric pastel designs original to Northbridge Mall paint a picture of days gone by, certainly not representative of the designs today. If Northbridge Mall was in a larger or busier area it would have been renovated years ago. Personally I find Northbridge’s style endearing and a call back to my youth and the times I spent shopping in malls with similar decors, only they’re all renovated now. There’s nothing wrong with it, either. The carpet looked like it could use a replacement and that’s about all.
Ironically, Northbridge is about the same age now as Skyline was when it was outmoded. The dated decor is far from modern by today’s standard, but the mall is also utilized to capacity. But will Albert Lea residents elect to build another, brighter mall now? Probably not.
The pictures featured with this post were taken in September 2001. As always feel free to comment.