Oak Park Mall; Austin, Minnesota

Austin, Minnesota is a small city of about 23,000 residents in the southern part of the state.  It is just over 100 miles from the Twin Cities, and 40 miles from Rochester along Interstate 90. 

Austin is famous for one thing:  SPAM.  Since 1937, Hormel Foods has been churning out tons of this salty, processed meat product at a factory near the interstate.  There’s even a Spam Museum for those who love a little kitsch; and, those who do are also lucky, because the museum is successful and has expanded from its digs in a vacant store space in Austin’s Oak Park Mall to a larger building of its own across from the SPAM factory.  If you do visit the museum, you can even take an interactive quiz hosted by none other than Minnesota Senator and Saturday Night Live alum Al Franken.  That alone would almost get me to go. 

I wasn’t able to dig up too much more about Oak Park Mall – the mall’s webpage states it has been around 30 years, which means it probably opened sometime in the late 1970s. The mall is located on the north edge of Austin, directly adjacent to I-90 at the exit for US 218.

 

Oak Park Mall is rather small – ICSC lists the leasable area at 350,000 square feet, which is appropriate given Austin’s market size and trade area.  The anchors, Green Bay, Wis.-based discounter ShopKo and Iowa-based full-line department store Younkers make up about half of the total retail space.  

The mall’s indoor corridor connects these two anchors, with a short cross wing near the middle.  Stores inside the mall are also typical of malls in this tier, with few fashion-oriented national chains and many local offerings.  Unfortunately, also typical of malls in this tier, there are many vacancies.  Stores in the out-of-date directory on the mall’s website include a Do It Best Hardware Store, two chain salons, Christopher & Banks (closed early 2010), a Hallmark, Family Dollar, a nail place, an optical shop, GNC, a cookie place, mexican restaurant, Claire’s, some offices, the Austin Art Center, a sports bar, and a 7-screen movie theater.  That’s about it.  Sadly, the mall is on the decline, with more stores closing than opening.  A Sears hometown location and Foot Locker were also recent casualties here, along with a hip-hop store called E&J Hook-Up. 

In addition to being apparently unloved by shoppers, it appears that a Rochester woman hates the mall so much that, in December 2007, she intentionally drove her car into it at a high rate of speed, causing $37,000 in damage to both the building and to merchandise in the Younkers store. 

The decor at Oak Park Mall is typical of malls (or, as we like to call them, sMalls) of this size and features barebones accoutrements and minimal decor, especially compared to larger centers in bigger cities.   The color pack is outdated, the floor is a sterile white tile, and the drop ceilings make the corridor feel more like office space rather than a shopping center, but who do they need to impress? 

The nearest competition for Oak Park Mall is in Albert Lea, whose Northbridge Mall is only slightly more functional - for more serious shopping excursions Austin residents probably go to Rochester or the Twin Cities. 

We last visited Oak Park Mall in June 2009 and took the pictures featured here.  Feel free to share your own stories and thoughts in the comments section.

12 Responses to “Oak Park Mall; Austin, Minnesota”

  1. The Family Dollar looks like an old Osco. Picture 10 also shows an old Bath & Body Works.

    Picture 4 shows what appears to be a walled off former anchor. I’m almost certain this was a JCPenney.

    Believe it or not, General Growth built this.

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    Carrie Reply:

    @Bobby P.,
    There were always clothing stores where Family Dollar is. There was an Osco in Austin at one time, but it was in a strip mall.

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  2. Yes, I was right, there was a very small JCPenney here at one point. According to this doc, it was supposed to become health offices in 2004:

    http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:7r2fA9tY8v8J:www.ci.austin.mn.us/Council/archive/2004/Minutes%252008-02-04.pdf+%22oak+park+mall%22+%22austin+mn%22+%22Penney%22&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEEShKXJhHSoR-868J4l19KWre6nmjMrH6Rz913XrQc4wbEe4Trh4rHNSH2dYMTmFftuvJCozNhoL8oItwLPcBJV6eZOzvY0Ob0V0rZbKdeOiU2MpX_-l14z0zX7zudDjvTgiLSx2p&sig=AHIEtbT7Vcgw-W2AgDuUlgPOTzYAcsg9CQ

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  3. This is the second mall on the Labelscar blog to have a ShopKo. As my username indicates, I am a big fan of the regional chain. The ShopKo in this mall opened with the mall, and has gotten two renovations, one in 1991, and in 1999. This ShopKo store still has its patriotic logo from 1991. I love the ShopKo entrance, it is small, yet effective.

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  4. FYI the Spam Museum and attached offices is actually a repurposed Kmart with much of the Spam Museum being in the area that was the old auto service bays. There was quite a bit that was remodeled though, thats for sure… I haven’t seen it in person but there was a good write up on it in the book Big Box Reuse.

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  5. This mall looks a lot on the inside like what remains open of the mall in Manitowoc, WI. (Mid Rivers / Edgwater Mall). A Younkers and a Sears Hometown store, nothing in the middle, and a very dated decor in between . . . even the cheap looking Younkers sign. If I didn’t know better I would think these pictures are from Manitowoc.

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    ShopKo Fan Reply:

    @Phil Jones, …with the exception of ShopKo, yes.

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  6. 1979
    About the same time, to the east, near lake michigan, a simular layout and size Edgewater opened in Manitowoc, the sears there is on the mallway, it even has a younkers.

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  7. The funny thing is, since these pictures were taken, about half of those stores are now gone. It’s a miracle this mall is still standing. Not like anybody in the town really want it still standing. Most people are just wanting it to be turned into a new strip mall.

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  8. This mall is owned by some company in Chicago, which means it will never get the attention it needs. The City recently forced them to fix their parking lot as it was crumbling. Whether or not it has been done, it’s tough to tell. They may have just patched potholes. Otherwise, it’s in sad shape.
    It should be reconfigured into a stripmall configuration with the movie theater in the center with Shopko and Younkers anchoring the ends but the owners are too cheap to consider anything.

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  9. The mall now has these stores open.

    ShopKo (which is not owner by the mall anymore)
    Anytime Fitness
    Cinemagic 7
    Ivy’s Ink
    ACS Computers
    LCD Consignments
    Gypsy Consignments
    A to Z Treasure
    Willow Cove
    Just for Kix
    Acclaim Dance Studio
    Sweet Serendipity Weddings & Events
    Two Bears Trading Post
    Austin Area Art Center
    Sears Hometown Store
    Younkers
    Vision Works
    Party Zone
    Impact Martial Arts
    Enterchantment
    Legacy Comics
    Electric Lair
    2 Internet Auction Companies (no retail)

    The parking lot still needs help but the owners have hired a firm to help will rebuilding the malls image and potential.

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    Scott Reply:

    They are going to need more just increase the image and potential. They have to be serious about cleaning up (and fixing the traffic flow) of the parking lot and upgrade the entire mall (paint won’t hurt).

    I was hoping they would have defaulted on their taxes so the county would take over and sell to a more common sense owner.

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