South Forks Plaza (currently Grand Cities Mall); Grand Forks, North Dakota

South Forks Plaza sign in Grand Forks, ND 

Built in 1964, South Forks Plaza was Grand Forks, North Dakota’s first enclosed mall on a main commercial strip close to the center of town.  In 1978, the Dayton Hudson Corporation opened a new mall, Columbia Mall, on the edge of town near the recently completed Interstate 29, linking Grand Forks north to Winnipeg, Canada and south to the rest of the United States.  Quickly, Columbia Mall replaced South Forks Plaza as the destination for serious shoppers and the place for regional and national chain “mall stores”.  

Since Columbia Mall took over, Grand Forks Plaza has been relegated to featuring mostly local stores and service establishments, drawing from a very local crowd.  Its days of a regional or super-regional center have been over for a long time.  Then, in 2001, another blow to the mall’s presence hit as Grand Forks Marketplace, a big box anchored strip mall, opened.  It is anchored by SuperTarget, Best Buy, Lowe’s, Old Navy, Michaels, Bed Bath & Beyond, Gordman’s; Kohl’s and Menard’s are across the street. 

In the early 2000s, South Forks Plaza’s owner, J Herzog and Sons of Denver, renamed the mall to Grand Cities Mall after the Grand Cities region of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks, MN, and other surrounding communities making up the immediate area.  They hoped this rebranding would help the mall reposition itself as a retail destination for the micropolitan area despite the assault of Columbia Mall and Grand Forks Marketplace.  Grand Cities Mall/South Forks Plaza has been anchored by K-Mart for years and it is the largest anchor at almost 100,000 square feet.  The other anchor, Big Lots, flanks the other end of the mall, and a mix of mostly local but some national chain stores make up the mix of stores in Grand Cities Mall.  It is worth noting that much of the space in the mall is taken by services such as a Karate studio, Century 21 Real Estate, a travel agent, a shoe shop, and even a ballet studio. 

So why can’t the mall make it?  Simply put, the demographics of Grand Forks and the immediate area cannot support two malls and a giant big box center.  Grand Forks has a population of 50,000; however, J Herzog indicates the immediate area has 100,000 residents and the Grand Cities Mall has a potential to draw from a trade area of 300,000.  Frankly, I’m not entirely sure where they get that number, as the population density in this largely agricultural area is very low.  The nearest other cities of any significance are Fargo, which is 1 hour south, and Winnipeg, which is just over 2 hours north in Canuckistan.  Grand Forks is the commercial center for the entire area in between Fargo and the Canadian border, but they’re clearly shopping at Columbia Mall and Grand Forks Marketplace, and not Grand Cities Mall.

I stepped into a time machine and entered South Forks Plaza in July 2001 and took these pictures.  I was mostly fascinated and very truly amazed at how dated this mall was.  It had clearly not been renovated in much capacity since opening in the mid 1960s.  Many of the (dead) storefronts sported this western-themed, wooden facade which was complemented with bricks, and must have been popular then.  Some of the light fixtures, flooring, and existing signage were also clearly original to the mall, which was amazing.  Other parts of the indoor portion of the mall appeared to be under construction, and the developer’s website indicate a “renovation” of sorts took place in 2001.  So, I’m not actually sure what the mall looks like today; however, it appears to still be open for business.  Hopefully someone with some more knowledge of the area can enlighten us on the mall’s history and what it’s like today, 5 years after these pictures were taken.

South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND

South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND

South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND

South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND

South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND North Dakota is very, very flat

South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND South Forks Plaza in Grand Forks, ND

25 Responses to “South Forks Plaza (currently Grand Cities Mall); Grand Forks, North Dakota”

  1. I was thrilled to see your post on the South Forks Plaza. I grew up in East Grand Forks, and when I was a kid in the 80’s I went there every so often. Believe it or not, the mall *has* been remodelled, after taking on a couple of feet of dirty river water in the flood of 1997. I wish I had pictures of the original decor…it was trippy. The centerpiece of the mall was this bizarre lighting fixture that looked like a giant red Bristle Block covered in Christmas lights. There were clusters of benches that were made up of plastic octagons in shades of burnt orange, olive green, and brown. At Christmas there were holiday displays with moving elves and reindeer that broke more and more every year–the Mrs. Santa figure was supposed to be stirring cookie batter, and eventually her hand with the spoon fell off, and she continued to stir with her handless, mechanized arm.

    The large, empty anchor store in the first 3 pictures was a Sears, which relocated to the Columbia Mall in the early 2000’s. Other stores I remember over the years are Maurice’s, Cost Cutters, Kinney Shoes, a cigar and pipe store, a craft store, a magic trick store, Hallmark, Radio Shack, a bottle shop, The Christian Bookshelf, a wig store that scared the bejesus out of me, the “Nibble Nook” (a cheese shop), a take and bake pizza place, and other chains and local oddities. Armed Forces recruiters moved in at some point. There was a two screen movie theater that was unbelievably retro, with red, orange, and black patterned carpet, dark wood, and heavy black iron light fixtures with bulbous amber colored glass. At some point in the 80’s a pavillion was added on to the mall, and it helped for a while–they held boat shows, conventions, and things of that nature–but eventually the pavillion was sold to a church, which of course did little to help business.

    I remember going to the pet store in the mall, to see the “talking” Myna bird, out of which I never heard a single word. I went to Del’s Restaurant–pictured in your last interior photo–six or seven years ago and it was full of grannies in cardigans and waitresses that looked like they’d been there since ’64. Great fries, though!

    I have lots of memories of South Forks Plaza. Most of them are entirely inconsequential, but I wanted to share a few.

    I love your site! Keep the great stuff coming.

    Jill Lynch


    Bohan Reply:

    @jill lynch, signs gone now. Got a new red LED one that’s obnoxiously bright


  2. According to Stortrax, that ex-Sears is now a church.

    Also, Jilll, do you know what used to be in the Big Lots space? Just curious.


    Paul Knight Reply:

    @Bobby, HOPE CHURCH ( ) is located on the west side of the Grand Cities Mall. The Church purchased the space that was called The Pavillion in 1998. The church also rents the space that was used to be the gymnastics center for their Children’s ministry center.

    The Grand Cities Mall has two other churches that rent space. One of those churches rents in what was a portion of the old Sears store ( Thrive Church), the other Church rents a store front (a Prebyterian Church).

    Paul Knight
    Lead Pastor of Hope Church


  3. Thanks for your great comments, Jill. I love sharing memories of personal anecdotes about shopping malls and life in general. It gives emotion and a unique sense of place to a particular location which would otherwise be more bland. The image you created with the armless mechanized Mrs. Santa made me laugh out loud, too.


  4. Actually I believe where the church is now use to be a huge arcade center and then was a gym.

    Sears was located where BigLots, Aarons, and family dollar are now.


  5. Is this shopping center still around? I absolutely love the look of the sign for South Forks Plaza. I’m guessing that’s an old neon sign that’s been up since the ’60s or ’70s, am I right?

    I also love the yellow neon sign for Budget Drug, too. It’s too bad that it’s probably safe to assume this shopping center has since been renovated into some sort of bland, big-box shopping center. 🙁


  6. “Some of the light fixtures, flooring, and existing signage were also clearly original to the mall, which was amazing”

    Actually, in the photos you took and posted here, it looks as though the 2001 “remodeling” had already taken place. Believe it or not, the western-themed storefronts and the ugly orange and blue floor tiles had just been put in…no kidding. Whoever did that remodeling job should be out of business…


  7. Oh, and yes, it’s still around.


  8. Apparently, when the Columbia Mall opened in 1978, it was originally anchored by Dayton’s, JCPenney, and Target. (As a matter of fact, this marked the first time a Target had ever been an anchor of an enclosed mall.) Of course, the Dayton’s was renamed Marshall Field’s and then Macy’s, in 2001 and 2006, respectively.

    2000 was when the South Forks Plaza’s Sears relocated to the Columbia Mall (in a building which I believe was newly built). Just one year later, the Columbia Mall’s Target relocated to Grand Forks Marketplace, becoming a SuperTarget in the process. The Target location at Columbia Mall remains empty.


  9. I was just in Grand Forks for about 21 hours…I haven’t been back in a few years, and while there has been a big box explosion on the outskirts of town (Kohl’s, Gordman’s, Lowe’s, Old Navy, SuperTarget, Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, and many more have all built large stores in the past 3-6 years), the malls seem to be faring pretty well. I was a little bit surprised! Columbia Mall has a handful of vacancies (including the old Target space) but is far from a dying or dead mall–GF is too small to have multiple locations of stores like the Gap, Vanity, Eddie Bauer, and so on; and so they seem to have maintained a following. Strangest of all, though I didn’t have time to stop and look, the old South Forks Plaza has added some new tenants. The old, hopelessly outdated zig-zag Sears facade is completely gone, and a new furniture store stands in part of its place, along with Big Lots and some other stuff I didn’t get a good look at…there is also supposed to be a good sized Ben Franklin and a new shoe store inside. At least from the outside, the mall looks like someplace a person might consider shopping. I am planning a longer trip up north again in a month–I’ll stop by and get some pictures.
    If it helps, there is no chance the place will ever get big-boxed, because there is nothing but space in North Dakota…new retail spreads west in GF, relatively unchecked. Also, I am quite sure the mall remains hideous and fascinating on the inside.
    I suspect that in the case of Grand Forks, and as much as I hate to admit it, the big box stores may actually be helping to make the city a much greater attraction for the surrounding, retail-deprived region…and it appears this may be helping the smaller guys as well. Time will tell.

    A side note–have you ever heard of the former City Center Mall? In the era of urban renewal, they actually built a roof over a one block section of downtown GF, to try and compete with the new enclosed malls (the roof and some of the buildings were removed after the flood of 1997). It was the strangest place ever. I could only find one interior photo, and it was taken during construction…here’s a link.
    As one might expect, it contained mainly local stores.



  10. I was just inside the South Forks Plaza for the first time in seven years. It is a bizarre place! Oddly, there are less vacancies there than I remember there being in at least 15 years.

    The “pavillion” was indeed converted into a church. The Sears space is occupied by a ballet studio, a caterer, Aaron’s (a discount furniture store), and Zimmermann’s Furniture; there was a Big Lots, but that has closed. Also in the mall: KMart, several collectors/junk stores, Stonegate Pets (I think this is original to the mall, but it has changed locaions), Merle Norman Cosmetics, a sub shop, a slightly worse for wear climbing wall, Del’s Restaurant (original to the mall), Jack’s Shoes (a popular local store with two locations), an alterations shop/Tupperware store (really), a shoe repair center, a watch repair center, a wine shop, Ben Franklin Crafts, Ace Hardware, a Christian bookstore, a bar and liquor store, an art and coffee shop, Cost Cutters (where I used to get bad perms as a teenager), and most surprising of all: an African/Chinese/Moroccan/West Indian grocery store. There were maybe 10 vacant storefronts–this is by no means a complete list.

    The mall is, of course, ugly as sin…a hodepodge of architectural errors…and completely fascinating. The parking lot was half full at 10:30 on a Monday morning, and there were a variety of people actually shopping inside. …Dare I suggest this is a dead mall success story?


  11. Maybe it is…an odd mix of locally-owned niche shops, offices, and a few national stores…I want to visit Del’s. I mean, it seems almost retro and…as long they aren’t wearing too much perfume, I’d like to eat there.


  12. I am in my twenties and have lived in Grand Forks all my life. I lived not far from the South Forks Plaza growing up and have observed some of its crumble. It is widely considered the “dirt-mall” by people in my circles of communication. It seems that the main shoppers are older people (playing bingo at the Bingo Palace) drunkards (spending their days at Rhumars bar) bargain shoppers (checking out Big K’s wares) or specialty shoppers.
    The mall seems to be a good place to run a small business without a great niche into the ground. The sub shop that was mentioned (Fat Alberts) will soon be changing to a pizza shot (Slap Shot) It seems the mall didn’t generate enough business for the food shop that didn’t deliver so they are trying a new tactic.
    I have a lot of great memories of this mall, but I can’t see it going anywhere in the future. Not only would it require getting a lot of strong businesses able to draw customers, but it would need major renovations extending even to the parking lots that are in shambles.


  13. By the way, what is with the picture of Exit 100? That’s my favorite exit in ND…as strange as that may sound


  14. It’s just a random shot I included to show how flat it is around there.


  15. Grand Cities Mall has a disjointed design because it was built in many pieces. You can see in the photos here that the corridors change width as they move from part of the mall built in one era to another.

    The original mall was Sears and the wing immediately adjacent to it including Budget Drug. There was no west exit from the mall and no way to get to K Mart on the inside. For years, there was just a bare wall at the west end with a sign announcing a future expansion. Meanwhile, the K Mart end of the mall was given to mixed use. Del’s Cafe was in the same spot as in these photos, but there was also a hallway going west from Del’s containing non-retail uses like an insurance agency, portrait studio, and doctor’s office. Above this wing was a record store, Mr. Music Man, reached by a spiral staircase. (No lie!)

    The main expansion of the mall opened in November 1973. That is when they rolled out the logo seen on the sign in the photo above. At this point, the Sears wing and the K Mart wing were connected, and the interior of the mall was developed. If you drew a line north from the entrance to Del’s, everything east of it was ready at that time. The Plaza Twin theaters also opened at this time.

    There was a fire in one of the stores in the mall about 1976, and stores that had roll-down grill type doors instead of glass suffered a lot of smoke damage.

    The wing extending further west opened in 1977. Obviously this was the peak of the mall as Columbia opened the next year.

    By 1989, South Forks Plaza was mostly marginal businesses and a lot of the chains had left.

    Interestingly, to compete with the opening of the expanded South Forks Plaza in 1973, a block of downtown businesses built the North 3rd Walk-Through. They built doorways between each of their stores to make it a mall of sorts. It was possible to walk from Griffiths to the Ryan Hotel.


  16. what a bizarre looking little mall! some of the interior shots remind me more of an elementary school, and having had a “renovation” in 2001, it’s still quite dated! this mall looks like the type of place Napoleon Dynamite would shop in. wow, a time machine in North Dakota….


  17. What a nice mall fell in love with the new store Bobs Woodowrking & More .. Also very clean.


  18. I recently moved to grand forks ND (Feb 2008) and i found thism all to be quite odd, i am used to older malls such as the Cherry hill mall, or the more recent burlington center mall (renovated first time since opening in 1984 back in 2001) but ,this mall has to be the weirdest time machine ever. IT is like time just forgot the mall, the interior is in okay shape just the emptyness of it and the comparative hoardes of people at the newer columbia mall is staggering.


  19. South Forks Plaza used to set up very elaborate Christmas displays during the holidays.

    The centerpiece was a full-scale Santa sleigh with lifesize, animated reindeer. It was surrounded by faux snow with animated elfs decorating Christmas trees and robotic mice that would pop out large boxes. This display was located in the center of the mall, near the Santa meet-n-greet area.

    In one of the wings, there was a cottage set up with animated elves inside building toys. You’d peer into the windows to see the automated figures. Other cottages were set up elsewhere in the mall. One of them featured a kitchen interior with animated figures of women baking. Yet another cottage had a living room scene with animated kids sleeping in their beds and two animated parents decorating a tree.

    As I mentioned, the scenes were highly detailed. My memories link them to the 80’s, but they struck me as seeming older than that at the time. I’ve scoured Google for images, but haven’t had any luck. If my memory serves me correctly, the displays started to disappear in the late 80’s or early 90’s.


  20. why isnt a TOys r us near here?




  22. My brother was calling this place the “Death Mall” before “dead malls” was a term.

    In the ’80s it was an ok place to shop, not as glitzy as Columbia Mall with its chain store fronts, but at least South Forks Plaza used to have stores. Corny westernesque storefronts aside, which – believe it or not – were actually part of the 2001 remodel, these days it has little to attract shoppers. I can’t speak as to its ’60s-’70s incarnations, but I can supply you with additional details from my ’80s childhood.

    That gazebo thing in the middle of the mall didn’t used to be there. (In fact, it isn’t there anymore – it’s currently an expanse of space surrounded by an octagonal counter, of the sort used by shoppers to have purchases gift-wrapped at Christmastime.) Originally that space had been occupied by a most unusual fountain. The fountain rim itself was not very high, and the sources of the water were concrete blocks around the perimeter – blocks which were all different odd, angular shapes, and painted in high-gloss olive-drab paint. I distinctly recall permanent blood stains on at least one of them.

    In the early ’90s I modeled little-girl dresses for Kmart in the spring time and one year in the fall at the short-lived fashion shows. The runway was placed over the fountain and the water turned off.

    About once a year in the mid- to late ’80s there was a petting zoo at the main intersection of the mall’s corridors. This was approximately under the enormous red chandelier (which looked like pieces of an erector set connected by non-frosted round light bulbs).

    There used to be a VHS rental place down one of the two north corridors. There was also a delightful little place called The French Connection where you could get croissants and coffee. There was a Chinese restaurant across from the Stonegate Pets store. There used to be a Radio Shack(!) and a women’s boutique called The Better Half. The main intersection’s corner stores included a women’s clothing store called Jandy’s; a cheese shop called the Nibble Nook (it used to have a plywood mouse next to its sign); a Hallmark store (a.k.a. Four Seasons Hallmark, with a painted oval to represent each season on the outer wall); and, visible from the Kmart entrance, what had been by turns Kenny’s Music shop, Wy’s Floral, Aurora Cocina, Vintner’s Cellar, and Stonegate’s later location (which closed for good in 2011).

    These are presently Jack’s Shoes; a floral shop; a hair-and-nails salon; and so far as I know an empty store, respectively. (On a side note: Ace Hardware now occupies what had been Budget Drug for over 40 years, along with some other store spaces it absorbed, such as the import boutique Chuie’s West inside and the take-and-bake pizza place at the main mall entrance, which had at one time been Sherwin Williams.)

    In the ’90s there had been an octagonal roofed kiosk in this middle area, which had housed a range of businesses, including one of Vintner’s Cellar’s two previous locations. Later in the ’00s this was replaced by a carousel, spawning marketing use of a carousel horse as a symbol of the mall, but after a few years this, too, was removed. Where it is now, is anybody’s guess.

    Closer to Sears, toward the east part of the mall, was a food kiosk called Food ‘n’ Fun. This was characterized by a green-and-white-striped top, and they sold popcorn and hot dogs. Its location was approximately under that upside-down pyramid which is supported by a square pillar.

    There’s a Bingo Palace in the west end of the mall, which had been a Coast to Coast hardware store in the ’80s. Across from it had been a place called Turk’s Corner, quite possibly the most unusual store in the history of Grand Forks: it was run by a Turkish guy who went by the name Turk, and probably 99% of his merchandise was brass trinkets and brass samovars and brass curiosities. Although he was in that same spot for my entire childhood, he’s been closed for close to twenty years.

    Down at the end of this corridor is a huge concrete addition originally known as the South Forks Plaza Pavilion. Over the years it served many purposes, hosting RV shows, overstock book sales, flea markets and other randomly sporadic events. Today it is the permanent home of Hope Covenant Church.

    There’s a rock wall in this end of the mall too, which was installed around 2001-2002 and managed by a bunch of hardcore rock-climbers from California.

    Going back toward the Kmart end of the mall, you could walk past the cigar store and breathe in a deep whiff of cigar. Continue and on your left is Rumors, a bar/liquor store which in the ’80s had simply been labeled Pub. Across from this was the Plaza Twin Theaters, Grand Forks’ original multiplex.

    To give you an idea how long it’s been since this was movie theaters, the last movie I saw there was Chicken Run, and then the place ceased to be viable. It subsequently became the Starlight Dinner Theater for about two months before those people managed themselves into the ground, and then the space was used for a couple of years as a Halloween attraction, with rather elaborate “haunted houses” in them. This theater space is now the mall offices.

    (Speaking of Halloween, South Forks Plaza was THE place to trick-or-treat in the ’80s if you didn’t want to be outside in the cold! You always got more than bubblegum and Tootsie Rolls! This practice died out in the early ’90s.)

    Moving further toward Kmart you get to the GF classic Del’s coffee shop. This is possibly the one business in the whole mall that will stand the test of time. Its dated, yet ironically timeless, decor features fake stained-glass (by that I mean plastic) panels above the waitresses’ pick-up window, as well as turned wooden spindles, dark red vinyl booths, brown ceramic coffee cups, fake ferns in hanging baskets, a giant wooden fork and spoon adorning one wall, black and white photos of historic Grand Forks and surrounding area, and its original orange laminated menus. A full quarter of the Del’s area is not original: the front quarter with the door that doesn’t open used to be American Eagle bookstore until sometime in the late ’80s or early ’90s.

    Now, looking at SFP/Grand Cities Mall, you wouldn’t think it’s a two-story mall. And it kind of isn’t. But that’s where you’d be wrong, because it has a secret second story, where the mall offices used to be. Next to Del’s is a narrow corridor, with a low ceiling, fluorescent tube lights, yellow-painted cinder-block walls, and brown-gray office carpet. The original bathrooms were down this way. In the ’80s this is where you went to get your license plates, in an office way down at the end. Most people at a mall would have no reason to go down that way.

    Anyway, above this tucked-away little passage was what there was of the mall’s upstairs. This was accessed by your choice of either a spiral staircase in front of Del’s, right by the mall entrance by Kmart, or a stairway halfway down the hall, the type you could duck into if you were trying to get away from a bad guy. Sadly, the spiral staircase is long gone. For a time its step-shaped “scar” remained on the floor, but even that has been sanded and painted over, and the balcony to which it led has been long since blocked off.

    One other business that has managed to survive the years is Nature’s Country Store, a small shop that carries vitamins and herbs and the like. That, along with Del’s, Kmart, and The Cobbler’s Shop, are the only businesses that haven’t closed or moved. (Christian Bookshelf has been there as long as I can remember, although its present location is not its original one.)

    There is one other peculiarity I want to mention about Grand Cities Mall. As a kid in the ’80s I remember that a regular sight at this mall was an older fellow – I never knew his name because I never heard him speak – but he was always there, always wearing overalls, and always walking with a cane, but the thing about him was that he was well over 400 lbs. His belly sagged to below his knees. Most of the time he could be seen sitting on a bench in front of Pub. Watching the world go by. I mean, this guy was a fixture for years. He was as much a part of the mall as Kmart and Del’s. In fact, I never saw him anywhere except South Forks Plaza.

    Anyway, at some point in the ’90s it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen him the last few times I’d been to the mall. I never heard what had happened to him, although I figured he had probably died. He was older and had to have been in seriously poor health.

    Around 2009 or 2010 I happened to be at Grand Cities Mall for something or other, and I swear, it was like stepping into a time machine – that poor obese fellow was sitting on a bench in front of Rumors! After going underground for the better part of two decades, he had resurfaced, alive and well, apparently. He still wore overalls, and he still carried a cane. In fact, he didn’t look a day older.

    I came out of Kmart later that day and saw him hobbling across the parking lot, to where, who knows. It was the first time I could remember ever having seen him outside of the mall. Almost like an apparition he was gone. This time really was the last time. I never saw him again. I relive the shock thinking about it.

    Anyway, I am glad for the opportunity to add my comments to this very interesting discussion! Oddly enough, I’ve actually enjoyed the trip down memory lane. Even just writing this I found myself remembering things I hadn’t thought of in ages. Good times….


  23. Marjorie,

    thank you for reminding me of a few places I forgot in the “death mall”. I also remember Nelson’s hobby hut and coin shop. There are different areas where the floor has different tiles and colors. I know for a long time the area that now has the church had areas for flea markets on the west end.

    I do recall Big Lots moved into the Sears store on the east end of the mall and an electronics store was there for a bit also.

    I remember going to the South Forks Plaza as a kid and recall going to KMart, Sears and Turk’s Corner. I also recall a jewelry shop that was int here and Mouse’s corner, a shop that sold different kinds of cheese.

    Columbia Mall hurt South Forks Plaza and the out buildings that were located there including a Bonanza restaurant and a fabric store.

    Here is the website for Grand Citites:


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