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.