Dubuque is a small city of almost 60,000 people located in eastern Iowa, along the mighty Mississippi River. The first city in Iowa, Dubuque is known for its bluffside architecture and scenic riverfront vistas. Locally, Dubuque is the economic hub of the entire Tri-State Region, which radiates from Dubuque and extends into nearby regions of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.
The definitive retail strip for Dubuque is mostly along U.S. 20/Dodge Street in the city’s growing West End District, west of downtown. This strip includes several big box strip malls and one enclosed regional mall. Kennedy Mall is a 700,000 square foot center anchored by Younkers, JCPenney and Sears with junior anchors Steve and Barrys and Borders Books.
Kennedy Mall has changed significantly since it debuted as Iowa’s first climate controlled mall. It all began in 1964 when Montgomery Ward decided to move from downtown Dubuque to the West End. William Cafaro, whose company still owns the mall today, also lured Younkers and Roshek’s, a local department store, out to the same site. In 1970, Kennedy Mall officially opened with 60 stores connecting the three anchors.
Trouble brewed for Kennedy Mall in the early 1980s as both Rosheks and Wards left the mall within one year of each other, in 1982 and 1983, respectively. Fortunately, JCPenney and Armstrong’s, a Cedar Rapids based department store, stepped in and said “Never fear!” – or something to that affect – and replaced the vacant anchors as soon as they vacated. JCPenney is still open today; however, Armstrong’s closed in the late 1980s as the entire chain went under. Once again, Sears emerged to save the day and took over half of the Armstrong’s anchor; the other half would become a second Younkers location. In addition, at the end of the 1980s a new food court opened at the northeast corner of the mall, following the mall’s second brush with a tornado.
The 1990s and early 2000s were mostly stagnant at Kennedy Mall. It chugged along successfully, and retained its position as the commercial center for the entire Tri-State region as it is the only enclosed mall within one hour in any direction. No foolin’.
But, in recent years, changes have been taking place more rapidly as more Big Box and strip malls have opened to the west of the mall, giving it competition for the Tri-State region’s spending dollar. The large food court area was truncated in 2005 to make room for a Borders store, and that same year Best Buy also opened in the mall’s overflow parking area. Walgreens recently left their outmoded in-line mall location for a stand alone, 24-hour prototype, leaving a large empty frontage. Also in recent years, venerable space-taker Steve & Barry’s opened inside the mall.
So what about decor and design? Well, it’s pretty standard. Much of the decor is reminiscent of the late 80s post-tornado renovation. Without much nearby mall competition, the only reason to renovate or reposition is to offset competition from the new big box and strip retailers in town. As for design, Kennedy Mall is mostly one level, with a main hallway between Younkers and JCPenney and a small side hallway leading from the main entrance back to Sears.
The most fascinating thing about Kennedy Mall, by far, is the ‘escalator to nowhere’ located at the end of the side hallway/Sears/Younkers wing. It leads from the main mall concourse level up a long slope, and is flanked on each side by graduated steps of planters. The whole thing looks really grandiose, and there’s even a neon sign above the escalator inviting you to go up there. However, once at the top of the escalator, only two options exist. You can either go into the upper level of Sears, or the upper level of Younkers. Nothing else. In order to make it even more grandiose, the whole thing is flanked with mirrors everywhere, which make it look huge, or at least like it goes somewhere. I’m guessing the escalator was put in after Armstrong’s vacated at the end of the 1980s, after the decision was made to split the anchor in two. Either way, it’s kind of neat to be able to access both the upper and lower levels of each anchor from the mall, but it’s simultaneously kind of anti-climactic as well.
The pictures featured with this post were taken in February 2007. Leave some comments and let us know what you think.
Here are some vintage photos of Kennedy Mall courtesy of John Gallo. Most appear to be from the mid-1980s with the exception of the Sears/Younkers one.
Update 6/25/08: Kennedy Mall is undergoing an extensive renovation, which will give it a more welcoming and modern look. Comfy seating arrangements have been installed in the mall corridor, inviting shoppers to take a break and relax during their outings. In addition, the ceilings have been updated with a cleaner, more modern design featuring skylights and elegant, arched entryways along the main mall corridor. Not only does this give the mall a more upscale feel, it provides bright, natural light. Also, a Borders has been added to the renovated food court space. While the Borders has shrunk the space for food court retailers, it is definitely a more efficient use of the space and a positive addition to the mall.
The following pictures were provided by Cafaro Company, who owns the mall: