The Galleria; Edina, Minnesota

The Galleria is a 417,000 square-foot, mostly single-level upscale enclosed shopping mall in Edina, Minnesota, an upscale suburb of Minneapolis. Anchored by Gabbert’s furniture, Crate and Barrel, Barnes and Noble, and a Westin Hotel, The Galleria is an upscale complement to a super-regional mall, Southdale Center, which is located across the street.

The Galleria is a 417,000 square-foot, mostly single-level upscale enclosed shopping mall in Edina, Minnesota, an upscale suburb of Minneapolis.  Anchored by Gabbert’s furniture, Crate and Barrel, Barnes and Noble, and a Westin Hotel, The Galleria is an upscale complement to a super-regional mall, Southdale Center, which is located across the street.

In 1976, twenty years after Southdale was developed by famous mall-mastermind Victor Gruen, Gabbert’s furniture opened a store across 69th Street from Southdale’s south entrance.  That same year, construction began on a row of shops to complement Gabbert’s.  Eventually, these shops became the enclosed mall that stands today.

The Galleria is unique, not only because it sits less than 300 feet from one of the country’s first shopping malls, but also because it has a relatively narrow, long corridor and an eclectic mix of upscale shops and restaurants.  The Galleria is what I’d call an “upscale mom mall” – it caters to the well-to-do 35-54 female set fairly well, with stores like Pendleton, L’Occitane, J. Jill, Coach, Chico’s, along with upscale salons and stationery stores.  There are many Volvos, Range Rovers, and German luxury cars in the parking structure here, which is located beneath the mall’s main level along with a handful of additional stores.  This makes sense, considering Edina, Eden Prairie, and environs are some of the more upscale suburbs in the Twin Cities area.

In 2006, The Galleria embarked on a small expansion, adding a Westin Hotel to the east end of the mall and a large Crate & Barrel store to the front of the mall, next to Gabbert’s.

The Galleria continues to be a successful, upscale ancillary to Southdale, even in spite of stark competition from other Minneapolis-area retail centers, such as Eden Prairie Center and the Mall of America.  However, The Galleria’s upscale and specialty-store niche will continue to work in its favor, even despite having no traditional anchors.

We’d like to know more about the history of The Galleria.  Has it always been enclosed, and was it built in a modular style?  We’d also like to see more cohesion between The Galleria and Southdale.  It seems they can co-exist, so why not tie them together more?  Southdale’s row of restaurants and south entrance line up nicely with the Galleria’s north entrance by Gabbert’s, separated by only 300 feet and across 69th street.  It would be really neat if they were skywalked, or at least had a dedicated and obvious pedestrian connection that was well-signed and marketed throughout both centers.  I believe both centers would benefit from the complementarity, despite being separately owned.

This Best Buy sign is actually not part of The Galleria.  It’s across the street and currently Best Buy’s oldest operating store, but not for long as it’s one of the 50 stores Best Buy is closing due to their recent financial woes. I thought it was neat though, because it’s an earlier pre-pricetag version of Best Buy’s logo.

best buy in edina

I took these pictures of The Galleria back in April 2010.

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.

Southdale Center and Victor Gruen; Edina, Minnesota

This might be the most important one we’ve featured here. Southdale is the mall that started it all, from the man who started it all – Victor Gruen. Sure, there were shopping centers and arcades, bazaars and this and that all over the world predating Southdale, which opened in 1956, but Southdale was the model for everything that came after. Southdale transformed shopping in America, shifting it away from downtowns and into the suburbs. Furthermore, it was built by an eccentric, energetic visionary, Victor Gruen, whose socialist ideals for retail development were infiltrated, bastardized (Gruen’s word!) and changed by American capitalism, giving us the frenetic retail landscape we know today. He had some major help from U.S. Congress, though, who in 1954 passed a bill to stimulate manufacturing in America; instead, it unwittingly created the retail building boom and hastened a cultural change in the built environment as we know it.

This might be the most important one we’ve featured here.  Southdale is the mall that started it all, from the man who started it all – Victor Gruen.  Sure, there were shopping centers and arcades, bazaars and this and that all over the world predating Southdale, which opened in 1956, but Southdale was the model for everything that came after.  Southdale transformed shopping in America, shifting it away from downtowns and into the suburbs.  Furthermore, it was built by an eccentric, energetic visionary, Victor Gruen, whose socialist ideals for retail development were infiltrated, bastardized (Gruen’s word!) and changed by American capitalism, giving us the frenetic retail landscape we know today.  He had some major help from U.S. Congress, though, who in 1954 passed a bill to stimulate manufacturing in America; instead, it unwittingly created the retail building boom and hastened a cultural change in the built environment as we know it.

Before 1956, there were certainly shopping centers, plazas, and arcades dating back to the dawn of humans.  There were even similarly “modern” enclosed shopping malls predating Southdale, like the Westminster Arcade in Providence, Rhode Island, which opened in 1828, and even the modern Valley Fair Mall, which opened in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1954.  And there were others yet, to be certain, such as the Northgate Mall in Seattle, which is said to be the first shopping center to coin the term mall, and opened in 1950.

The idea of grouping like businesses in a marketplace dates as far back as history itself, and we’re not arguing that Southdale started this at all.  Southdale did, however, pioneer the grouping of like businesses with the idea of providing a controlled, sustained, uniquely socialized community under one roof.  Anybody can throw up a mall, sign some leases, and be on their way, but Gruen gave malls meaning; he’s largely the reason we have any collective attachment to memories of malls at all, and also the reason this website exists.  Every mall in America and the world has followed his model, working to improve it along the way, and his original ideas have even given rise to the modern ‘mixed-use’ development popular in today’s new urbanism.

Southdale’s creator was mall mastermind Victor Gruen, an Austrian Jew who fled to the United States in 1938 during the Holocaust.  Gruen grew up in a privileged class of artists, and before the war he attended the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts for architecture and performed in cabaret theatre in Vienna’s vervey night club scene.  When he arrived in New York, with “an architect’s degree, eight dollars, and no English” – his own words – and immediately formed a cabaret troupe.  Then, one day Gruen ran into one of his old friends from Vienna in midtown Manhattan, and the old friend hired him to design his new Fifth Avenue leather goods boutique.

When designing the boutique, Gruen trademarked his famous Gruen transfer, innovating the way stores were designed and the way people shopped.  Instead of the traditional shop layout with entire store space flush to the street, Gruen created nuggets of interest in the entryway in the form of mini-arcade.  The nuggets were a scripted disorientation, drawing the shopper in.  The Gruen transfer refers to the moment when a consumer enters a shopping environment, and, surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout combined with music and an elaborate decor, loses track of their original intentions.  The effects of the transfer include a slower shopper pace, glazed eyes and, of course, spending more money.

The design was an instant hit, driving sales through the roof at the boutique, and Gruen spent the 1940s designing more stores around New York in the same manner, perfecting his Gruen transfer at this smaller scale.  Then, in the early 1950s, Gruen turned his sights to the American suburbs and designed his first large-scale suburban-style shopping center near Detroit for J.L. Hudson department store, Northland Center.

Hailing from Austria, Gruen was a socialist, and viewed the suburban built environment of post-war 1950s America as ugly, brutalist, and lacking in spaces where people could congregate and linger.  All the retail strips that popped up weren’t pedestrian friendly and didn’t encouage people to stay at all; instead, people drove their cars up and down the street to patronize individual businesses, using the ample seas of parking in and around every building, all the while not interacting with each other as they ran in and out, to and from their cars.  Gruen bemoaned this, and wished he could create a prototype community where he still had the control of building a suburban shopping mall but also with a real sense of community infused.

Gruen saw pieces of his Vienna in American downtowns, which had the critical mass necessary for his model but were beginning to die and lose out to suburban developments, so he knew he had to act fast.  Also, Gruen felt he could improve on downtowns by building his own in the suburbs, and perfecting the mistakes that were made.  The way Gruen saw it, downtowns were organic developments, and, over time, they developed mistakes that could not be easily controlled by a planner – the extant built environment built its own pattern, and you couldn’t just put a large parking structure wherever you wanted, or place like businesses in adjacency like you could in an environment you built yourself.

So, Gruen embarked on a grand experiment in retail with Southdale Center, which broke ground in Edina, Minnesota – a southwest suburb of Minneapolis – in 1954.  Southdale was, in Gruen’s view, not an alternative to downtown Minneapolis, but what downtown Minneapolis could be if you ironed out all the mistakes and could build it all over again from the beginning.  The Southdale development was not supposed to be only a retail development either, but a mixed-use development as well, one of the first of its kind, combining all of the ingredients of a model city – retail, residence, offices, medical facilities, recreation, schools and more.

Gruen, like many other retail developers, also took advantage of a tax loophole in a recently enacted federal law.  In 1954, Congress passed a bill accelerating the tax depreciation process for new construction.  They did this to stimulate the manufacturing industry, which had slowed a bit since World War II, in order to construct new factories with new technology.  This law applied to all new construction, though, not just factories, and commercial real estate investors used it to make fat profits from new retail construction.  Before this law was enacted, it took an investor a long time to reap profits from new construction, but after the law assed, he or she could set aside a signifcant amount of the profits of the business tax-free.  This is the basic way it worked:  it was assumed by the government that buildings would last approximately 40 years, so an investor could take off 1/40th the value of the building each year tax-free.  This rewarded investors for building new malls, because the depreciation of the building’s value in the first few years was enormous, and they could reap a likewise enormous tax savings.  Some developers even routinely operated at a tax loss this way, even though they were making tons of profit.  This law was a major catalyst for the glot of retail and suburban new construction which has taken place ever since, changing the retail built evironment exponentially instead of gradually.

Southdale opened to impressive fanfare on October 8, 1956, to 40,000 visitors as well as national press that included a story in Life Magazine.  The centerpiece of the Southdale development was a two-story, 800,000 square-foot enclosed mall, anchored by two Minneapolis-based department stores – Dayton’s, who financed and developed the mall, and Donaldson’s – along with space for 72 in-line stores, including majors Woolworths, Walgreens, and a Red Owl grocery store.  At the time, an enclosed mall was a dramatic departure from the outdoor malls popping up all over the country, but Gruen reasoned that an enclosed mall would be beneficial to this development, and his means, for several reasons.

First, an enclosed mall would suit Gruen’s means of providing a built environment encouraging the social, community-inspired culture he wanted to import from Vienna.  It would provide a gathering place for not only the residents of Edina, but for the greater Twin Cities as a whole, and as such also invented the super-regional mall.

Gruen also wanted Southdale to be an entire community, too, so he placed much more than retail in this initial development.  Many useful services as well as recreational leisure-time activities were combined with retail under one roof, giving Minnesota residents not only respite from their long, cold winters, but also no reason to go elsewhere.  These services included a large restaurant in the middle of the mall, a post office, ample tropical foliage, a petting zoo, statues, fountains, stages for community events, pageants, trade shows, and even a game show hosted by none other than Bob Barker.  All of these accoutrements were in Southdale’s wide, enclosed Garden Court, which ran the main length of the two-story mall on the first level, connecting Dayton’s to Donaldson’s.  Gruen also exiled cars from this enclosed development because he felt they were noisy and rude, which was a strong stance in post-war suburban America where cars were king, but Gruen felt they did not help his communal vision.

To effectively house this enclosed community-of-tomorrow, Gruen designed Southdale with a more socialist lilt than modern-day malls.  The main mallway, Garden Court, is impressively wide, which became Gruen’s trademark style when designing malls.  This design allowed for the functional space necessary for all the non-retail activity taking place at the mall.  It also gave a more human, communal element to the mall – listening to the sound of people laughing and enjoying each other in the middle of the mall while eating at the restaurant in their shirt sleeves in January imprinted warm, fuzzy feelings upon the shoppers’ subconscious.  To this end, Gruen also installed public art in the mall, as well as two large bird cages which lasted until the 1990s.  Some of the original art, including a two-story metal sculpture which hung in center court, is still there today.

Southdale, featured in Life Magazine in 1956, from

Southdale all decked out for the holidays.  If you look on the left, you can see the prominent bird cage:

Southdale’s Garden Court in 1963, from

As time progressed, Southdale was copied both locally in the Twin Cities – by Brookdale (1962), Rosedale (1969), and Ridgedale (1974) – as well as nationwide.  In response to this competition, Southdale embarked on an expansion that added a three-level addition northeast of the original mall.  The centerpiece of this addition was a brand-new 247,902 square foot JCPenney.  The new addition was connected to the original mall via two disparate hallways on different levels, one on the first level and one on the second, both of which led to the  JCPenney court.  Also, a basement court was built in front of JCPenney with more retail space connecting to the Garden Court through the basement.  This space would eventually become a 44,000 square-foot Marshalls, which had entrances leading out toward the basement court in front of JCPenney as well as escalators leading directly up to the original mall’s Garden Court.  This addition was complete in 1972 and gave the mall a totally unique, yet architecturally incoherent layout.  We think it’s amazing, though.

Gruen’s original vision for Southdale as being much more than an enclosed mall was unfortunately never truly realized – the area around the mall did develop a hospital, residences, and recreation, but it wasn’t as organized as Gruen would have liked, and it wasn’t self contained.  Also, France Avenue south of the mall became the nightmarish car-oriented antisocial strip Gruen abhored, and strips like it popped up around nearly every other mall that copied Southdale in the years and decades to follow.  In fact, in the early 1980s, a 417,000 square foot mall, anchored by a Gabbert’s furniture store, popped up just a few hundred feet of Southdale.  Galleria Edina was never a major competitor to Southdale, though, as it houses mostly upscale boutique stores in a mix of half local to half national.

Gruen also eventually grew to loathe malls themselves.  Near the end of his life, in the late 1970s, Gruen remarked at what a travesty modern retail was, and how much it had diverged from his ideal vision, perfected in theory.  Gone were the wide berths of central space in enclosed malls – they were too expensive to construct.  Gone too were the public artwork, zoos, supermarkets, restaurants, and other public spaces in American enclosed malls, and gone before they were ever constructed were the full realizations of the mixed-use projects intended to go with these malls.  Even though new malls were being constructed at a breakneck pace, the corridors got narrower and the warm, fuzzy accoutrements began to disappear.  The typical kiosk-laden mall of today, with a minimalist design and the removal of most extraneous decor for maximized profit, would certainly send shivers down Gruen’s spine.

Disillusioned and disgusted, Gruen left America and returned to Austria a broken man in 1978, torn up by the soul-less, antisocial, monoliths of dispassionate retail development surrounded by seas of parking lots malls had become.  At the very end of his life, a mall even opened in the suburbs of Vienna, and he called it “a gigantic shopping machine” with none of the community-inspiring amenities he imparted in his designs.  Ironically, the mall began to kill the downtown Vienna culture he wanted to share with the world.  Instead of bringing a little Viennese socialism and culture to America, Gruen unwittingly brought American capitalism to the world.

Even before Gruen’s death in 1980, Southdale lost much of its originality and charm, becoming lost in the sea of shopping options in the Twin Cities – a testament of Southdale’s influence.  By 1980 there were 8 super-regional shopping malls in the Twin Cities, and in 1992 the biggest mall in the country opened just four miles away – the Mall of America.  In yet another tale of Mall David and Mall Goliath, where one can expect predictable outcomes, Mall Goliath usually wins and Mall David usually dies, either slowly or catastrophically.  David is sometimes redeveloped, and occasionally saved due to proactive management and an oddly quirky set of locals who might even prefer it.  Thankfully, this was one of those cases.

In 1991, a full year before Mall of America debuted, Southdale’s owner saw Goliath appearing on the horizon and decided on an expansion and renovation.  Dayton’s, the northwest anchor and original mall developer, moved to a mammoth 359,000 square-foot four level store adjacent to its original store, and the old store was gutted and turned into three levels of mall space in a new wing extending southwest of the original Garden Court.  This addition also included a large food court at the end of the new southwest wing, on the third level, and an expansion of the Garden Court.  A new parking deck was also added.  This expansion and repositioning allowed Southdale to compete against the Mall of America, and as it turns out shoppers were much more fickle about dealing with the mammoth mega mall four miles to the east, and preferred shopping at a more convenient mall close to home.  To Southdale’s delight, it held its own against the Mall of America, and being located in one of the nicer, monied areas of the Twin Cities certainly didn’t hurt.

Some notable anchor changes have also taken place at Southdale.  Fairly early on, the Red Owl supermarket was kicked out, and in 1987 the Donaldson’s chain went out of business – most became Chicago-based Carson Pirie Scott.  However, Carson’s was unable to make their Minnesota stores profitable, so they sold them to then-Minneapolis-based Mervyn’s, a discounter that was originally from California but was purchased by Minneapolis-based Dayton-Hudson in 1978.  Meanwhile, Dayton’s was converted to Marshall Field’s in 2001 when Dayton-Hudson (now renamed Target Corporation, after their most profitable venture) wanted to combine all their upscale department stores under one banner, and decided the Chicago-based Marshall Field’s name carried the most clout.  Then, in 2004, Target wanted to get out of the upscale department store business and focus on Target, so they sold Marshall Field’s to May Company and Mervyn’s to a capital management group.  May then sold Marshall Field’s to Federated in 2005, who converted all of the Marshall Field’s to Macy’s stores in 2006, and the new owner of Mervyn’s decided to exit the Minnesota market completely in 2004.  Today, Southdale is anchored by Macy’s, Marshall’s, JCPenney, and dead.

The next expansion and repositioning at Southdale took place in 2001-2002, coinciding with the dramatic renovation of Eden Prairie Center, a super-regional mall located just 6 miles southeast of Southdale.  Eden Prairie Center, which was featured in the movie Mallrats, had fallen on hard times during the 1990s.  However, developers realized the area around Eden Prairie Center, one of the wealthiest areas in the Twin Cities, could support a redeveloped mall, and they tore most of the mall down – sans anchors – and rebuilt the entire thing.  They added mid-level as well as upscale stores, including the upscale Iowa-based Von Maur department store.  All of this was bad news for Southdale, sandwiched in between Eden Prairie Center, the Mall of America, and successful Ridgedale Center, so another expansion and repositioning was in order.

Southdale’s owners constructed a multi-million dollar lifestyle addition onto the mall’s south end in 2002, but instead of mainline retail they added mostly destination restaurants and entertainment options instead.  They were keenly aware that bringing more than retail to the mall would be a boon for its future success, so they brought in a 16-screen AMC Theater, California Pizza Kitchen, Maggiano’s Little Italy, PF Chang’s, Cheesecake Factory, and Ruby Tuesday.  It was given the name The District on France.

At the same time, they focused an area of Southdale’s third level, between the Garden Court and the food court, on teen-oriented fashions such as Pac Sun, The Buckle, and Zumiez.  Called Trendz on Top (I know, kind of dorky, right?), the newly focused area not only made use of an area of the mall which might have become neglected, but gave teens a specific reason to go there, dragging their parents through the rest of the mall.  Trendz on Top premiered about the same time as The District on France, between 2001-2002.

Since the most recent addition, Southdale has struggled a little due to the economy and competition, and its vacancy rate has ticked upward.  In 2004, Southdale received a major blow as the southern anchor Mervyn’s closed when that retailer pulled out of Minnesota.  As of April 2010, it is still vacant; however, in 2006 the Mills Corporation, who owned the mall at the time, proposed another renovation and expansion at Southdale that would have brought a Nordstrom to the space, as well as a ‘lifestyle center’ addition to the mall and possibly even Neiman Marcus.   Unfortunately, though, Mills went broke and was acquired by Simon.  Simon is better poised to manage the mall, and also talked of renovation as recently as 2008, but the economy has ultimately shelved these plans for now.

Southdale is still a viable, popular mall, but ever since the economy tanked the vacancy rate at Southdale has ticked up, and as of January 2010 was 22 percent.  This is not an alarming figure, considering the economy, and Southdale still has many destinational and upscale stores, including an Apple Store, H&M, Coach, J Crew, Banana Republic, all of the restaurants, and the 16-screen AMC.

However, despite these popular destinations, parts of Southdale are extremely troubled.  The three-level JCPenney court is pocked with vacancy, a dollar store, some services, and an ancient Arby’s, and across the mall the gigantic food court only has two remaining stalls open.  In addition, in 2008 Crate and Barrel jumped ship and moved a few hundred feet away to a two-level location at the Edina Galleria mall, and in early 2009 Maggiano’s and B. Dalton closed.  Most of the central Garden Court as well as the three level wing in front of Macy’s is well-tenanted, though.

Caldor and I visited Southdale on one of our first-ever mall trips in 1998, and I’ve been back many times since.  Gruen might not be proud of what his vision ultimately created, but even he couldn’t deny that his influence did at least some good.  I mean, we created this site, and we all appreciate and have fond, warm memories of the malls of our youth.  The photos below were taken in April 2010.  I encourage you to leave your own comments about Southdale, Twin Cities retail, or Victor Gruen; we appreciate them.

Brookdale Center; Brooklyn Center, Minnesota

Located in Brooklyn Center, an inner-ring suburb 10 miles northwest of Minneapolis, Brookdale Center is a behemoth of a mall living on borrowed time. Opened in 1962, Brookdale debuted to a new, sprawling post-war building boom which eventually levelled off as the area became built out. Over time, many original residents serving the mall’s purpose moved up and out to newer and better suburbs, and were slowly replaced by those with a different socioeconomic status. Today, Brookdale is in serious decline, existing as as an ever-dwindling collection of stores inside the husk of a super-regional mall on the precipice of closure.

Located in Brooklyn Center, an inner-ring suburb 10 miles northwest of Minneapolis, Brookdale Center is a behemoth of a mall living on borrowed time.  Opened in 1962, Brookdale debuted to a new, sprawling post-war building boom which eventually levelled off as the area became built out.  Over time, many original residents serving the mall’s purpose moved up and out to newer and better suburbs, and were slowly replaced by those with a different socioeconomic status.  Today, Brookdale is in serious decline, existing as as an ever-dwindling collection of stores inside the husk of a super-regional mall on the precipice of closure.

In the early part of the 20th century, Brooklyn Center was a far different place.  It incorporated in 1911 to stave off annexation from neighboring Minneapolis, in order to remain remain the rural, farming community it had been since pioneer days.

Fast forward a few decades.  After World War Two, masses of returning GIs and their growing families needed housing, so large neighborhoods of single-family housing were built quickly and cheaply.  Brooklyn Center and other formerly rural communities close to Minneapolis were no longer able to resist development, and became built out over a relatively short span.

With the suburban housing boom and post-war automobile culture came shopping centers.  Long before the Twin Cities had the Mall of America, which opened in 1992, they had the ‘Dales’ – a foursome of enclosed, super-regional malls that were developed by Minneapolis-based Dayton’s department store and built between 1956 and 1974.  First came Southdale in 1956, which debuted as one of the first regional malls in the country, and was located in well-to-do southwest suburban Edina.  Next came Brookdale, in northwest suburban Brooklyn Center, which opened in 1962; later came Rosedale in Roseville, between Minneapolis and St. Paul, in 1969; and finally, Ridgedale opened in west-suburban Minnetonka in 1974.

In addition to the ‘Dales’, the Twin Cities also had other regional shopping centers like Apache Plaza, which opened in 1961 in the northeast suburbs of Minneapolis, and Knollwood Mall, which opened in 1955 in west-suburban St. Louis Park.  All of these malls were moderately to extremely successful throughout the years, and all of them exist today in some form or another – redevelopment or otherwise.  Only one – Brookdale – is in dire straits today, following an extended period of decline which began slowly during the 1990s.  Ridgedale and Rosedale are still immensely popular, and despite some recent trouble still remains viable.

Brookdale Center was originally conceived by Dayton’s department store to provide a northern complement to its successful Southdale Center.  Famous mall visionary Victor Gruen, who also created Southdale, was hired to design the mall.  Elements of his influence are still present today in the wide spaces and tall ceilings in the main corridor.  Also, unlike the other ‘dales’, which are all two levels, Brookdale was designed to be one level because it is situated on a former swamp; as such, it has always been the smallest of the four malls.

When Brookdale opened in 1962, it was anchored by a two level, 180,000 square foot Sears and a tw0 level, 50,000 square foot JCPenney (dry goods only at first).  The mall was expanded in 1966-1967 to include Dayton’s and Donaldson’s stores, and JCPenney expanded to a full-service format.  The mall was extremely successful and drew patrons from the entire northern half of the Twin Cities metro, until competition and demographics began to change the game.

In 1972, some competition arrived for Brookdale Center in its north metro trade area.  Northtown Mall opened in Blaine, approximately 10 minutes north of Brookdale.  However, this wasn’t a huge blow for Brookdale, as Northtown is across the river and serves a mostly different set of suburbs (Coon Rapids, Blaine, Anoka, Fridley).  In fact, Brookdale even remained viable into the 1990s, as numerous other malls and even the humungous Mall of America opened across town in 1992.  The late 90s weren’t as kind to Brookdale, though, as it battled a 30 percent vacancy rate and a foreclosure in 1996.

Not long after Brookdale began its first spiral of decline, the mall was renovated, expanded, and temporarily saved, beginning in 2001 with a driven commitment by Talisman Corporation, its new owner.  The 2001-2002 renovation replaced and modernized the flooring and general decor of the indoor corridors, which had not seen a significant renovation in decades.  In addition, several popular national brands were wooed to the mall, including Old Navy, Gap, American Eagle, and Hot Topic, and the mall was given a weird new logo.  At one point in late 2003, Brookdale rebounded to a 95 percent occupancy rate and had all four anchor stores filled.  The expansion involved tearing down the northwest wing of the mall and replacing it with a brand new, slighty larger wing containing a new food court and a Barnes and Noble store.

Several anchor changes have taken place at Brookdale through the decades.  There were barely any major changes from the 1960s until 1987, when north anchor Donaldson’s was sold to Carson Pirie Scott of Chicago and operated as a Carson’s until 1995.  The Carson’s purchase in Minnesota ultimately turned out to be an unprofitable mistake, so all Carson’s stores except Rochester were sold to the parent of Dayton’s, Dayton-Hudson, who then converted all the stores to its Mervyns division that same year.  Mervyns was a better fit for the space, and lasted until Dayton-Hudson -who in 2000 renamed themselves Target Corporation – sold all of its non-Target stores in 2004.  A group of investors bought Mervyns from Target and immediately began closing all of the Minnesota stores, including the one at Brookdale.  It has been vacant ever since, despite an attempt, in 2007, by Wal-Mart to secure a store there, which was blocked by Sears in a lawsuit.  Sears said they believe their tenant agreement gives them the right to approve the stores there.  The lawsuit soured Wal-Mart, who later said they are no longer interested in pursuing the location.

The east anchor, which opened as Dayton’s in the 1960s, became Marshall Field’s in 2001 when Dayton-Hudson decided to consolidate its brands in Minneapolis (Dayton’s), Chicago (Marshall Field’s), and Detroit (Hudson’s) under one nameplate.  They chose Marshall Field’s because the venerable Chicago store was not only representative of the largest city and number of extant stores among the three brands, but also because of the venerability of the brand.  It all ended up being sort of a moot point a few years later, when Marshall Field’s parent Target Corporation decided to focus on the Target stores and get rid of everything else, selling Marshall Field’s to May Company.  Then, after owning Marshall Field’s less than a year, May became acquired by Federated Department Stores (Macy’s), who rather quickly decided to consolidate all of the May nameplates, including Marshall Field’s, into one unified Macy’s banner in 2006.

After the May acquisition, Macy’s suddenly had hundreds more stores covering 90 percent of the country, and they also inherited some unprofitable stores as well.  Macy’s has gone through several rounds of closures to help eliminate these, and in 2008 they decided to eliminate the store at Brookdale.  It closed in March 2009  and remains empty as of early 2010.

Here’s a shot of the east anchor, Dayton’s, in April 2001:

Here’s the same shot from April 2010:

Here’s a shot near the middle of the mall facing JCPenney in April 2001:

Now take a look at a similar shot from April 2010.  Sad, isn’t it?

Brookdale’s south anchor, which had been JCPenney since the mall opened, operated for over four decades before closing in February 2004 and relocating to a brand new standalone store in Coon Rapids.  However, the anchor wasn’t dead long, replaced in September 2005 by Steve and Barrys, a flash-in-the-pan cheapo clothing anchor that expanded quickly nationwide in the mid- to late- 2000s, often taking dead mall anchors and having no qualms operating in dead or dying malls.  Not surprisingly, Steve and Barrys quickly became insolvent, and closed for good at the end of 2008.  The Brookdale store was shed a few months before the entire chain closed, though, as they attempted to focus on their more profitable stores.  The anchor remains empty as of early 2010.

The western anchor, Sears, has remained the entire time since the mall opened, and currently has no plans to close.  A Kohls Department Store also still operates on the mall’s periphery and is included in the Brookdale complex, but is not part of the mall structure.

In addition to losing three of its four anchor stores over a span of five years, Brookdale has also had to deal with increasing competition in what was left of its trade area – the northwest Twin Cities suburbs – when a large retail district and lifestyle center opened in nearby Maple Grove in 2003.  Lacking a downtown of its own, northwest suburban Maple Grove began growing at a breakneck pace in recent decades, attracting a more affluent base than inner-ring suburbs such as Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park.  In order to take advantage of this affluent suburban growth, Maple Grove constructed a new downtown in phases, and the entire development is referred to as Arbor Lakes.  Included in the development is over 6 million square feet of retail space, clustered around a large lifestyle center and a neotraditional Main Street.  Nearly every retail chain and box store in the country is represented in Maple Grove, including those traditionally located in enclosed regional malls.  Located just ten miles from Brookdale, this development more than any other has dwindled Brookdale’s waning viability, essentially nudging it out of having any trade area at all.

Faced with increasing competition, many of the updates Talisman materialized in the early part of the 2000s disintegrated by 2005.  After losing two anchors in – JCPenney and Mervyns – in 2004, Old Navy, American Eagle, Gap, Pac Sun, and many of the other stores brought in by the renovation closed in short order.  Most of the other stores operating at Brookdale are local stores, and the number of national, popular chains has dwindled.  In 2009, shortly after Macy’s jumped ship, Barnes and Noble left as well, creating even more empty space.

In late 2009 and early 2010, the owners of Brookdale Center, Florida-based Brooks Mall Properties, defaulted on their mortgage.  Then, in February 2010, Brookdale was purchased by its mortgage lender in a voluntary foreclosure sale, for $12.5 million.  It’s currently anyone’s guess as to what the new owner plans to do with the site, although rumors from office to residential to a new Vikings stadium have emerged.  I say make the whole thing one huge kitty condo.  One thing is for certain – the mall has almost no viability in its current state, especially at its current size.  So to all you dead mall or Victor Gruen fans – you better get to this one soon before it’s too late and the doors are closed for good.

Brookdale’s website still exists, but is over a year out of date – indicating both Steve and Barrys and Macy’s as being open, as well as numerous in-line stores which have also closed.  The mall advertises having 70 retailers, but only about 30 remain open as of early 2010.  Brookdale also put up a new pylon a couple years ago along Highway 100, featuring the dumb logo which is moderately illegible against the big bird-yellow background, and features a smattering of stores that have since departed.  You know your mall is in trouble when a local cell phone store shows up on the pylon.  Just sayin’.

I’ve visted Brookdale many times, beginning as a little kid in the 90s, and have witnessed the roller coaster death spiral first hand.  Even then, I remember Brookdale being a ‘lesser’ alternative to the malls in the southern and western suburbs.  But I also thought that it was so incredibly cool how dated and cavernous the mall was, with amazingly wide and tall corridors.  And who could forget the parking lot locator animals?  I know I parked in the elephant lot at least a couple times.

Also, don’t forget to check out this more in-depth (and hilarious) commentary from, a blog that highlights – and lampoons – Minnesota retail.  There are also a few vintage shots from Brookdale here – believe it or not, the interior looked essentially the same until the early 2000s.  As an aside, I hope she updates her blog soon!

Feel free to leave your own comments/experiences with Brookdale.  And, if anyone happens to have any pre-renovation pictures I’d love to see them.

UPDATE 4/2010: I visited Brookdale Center in April 2010 and noted the following stores open:

  1. K Fashion
  2. K Fashion Casual
  3. Champs Sports
  4. Wet Seal (who had their own uniformed security guard)
  5. Sears (the only anchor)
  6. GNC
  7. Q Studio (a photographer)
  8. Jackson Hewitt (tax return kiosk outside Sears)
  9. Skyway Jewelers
  10. Payless ShoeSource
  11. Twinstown (athletic/urban wear)
  12. Foot Locker
  13. Harold Pener Man of Fashion (urban wear)
  14. T2 (urban wear)
  15. Chinamax (the only food court stall open)

Most of these stores are located between Sears and the food court wing.  There was only one store in the Mervyn’s wing, and one in the former Macy’s wing.  Also, I noticed now that Macy’s has closed there are distinct Dayton’s labelscars on the building – that’s neat.  Surprisingly, there were at least a couple dozen people walking around the mall when I visited on a weekday afternoon.  One girl was even using the dilapidated, ripped seating in the former Macy’s court to sit and read a book – it’s peaceful down at that end.  Despite all the closures, mall management has not updated any of the directories or signage in a couple years, and a mural in the food court depicts many stores that have long since closed.  They haven’t even taken down little stand-up signs which direct shoppers on a wild goose chase down mostly abandoned wings of the mall to stores that no longer exist.  Sad.

Also, I unfortuately witnessed some trouble when I left the mall via the food court entrance, as both the police and mall security were interrogating some rowdy looking people who were in a van in the parking lot.  Then, as I left the mall, a couple who were walking to the mall were having a heated argument, and a large group of teens were walking abreast in the ring road, completely oblivious to traffic.  Fun times and anarchy abounds at Brookdale!

While all this is undoubtedly very grim, a nugget of hope for Brookdale is possibly on the horizon.  Brookdale popped up in the news in late March 2010, as murmurs of Wal-Mart have emerged once again.  According to KARE 11, the NBC affiliate in the Twin Cities, owners of two stores at Brookdale have recently been approached by Wal-Mart representatives, who asked if they would stay if Wal-Mart came to the mall.  The owner of K Fashions, who has been at the mall 12 years, said he would definitely stay and would welcome Wal-Mart to the mall.  Apparently the option in Sears’ lease regarding anchor approval expires this year, so Sears will no longer be able to veto Wal-Mart, or any other anchor for that matter.  I think if Wal-Mart came to the mall, it could possibly reverse the trend of closing stores and might even save the mall from certain death.  We’ll keep you up to date.

UPDATE 5/6/2010:  Brookdale is officially closed, as of April 26, 2010.  A local film producer wants to buy the mall for studios and a technical school, and possibly reopen a portion to retail.

I recently stumbled upon a set of vintage pre-renovation photos of Brookdale from April 26, 2001 – eerily, exactly 9 years to the day before the mall closed permanently.  Note the original dark tiled flooring, wood paneling, and the presence of all four anchors – including Dayton’s just weeks before it was rebranded Marshall Field’s.

Photos from April 2001:

Photos from April 2009:

Photos from April 2010:

Mall of America; Bloomington, Minnesota

Mall of America in Bloomington, MN

Here it is. The big kahuna. The head honcho. This is it, for the United States anyway. The 15-year-old Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota is one of the largest single-site retail themed complexes in the whole entire country. A few sites in America offer more retail, such as the King of Prussia Mall in metro Philadelphia, and even the Eastwood Mall in metro Youngstown, Ohio, but due to the Mall of America’s large theme park in the center of the complex, it is the largest overall. However, we’re all pretty much aware of this. The Mall of America is huge, and pretty much everybody and their grandmother knows that. What I’d like to interrogate and focus on is twofold: How does the mall and how has the mall operated within its own framework since the beginning; and secondly, how does the mall operate locally in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area?

The Mall of America was born not of necessity, but rather from notions of excessive grandeur. The Twin Cities already had malls, many of them, in fact, and even arguably the very first climate-controlled enclosed regional mall, Southdale Center, opened in 1956 about 10 minutes away from the present Mall of America. It all really began when the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins decided to leave their home at the Metropolitan Stadium, where they and various other professional teams played from 1956 to 1981, to new digs at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. The stadium was demolished in 1982, and everyone wondered what would become of the site. Unbeknownst to many, the Ghermezian Brothers, who developed the megamall West Edmonton Mall in Canada came a-calling, and by 1986 had signed an agreement with the City of Bloomington for rights to the site for a new megamall, an American version of what the Ghermezians brought to Canada. Various other groups got involved, including Teachers Insurance and Annuity and Melvin Simon & Associates, and each brought money and mall design expertise to the project. They broke ground in 1989, and in August 1992 the Mall of America opened with great fanfare.

Mall of America Amusement Park in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN

The gross area inside the Mall of America is 4.2 million square feet; however, only 2.5 million square feet are available as retail space on four levels which are arranged in a roughly symmetrical rectangle connecting four anchors at its vertices. The four sides to the rectangle contain roughly 520 stores on three levels, and each side has its own distinct style in terms of decor. There are also two large food courts in the mall, one on each of the north and south side’s third levels. Due to the mall’s footprint being rather small, hemmed in on the space of the old stadium, parking was to be an issue. To solve this problem, they built two gigantic identical seven-level parking structures on the east and west sides of the mall, and the former Met Center was torn down in 1994 and is currently a gravel lot used for overflow parking. Each level in the parking structures is named after a state, to fit with the whole America theme. Also, despite being in one of the coldest parts of the country, the Mall of America is not heated. Instead, the giant structure is heated by patrons, employees, and the greenhouse effect during the day because the roof is made up of transparent windows, which also provide natural light to the Amusement Park during the day. In fact, air conditioning needs to be run at all times to maintain a comfortable climate within the mall, even during January.

Mall of America in Bloomington, MNAs far as the retail spaces within the Mall of America, many inside the mall have changed while the anchors have not. The anchors when the mall opened in 1992 are the same as today: Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Sears, and Nordstrom. However, the offerings inside the mall have been transformed slightly over the past 15 years. Several junior anchors which graced the mall in its early days, such as Filene’s Basement, Linens ‘n Things, and Kids R Us, have gone away. The mall has also lost National American University, which offered college classes at the mall for many years. However, despite these retail changes, many components of the mall have remained, like the underwater aquarium, LEGO Imagination Center, many sit-down restaurants like Rainforest Cafe, an alternative High School, and even the Chapel of Love wedding chapel. The amusement park in the middle of the mall has also remained, even though it was rebranded The Park at MOA from Camp Snoopy following the breakdown of talks with Cedar Fair Amusement Company, thus ending the Peanuts characters branding.

Also of note are the mall’s third and fourth levels. The first two levels of the mall are typical of any super-regional mall, with many national retailers; however, the third and fourth levels at the Mall of America are a bit different. The food courts occupy most of the third level along the north and south corridor, but there are also many sit-down restaurants like California Cafe and Famous Dave’s on this level. Comprising the rest of the third level on the east and west sides there are many seemingly local stores that sell Minnesota knick-knacks, souvenirs, discounters and even one store which has been open since the mall opened that specializes in only farm toys. It seems the third level is undesirable for many competitive national retailers, save for some junior anchor holdouts like Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls, and Sports Authority on the third level which features a wall of faded pictures of people exercising from 1992. The fourth level, which only exists on the east and north sides of the mall, opened with an all-encompassing entertainment theme, and was comprised of several adult-themed night clubs and a 14-screen AMC Movie Theater. However, in 1999, one of the night clubs had problems with indecent exposure and other issues and closed. These problems were further complicated in 2004 when the City of Bloomington passed a citywide smoking ban in all establishments, and as a response all but one of the adult-themed clubs closed. As of today only Hooters and the movie theatre remain open on the fourth level.

Mall of America in Bloomington, MNFinally, I wanted to examine how the Mall of America functions locally in the Twin Cities area. When it opened in 1992, the Mall of America was controversial for many residents and local businesses, wondering how they would compete with this monster in the backyard. Surprisingly, though, the Mall of America did not kill every single other mall in the region. Drawing largely on tourists who come specifically for the mall from neighboring states, nationally, or even internationally, the local malls in the area still continue to be local. Many Twin Cities residents feel the Mall of America is too large for the typical shopping trip many people traditionally take to their local malls, spending an hour or two there, and continue to shop at places like Burnsville Center, Ridgedale Mall, Eden Prairie Center, Southdale Mall, and many others. Many who go to the Mall of America are out-of-towners, and this is implicit in the car license plates found in the mall’s behemoth parking structures. An inordinate amount are from the Dakotas, Iowa, Wisconsin, and other regional states. People in the Twin Cities metro have mostly continued to patronize their local malls, and even renovate them extensively. Even the malls which were damaged by the opening of the Mall of America have bounced back, like Eden Prairie Center which was partially demolished and rebuilt with a completely new theme and as an enclosed mall in 2002. Other malls have also been extensively renovated in recent years, like Rosedale Center, and more recently Ridgedale and Burnsville Center. Even the farther flung malls are reinventing, like Northtown Mall in Blaine, and two brand-new large lifestyle centers have even been recently constructed in east-suburban Woodbury and northwest-suburban Maple Grove. In addition, the retail in downtown Minneapolis has also continued to be a destination for locals. So, retail locations are not in short supply or hurting by any means in the Twin Cities area due to the presence of the Mall.

Furthering the importance of tourism to the Mall of America, Metro Transit’s inaugural Hiawatha Line connected the mall via light rail to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and downtown Minneapolis in June 2004. Since the hub airport is literally across I-494 from the Mall, the short five-minute train ride has allowed connecting travelers to visit the mall even on relatively short layovers. Also, Bloomington is centrally located within the Twin Cities area, between the hub cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and several miles south.

Mall of America in Bloomington, MNSo what’s next for the Mall of America? A lot, actually, is in the works, including a major expansion many years in the making which will allow the Mall to reclaim its top spot. Mall of America Phase II, which is scheduled to begin construction later in 2007, will more than double the size of the mall. Included in the expansion are more upscale retailers, and a diversity of offerings including a 6,000 seat music theatre, new hotel, water park and non-department store anchors like Bass Pro Shops which will hinge off the current mall’s north end on the former site of the Met Center. In fact, a piece of Phase II already opened in 2004 with Ikea, which will be connected to the new development via skywalk. The new development is not without controversies, as many wonder how the Ghermezians will finance the project. They are currently asking the state of Minnesota to finance a new parking structure for Phase II and for tax-free building materials for the project. But, it appears they have cleared the first minor hurdle, as the City of Bloomington has already approved preliminary plans for the project. It will be very interesting to see how Phase II is integrated and all of its offerings, and whether it will open on schedule in 2011.

Here are some pictures of the outside of the mall, including the behemoth anchors and the parking structures:

Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN

Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN

Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN

Inside of the mall’s retail perimeter:

Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN

Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN

Mall of America in Bloomington, MN

Inside the Park @ MOA:

Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN

Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN Mall of America in Bloomington, MN

Mall of America in Bloomington, MN

Northbridge Mall; Albert Lea, Minnesota

Northbridge Mall Food Court in Albert Lea, MN

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.

Northbridge Mall Herberger's in Albert Lea, MNBut 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.  

Northbridge Mall ShopKo in Albert Lea, MN Northbridge Mall Food Court in Albert Lea, MN Northbridge Mall in Albert Lea, MN

 Northbridge Mall in Albert Lea, MN Northbridge Mall in Albert Lea, MN Northbridge Mall in Albert Lea, MN



Skyline Mall; Albert Lea, Minnesota

Skyline Mall in Albert Lea, MN

We like to root for the retail underdog. Don’t get us wrong, we love all things retail, but we appreciate older, outmoded, and visibly dated centers and hold them with special regards. Perhaps it’s our appreciation of retail history, a throwback to our youths, our dislike for retail homogenization, or even something entirely different altogether. Either way, as a result of this appreciation, our next two posts take us to a very typical midwestern town in southern Minnesota.

Strategically located at the intersection of two major interstates, 90 and 35, Albert Lea is home to about 18,000 people. This may seem small, Albert Lea’s retail arm extends into a larger trade area encompassing many smaller communities in south central Minnesota and north central Iowa, which is less than 10 miles south of Albert Lea. With that said, however, many people in Albert Lea and the surrounding areas also travel to areas with a wider variety of retail offerings such as the Twin Cities, about 90 miles away, or to closer shopping areas in Austin, Rochester, and Mason City, Iowa.

As a result of the relatively large distances to other cities, Albert Lea has above average retail offerings for a city its size, including two enclosed malls on opposing sides of town, Skyline Mall and Northbridge Mall. Yes, there are two enclosed malls for 18,000 people. Skyline Mall opened in 1966 on the west side of Albert Lea along Main St. near the intersection with Highways 13 and 69. During Skyline Mall’s heyday, it was anchored by JCPenney on the east side, Montgomery Ward on the west, and an IGA grocery store anchored the north end of the mall.

During the 1980s, however, Skyline Mall fell out of favor, possibly as a combined result of increasing competition from distant cities, its age, and changing trends in shopping in general. In 1983, the first blow came as Montgomery Ward closed. A couple years later, the IGA also closed, leaving two anchors vacant at Skyline Mall. As if that weren’t enough, in 1987 an entirely new mall, Northbridge Mall, was constructed across town. The new mall was modern, larger, and had more features shoppers were beginning to demand such as a food court. In addition, Northbridge is adjacent to an exit from Interstate 90, whereas Skyline Mall is not. Northbridge is also closer to where much of the growth is occurring in Albert Lea, on the east and north edges of town.

After Northbridge opened, Skyline continued on and attempted to reposition itself as an ancillary to Northbridge, featuring many local or discount retailers to complement Northbridge’s higher-end and national chain offerings. Indicative of this repositioning was the placement of one of the area’s first Wal-Marts in Skyline Mall, replacing Montgomery Ward as the west anchor. However, it was not enough to sustain the mall and many stores continued to leave. Ben Franklin, Stevenson’s clothing store, and several more stores closed in the early 1990s and finally JCPenney closed in 1993 or 1994, leaving Skyline with just one anchor.

The past decade or so has seen Skyline evolve from a retail center into a hybrid enclosed community/office/retail center. The hardware store and several other small shops are still open, but there are also a Senior Center and offices. Wal-Mart has recently left Skyline Mall to build a standalone Supercenter across town, on the east side near Interstate 35. As Skyline Mall continues to soldier on anchorless, it completes the transition from retail to community center and your guess is as good as ours what the future will bring.

We visited Skyline Mall in Albert Lea in September 2001 and took the photos featured herein. JCPenney had been replaced by Rainbow Foods, but that has since closed. Jo-Ann Fabrics and Hardware Hank are still open as of December 2006. Leave some comments and let us know what you think, and don’t forget to check out the vintage sign.

Skyline Mall Rainbow Foods in Albert Lea, MN Skyline Mall Wal-Mart in Albert Lea, MN Skyline Mall in Albert Lea, MN

Skyline Mall in Albert Lea, MN Skyline Mall in Albert Lea, MN Skyline Mall in Albert Lea, MN

Skyline Mall Jo-Ann Fabrics in Albert Lea, MN Skyline Mall in Albert Lea, MN

Winona Mall; Winona, Minnesota

Winona Mall exterior pylon in Winona, MNWinona Rocks!  Well, at least that’s what someone at the University of Wisconsin was thinking as they scrawled that declaration into several rows of desks in a large chemistry lecture hall there.  Very curious, I thought.  What or who did they mean?  Winona Ryder?  Wynonna Judd?  Maybe it was someone from Winona, Minnesota, who was proud of his or her town. 

Regardless of what that cryptic scrawling meant, Winona, MN, actually does rock.  It’s a small Mississippi River city of about 27,000 approximately 30 miles north of La Crosse, or about 100 miles downriver from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  Most of the city itself actually lies on an island in the middle of the river, and the city is surrounded on all sides by giant bluffs which majestically tower some 500-1000 feet over town.  The city’s downtown is full of shops and activity along the picturesque shores of the River.   

Needless to say, Winona does not come up short in natural beauty.  But, what else makes it rock?  The small enclosed Winona Mall does, of course.  Opened in 1966, the mall was part of a national trend or fad of relocating retail and central business districts from downtowns and into the periphery of American suburbia.  Winona Mall is located along the busy retail corridor of Highway 61 on the west side of town.  Winona Mall was originally anchored by Montgomery Ward, which I presume was in the space the grocery store currently occupies.  When Wards left is a mystery to me, but I’d speculate it was quite a while ago and definitely not within the past ten years.

Now, Winona Mall isn’t large (or even medium-sized); it’s possibly one of the smaller malls we’ve featured here.  Park Midwest realty, which manages Winona Mall’s leasing (pdf file), reports it is only 138,000 square feet.  It felt a bit larger to me, but possibly because it only has one anchor space and it’s a grocery store.  So, most of the 138,000 square feet is enclosed mall space.  That space is set up like a rudimentary C, with the grocery store hinging off the side.  It’s also important to note that although the mall only has the grocery store anchor attached, K-Mart is across the street.    

The decor and marketing of Winona Mall also makes it rock.  Throughout the small enclosed center, the ceiling is made up of very slanty, shiny, brass colored panels which makes it very unique, and very dated.  In addition, the mall also prints directories, which is unusual for a mall this size (and quite cool).  Also, the mall features one of the last original Two Plus Two stores, a chain much like Claire’s Accessories which operated in many of the malls of my childhood. 

In the past several years, Winona Mall has experienced a renaissance of sorts.  Faced with many vacancies and an unstable future, the mall’s leasing agent aggressively retenanted the mall and vacancy shot up from 50 to close to 80%.   

Take a look at the pictures below.  They were taken August 2006 by yours truly.  As always, share anything you’d like about Winona Mall.

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Har Mar Mall; Roseville, Minnesota

Har Mar Mall entrance in Roseville, MN

Located in Roseville, Minnesota, almost smack dab in the middle of the Twin Cities metro area, Har Mar Mall opened in 1961.  It was designed by the same company which built Apache Plaza in nearby St. Anthony and opened the same year (Apache Plaza failed as a mall and was torn down in 2004).  However, unlike Apache Plaza, Har Mar Mall thrives, despite being less than a mile away from one of the Twin Cities’ most popular regional malls: Rosedale Center.  It accomplished success by finding a retail niche and being purposely downmarket from Rosedale, and other Twin Cities traditional malls. 

It wasn’t always this way.  In 1981, a tornado swept through the Twin Cities area and damaged much of the area around the mall.  Later, Har Mar Mall had fallen on rough times until about the mid-1990s, and decided to take on an experiment to see if it could still be viable in the 21st century.  It failed to compete with the glitzier, bigger Rosedale Center just up the street and reinvented itself by replacing the anchors with big-box stores and off price, nontraditional anchors and stores.  That’s not to say that Family Dollar and Shaniqua’s Wig Barn have set up shop; instead, very popular, upmarket as well as off-price anchors which usually set up in strip malls make up the eclectic mix of Har Mar Mall.  The anchors are: Barnes and Noble, TJMaxx, Cub Foods (A chain grocery store based in the Twin Cities), Marshalls, and Northwestern Bookstore.  Until the early 00s there was also a large Mars Music, but that closed with the entire chain. There’s also an 11-screen movie theater, a pet store, a phone store, a local book store, and much more.  Instead of a food court, Har Mar has both fast food and sit-down restaurants tucked back at one end of the mall.  Uniquely, all the fast food and sit-down establishments both have mall access as well as outdoor entrances. 

Other design features make Har Mar truly unique and intriguing.  The floorplan of the mall consists of a series of right angles, so the mall continuously zig-zags.  In all, there are 4 separate hallways from the food area to Cub Foods.  The longest and most interesting hallway is the corridor with Barnes and Noble.  It is massively wide, and features an arched ceiling with large windows allowing natural light to come in during the day.  There’s also a small basement court here with a community room.  Another weird part of the mall is the hallway between the food and Marshall’s.  About halfway down, it inexplicably becomes a ramp, making Marshall’s and the rest of the mall from that point several feet lower.  It’s much more dramatic in person, much like the continuous sloping of the Dartmouth Mall near New Bedford, Mass.  

I visited the mall and took these pictures in March, 2000.  I’ve visited more recently and it hasn’t changed.  It continues to be a popular center for mostly locals to watch a movie, buy groceries, get books, and go out to eat.  It’s essentially a strip mall cobbled together into an indoor mall, and for that reason alone it deserves merit.  However, it’s also got a great floor plan and some wonderful design features so it’s even better.  Har Mar Superstar, a performer from the area who took his name from the mall, would most certainly agree.

UPDATE 1/2/07: This entry about Har Mar and the closure of the theatres is featured in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.


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Har Mar Mall in Roseville, MN