University Mall; Orem, Utah

The single level University Mall, which opened 1973, was the first mall in the Provo area. The mall is actually located in Orem, a planned suburban city immediately north of Provo. Orem, much like Provo and the rest of the Wasatch Front, has grown from a population of 18,000 in 1960 to a population of nearly 100,000 today.

Provo, Utah is a city of almost 120,000 people located 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah’s largest city and the state capital.  Provo is also located near the southern end of an urban corridor known as the Wasatch Front, a heavily populated valley which, due to geography, stretches nearly 120 miles from north to south and only 20 miles east to west.  With over 2 million residents, the Wasatch Front contains over 80 percent of Utah’s entire population.  Provo is also known for being the home of Brigham Young University, one of the nation’s largest private colleges, and for technology.  And, due to the proximity to nearby mountains, amazing views can be had from nearly everywhere in the valley. 

Provo, along with the entire Wasatch Front, has been growing in recent decades, tripling in population since 1950 and filling in the entire narrow valley with suburban growth.  The southern Wasatch corridor, consisting of Provo and its Utah Valley environs, is currently home to two malls, which opened in 1973 and 1998, respectively. 

The single level University Mall, which opened 1973, was the first mall in the Provo area.  The mall is actually located in Orem, a planned suburban city immediately north of Provo.  Orem, much like Provo and the rest of the Wasatch Front, has grown from a population of 18,000 in 1960 to a population of nearly 100,000 today.   

When University Mall opened, it was anchored by Utah-based ZCMI – one of the only major retailers owned by a religious organization, the Mormon Church – and JCPenney.  The mall’s opening was a sore point for officials in Provo, who wanted the mall to be located there – in the middle of downtown, but ultimately the developer was won over by the sprawling space offered up by Orem and the proximity to all the college students at BYU, the mall’s namesake. 

One of the first major changes at University Mall was the addition of north anchor Mervyn’s, a California-originated department store operated by Dayton-Hudson of Minneapolis, in July 1981. 

In the late 1990s, a war erupted between the University Mall and a developer wanting to build a new mall in south Provo.  The new mall’s developer convinced JCPenney to abandon its post at University Mall with a promise of part ownership in the new mall.  JCPenney took the deal and ran, closing their University Mall store in late 1997.   A lawsuit and local war ensued, even as the new two level mall – Provo Towne Center – opened in 1998, with its sparkling new JCPenney. 

Following JCPenney’s departure, Local officials and the media were concerned that University Mall would become a dead mall; however, University Mall saved face when Nordstrom stepped in and offered to replace the shuttered JCPenney.  The new Nordstrom store opened in 2002, and helped save University Mall from being lower-tier.  In addition, University Mall embarked on a multi-million dollar renovation and expansion, which debuted in 1998.  The expansion gave University Mall a new junior anchor, Sports Authority, and a new food court. 

In other anchor changes, the ZCMI store changed to Portland-based Meier and Frank in 2001, after the Mormons sold ZCMI to May Company in 1999 following a period of unprofitability.  May retained the ZCMI name until 2001, when all of the ZCMI stores were either converted to May’s Portland-based Meier and Frank nameplate or sold.  The store at University Mall operated as Meier and Frank until shortly after parent company May was sold to Macy’s in Febrary 2005.  Macy’s converted all of the May nameplates, including this store, to their Macy’s brand in Fall 2006.

Most recently, Mervyn’s closed at the end of 2008 when that chain went under, and an outdoor ‘lifestyle’ expansion recently debuted.  The Village at University Mall opened outside the mall, east of Sports Authority, in 2008.  Consisting of over 100,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space for 25 stores, the Village is anchored by a Cinemark theatre and allows patrons to shop outside and enjoy the beautiful mountain views and fresh air.  I have to wonder, though, how well the expansion was planned, because it doesn’t seem to really fit or flow cohesively with the extant enclosed mall.  I really think that if you’re going to play with fads like outdoor ‘lifestyle’ add-ons, develop a design to funnel foot traffic between the indoor and outdoor portions of the mall and form a spatial business model to support and emphasize its use.  This specific development encourages driving between the mall and its own lifestyle addition, and that’s kind of silly.  End rant.   


Today, University Mall competes head to head with Provo Towne Center, and even leans a bit more trendy and upscale than the latter with the presence of Nordstrom and other popular retailers.  Also, University Mall is slightly larger than Provo Towne Center, and slightly better positioned in the center of the Utah Valley adjacent to BYU and its thousands of consumer-students.  In contrast, Provo Towne Center’s major advantage is its direct access to Interstate 15, the major north-south corridor of the Wasatch Front.

The T-shaped University Mall is designed with what I’d call a ‘modern national park lodge flair’, similar to that of Park Meadows Mall in Denver (only much less dramatic), with exposed fieldstone, woodsy colors and dark brass fixtures.  I’m not sure if this happened in the 1998 remodel or a more recent one.  I visited the mall in July 2009 and took the pictures featured here.  The impressive mountains looming overhead and crisp blue skies that day almost made me wish the mall was an outdoor center – almost.  Feel free to leave your own comments and stories about University Mall.

ZCMI Center and Crossroads Center; Salt Lake City, Utah

ZCMI Center, Salt Lake City, 1997

Downtown Salt Lake City used to have two enclosed malls located just blocks apart–the ZCMI Center and the Crossroads Center. Both were torn down a couple years ago to make room for more new downtown development, and another (outdoor) downtown mall, The Gateway, has mostly taken their place.

The ZCMI Center opened in 1975, and at the time claimed to be the largest downtown shopping mall in the United States. ZCMI Center was unique compared to most malls because it wasn’t exactly secular; the mall’s name stood for Zion’s Co-Operative Mercantile Institution, which was a department store chain owned by the Church of Latter Day Saints before being sold to the May Corporation. Popularly known as “America’s First Department Store,” ZCMI had an interesting genesis:

Under (Brigham) Young’s direct leadership, ZCMI was organized by local Mormon community and business leaders, for the purpose of selling goods as inexpensively as possible, with intent to distribute profits among the people; early on, its employees were even paid with store credit. Aptly dubbed “The People’s Store”, ZCMI was founded in 1868, and offered such items as as clothing, textiles, farming and household goods. It has been called “America’s First Department Store.”

It was announced in the fall of 2006 that ZCMI Center would be closing for redevelopment, and demolition began in the summer of 2007. The plan is to replace the mall with a new mixed-use development called City Creek Center.

ZCMI Center, Salt Lake City ZCMI Center, Salt Lake City, 1997 ZCMI Center advertisement, 1997

ZCMI Center advertisement, 1997 ZCMI Center advertisement, 1997

Crossroads Plaza; Salt Lake City, Utah, 1997

Crossroads Plaza was the other mall, located near ZCMI Center. Crossroads Plaza was a major mall and office complex anchored by Nordstrom and Mervyn’s, and opened in 1980.

Crossroads Plaza advertisement from 1997 visitors guide Crossroads Plaza advertisement from 1997 visitors guide  Crossroads Plaza; Salt Lake City, Utah, 1997
More information on downtown Salt Lake City retail here.Thanks to Jay for sending us a great set of old photos and advertisements (mostly from 1997) that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get our hands on.

Fashion Place Mall; Murray, Utah

Fashion Place Mall in Murray, Utah, 1997

Thanks to Jay for these more-than-ten-years-old photos of the Fashion Place Mall in Murray, Utah. Far from a dead mall, Fashion Place is one of the most dominant shopping malls in the Salt Lake City area, with Macy’s, Dillard’s, Nordstrom, and Sears as anchor stores.

Jay took these photos in 1997, though the mall has changed fairly significantly since and is in the process of changing again. In the summer of 2007, it was announced that the 876,000 square foot Fashion Place would get a 230,000 square foot expansion. Nordstrom and Dillard’s would get brand new stores, and the mall area itself would be expanded to add new stores and restaurants, and the interior of the center will be renovated.

Fashion Place Mall in Murray, Utah, 1997

I’ve never visited the center and am not too sure of much of its history, but I do know that the mall opened in 1972, and the Dillard’s store (which is pictured in the link above) was opened as a Weinstocks and then later became The Broadway. The existing, 4-level Dillard’s is going to be demolished as part of the mall’s renovation to make room for more mall space.

Salt Lake City Visitors Guide description of Fashion Place Mall In 2006, Fashion Place was one of a dozen American shopping malls to open on Black Friday at 12:01a.m., and experienced crushing crowds. Reportedly the earliest Black Friday ever, the mall was open for 22 hours… placing a great strain on employees and managers throughout the center. The gimmick seems to have been a success.

Also, check out this undated photo from the University of Utah’s J Willard Marriott Library–it showcases a much-older Nordstrom logo! Any guesses on when it’s from? I didn’t have Nordstrom in my area until about a decade ago, so I’m not as familiar with their older logos.

Undated photo of Fashion Place Nordstrom, from JW Marriott Library at University of Utah