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Continued: Empty big boxes are finding new purposes in Minnesota

  • Article by: JANET MOORE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 5, 2014 - 4:49 PM

The Midway HealthEast clinic was two stories that had to be retrofitted to accommodate mammography, physical therapy, lab and X-ray services, Kaiser said. Skylights (and natural light) were added to what was an inward-facing box. Former grocery stores, like Rainbow, are fairly large and deep, making it difficult to carve them up for a new user.

But if the location is right, a new concept and a little ­renovation can work.

Businessman Barry Zelickson had an idea for a family-oriented entertainment facility and searched for some time before coming upon a shuttered Kmart store in Minnetonka. The location at Hwys. 7 and 101 was primo, and the store featured outdoor space (the discounter’s former auto repair shop and garden center), which was important, because he wanted to feature outdoor attractions, as well.

That’s how the Big Thrill Factory was born, opening in March 2013. The concept features bowling, laser tag, an arcade, bumper cars, a cafe and birthday-party rooms inside, and mini-golf, trampolines, a giant slide and a climbing wall outside. There’s no hint of any blue-light specials, nor of the drive-in theater that was there before Kmart moved in.

The renovation took months, Zelickson said. “Any time you retool something, it’s going to be more difficult than starting from scratch.”

He won’t reveal the investment cost, except to say it was significant, but says business is “going great.” He’s in the process of adding new attractions.


Janet Moore • 612-673-7752


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  • from this … … to thisA shuttered Kmart store made for a lonely presence in New Hope.The Myth nightclub in Maplewood once housed a Just for Feet store.The Spam Museum in Austin, Minn., grew out of a closed Kmart.

  • Big Thrill Factory owner Barry Zelickson has transformed the former Kmart in Minnetonka into a kids’ paradise.

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