Looking at the list of stores that filled the Mall of America when it opened on Aug. 11, 1992, is like peeking into a time capsule of our primitive lives then. We were still buying cassette tapes at Sam Goody, VHS movies at Suncoast and books -- without the coffee -- at B. Dalton.
Stuffed Taz dolls, all the rage then, were found among the other Looney Tunes at the Warner Bros. Studio Store. 'N Sync's mall appearance was hall of fame-worthy. Linens-N-Things was still brick and mortar, and Snoopy reigned supreme in the atrium's amusement park. Northwest wasn't yet Delta, and people could actually buy their airline tickets from an agent at the mall, rather than online. Reality television was just a blip on our dials then; now the mall's security team is famous for having its own season on TLC's "Mall Cops."
Maureen Bausch was there to see it all. The executive vice president of business development, Bausch started working at the mall before it even opened. And in two decades, she's watched American shopping trends ebb and flow in the micro-economy that exists when you have 4.2 million square feet of retail space under one roof.
"Twenty years ago, did anyone wear yoga pants? Now we live in yoga pants," said Bausch, referring to the rise of shops like lululemon athletica. "Shoes. We have more shoes than anyone could ever purchase." And there's been a boom in chocolate, fast-casual clothing and blinged-out iPhone cases.
Where 'N Sync once stood, now the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson draw hordes of teen admirers. In place of Camp Snoopy, Dora and SpongeBob of Nickelodeon Universe's thrill rides contribute to the faint screams in the background of any Mall of America experience.
And it'll keep changing. With a major expansion slated for the next few years and a renovation currently underway, the mall is ever evolving, Bausch said. "The secret to our success is that we are under construction every single week in this building," she said.
But as it changes inside, it is also affecting what goes on outside, as more malls try to lure shoppers with entertainment and massive retail offerings. "People refer to the mall industry as 'Before Mall of America' and 'After Mall of America,'" said Bausch. "I think we've changed the way people think about shopping."
So whether you're such a regular that the guards know your name or a retailer who beat the odds by staying open all these years, everyone has a story. Read on to find out how four mall veterans feel about America's mall.
LESLIE MILLIKAN NEVIN: SUPER SHOPPER
First visit: opening day
Why the Mall of America:
I am there whenever I need something. Frequency-wise, that's certainly monthly, several times a month in some months.
The mall is the epitome of shopping therapy. So I go there when I need to shop and kind of boost my spirits, and I always come away feeling happier.
I remember going there the day it opened with my daughter who was probably a month old, maybe 6 weeks, in her stroller, and losing my car in the parking lot. I think I wandered around for a good 45 minutes to an hour. Then I finally called my husband and acknowledged that I lost the car. It's an easy place to park, but I was so enchanted with the whole experience of the place that I completely forgot where I parked.
And here I am now. She's 20, and it's one of our favorite places.
PAUL JOHNSON: HOUSEKEEPER
Started working: two weeks after the mall opened
Training Day: I can remember orientation day, which was on a Monday, and in the morning we had to sign up for benefits, go through the rules and the handbook and everything. And after lunch, they said, 'You'll be going to your work areas.' And we're in street clothes! So that afternoon, I was brought up to the south food court in my street clothes and was given a towel and a mop, and they said, "Do this, do that." And I'm like, "Do what?" We were just thrown in. They had unlimited overtime. I worked an entire month in a row, but that was my choice. Yeah, it was crazy. There's much better training now. It's come a long way from August of 1992.
PETER TUNDEL: MERCHANT
Owner: Sox Appeal, one of the original tenants
Not our location. We're one of the tenants that have never relocated, probably because there aren't that many store footprints as small as mine. When the mall opened, women were still buying pantyhose. Now some of the socks are made from high-performance acrylic and wool and the knitting equipment is computerized.
In the early days Prince came in and bought 24 pairs of women's black and silver socks with sparkles. After a while he sent a personal shopper instead.
There can't be that many shoppers who drive to the mall just for Sox Appeal.
Right. Sixty percent of our customers just happen to be walking by the store and decide to stop in.
What's a shopping tip from an insider?
If you can't find a store and you look on the kiosk map, look for its number. Each store is numbered over its entrance. Number 353 would be on the third floor, for example.
MAUREEN BAUSCH: EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
Started working: before the mall opened, in 1990
My daughter works at Gilly Hicks, an underwear store. And my older daughter worked here at Regis hair salon as a receptionist. Whatever your passion is, you pretty much find it.
My son wasn't even born when the mall opened. I told him, "Find a job you're passionate about." And he's like, "I love A.C.E.S. [a flight simulator]! I've loved it since I was 6." He got the job! I had nothing to do with it. And he loves it. He's a sales clerk. I'm not sure he's a real asset, because he tells me, "Uhh, I accidentally took the keys home."
King of Shop:
Michael Jackson came three times in disguise. But you knew it was him. He'd be dressed like a safari guy. We'd always spot him on the cameras, but we'd let him have his peace in the Rainforest Cafe.
I came to the groundbreaking as a guest in 1989, and the wind was so powerful that it almost blew over the tent. And then it went downhill from there for the next three years. There were our competitors who budgeted money to fight it, who said we would never get the tenants. They called us Darth Vader, big white elephant, big black hole. I was hired to convince people we were actually going to open.
On opening day, I was standing outside what is now Kiehl's, and you're just hoping and you're crossing your fingers that these people are going to come, because it was so negative, but there was a curiosity factor. And so I rounded the corner, and I saw all these faces, just thousands of them. The first ones, their noses were just pressed up the glass. I was like, [gasps] "We do have people!" We had 150,000 people that first day.
Sharyn Jackson • 612-673-4260