With Minneapolis and St. Paul struggling to keep retailers downtown, the Mall of America solidified its place as Minnesota's retail hot spot Friday, announcing nine new tenants -- most of them new stores to the area.

Two are new concepts from Abercrombie & Fitch Co., including an underwear line that is the second store in the world to open, though others are scheduled soon for Australia and New York. The first Gilly Hicks store opened outside Boston last month, and the MOA store opens today.

The mall also said its stores posted a 7 percent sales gain in 2007, compared with 2006, though it doesn't break out specific financial figures. The mall's renamed amusement park, Nickelodeon Universe, is scheduled to open March 15. The Peanuts characters that once graced Camp Snoopy will be replaced with Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Among the new stores:

• Geox -- an Italian shoe company for men, women and kids -- had 669 stores worldwide as of September, including 15 in the United States. This is its first store off the coasts.

• Pandora Jewelry, which opened in November, is the second U.S. store for this Danish jewelry company known for its huge selection of charms.

• Ruehl is Abercrombie & Fitch's attempt to keep their customers who've outgrown the teen chain. Target age: 22- to 35-year-olds. There were 21 stores as of December.

• Janie and Jack, from parent Gymboree Corp., opens its first Minnesota store (even Wisconsin beat us to this fairly established chain). The stores sell kids' clothing, from $34 jeans to $52 rain jackets, up to size 6.

• Lacoste, with 61 boutiques in the United States, opens its first Minnesota outlet for the "alligator" line of tennis, golf and sailing clothes.

• Levi's officially only has 45 stores around the country, (those Dockers-Levi's outlets don't count) and the closest one is in Chicago.

• Best Buy, which has several stores and its corporate headquarters nearby, should open by early fall in the former Sports Authority store on the third level.

• Papyrus, a premium stationery retailer, also opens in the mall.

Karen Lundegaard • 612-673-4151