When Hannah Farley of West Des Moines, Iowa, wanted to pick out an American Girl doll for her 6th birthday four years ago, her family made the 320-mile trek to Chicago, the closest location of an American Girl store.
Shopping at the Mall of America Monday, Hannah and her mother, Suzanne, were delighted to learn that their next trip to buy American Girl merchandise should be much shorter. The popular marketer of historic and contemporary dolls plans to open a store at the Bloomington mall in November.
"We don't have anything else like it," Suzanne Farley said of their hometown.
Few cities do. Since opening its first store just off Michigan Avenue in Chicago in 1998, just four other American Girl stores have opened -- on Fifth Avenue in New York, and in Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta. Only one other store, in suburban Boston, will be opened this year and there are no others on the drawing board, said company spokeswoman Stephanie Spanos.
"We're very selective," she said. "We want them to be in special locations."
The Chicago, New York and Los Angeles stores are "flagship" outlets with about 40,000 square feet. The Mall of America store will be about 20,000 square feet, similar to those in Dallas and Boston.
The store will be on the east side of the mall on the ground level, inside the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park. Work on the new store began several weeks ago in the space formerly occupied by the Stampede Steakhouse, which closed about a year ago.
"I'm kind of surprised that nobody asked us what was going on, why the walls of what used to be a steakhouse were pink," said Maureen Bausch, executive vice president of development for the mall.
The mall made its first pitch to get an American Girl store nearly 10 years ago, about the time the company was testing its first flagship store in Chicago, Bausch said. Mall officials continued to try to lure American Girl as the retailer opened other locations across the country.
"All of our research continues to show that people will travel and spend time at the mall for quality family experiences," Bausch said. "We've known for a long time that American Girl is that kind of company."
American Girl has sold more than 14 million dolls in the 22 years since former teacher and writer Pleasant Rowland founded the company in Wisconsin. The business sold its merchandise through catalogs until it was acquired by toy manufacturing giant Mattel Inc. in 1998. It continues to be operated separately as a subsidiary out of Middleton, Wis.
Mall officials said Monday that the new store will carry the complete assortment of American Girl merchandise, including dolls, doll outfits and accessories, as well as girl-sized clothing and American Girl books. The store also will have a doll hair salon, a casual bistro-style restaurant and rooms that can be rented for parties with organized games and activities.
"It's a good signature tenant, and it should work very well there," said Richard Grones, founder of Cambridge Commercial Realty, an Edina-based firm that specializes in the retail market. Grones said it can help the mall continue to draw out-of-town traffic as well as local shoppers.
Jenny Hilton of Prior Lake agrees. Hilton, who was visiting the Mall of America Monday with her 7-year-old, Mary Kate, said they will likely return to buy American Girl merchandise now that they see it up close.
"We don't buy a lot because you can't see it [in the catalogs]," Hilton said. "It'll be great to be able to actually see the product."