Four-year-old Luna Beckelman of Minneapolis celebrated her birthday with nearly 50 of her friends at Rosedale Center, something most shopping malls wouldn’t allow.
Why? Because Luna is a dog.
Rosedale in January started allowing people to walk their dogs inside the mall for two hours on Sunday mornings before the stores open at 11. It appears to be the only mall in the country doing such a thing. The idea emerged when three mall managers, all dog owners, talked about the difficulties of walking dogs outside in winter.
The only rules: dogs have to stay on a leash and owners should try to clean up after them. The mall provides baggies and paper towels.
“We thought we’d see 20 dogs on the first Sunday and there were hundreds,” said Lindsay Wlaschin, assistant marketing manager at Rosedale. “It’s snowballed into something greater and greater each week.”
Mall executives extended the Sunday morning dog walks into May and, this week, they decided to make them permanent.
“It’s the most awesome thing ever,” said Becky Winslow of St. Paul, when she heard the news. She’s brought Foxie, her Pekingese-shih tzu mix, to the mall several times. “It’s during church, so it limits the time we can spend there, but my grandkids won’t quit asking when I will take them again.”
Winslow brought her grandkids Anja, 7, and Calvin, 9, because they don’t have a dog at home. “I love it,” Calvin said. “I saw a dog poop on the floor but the person cleaned it up.”
Accidents happen and the mall also brings in extra cleaning staff on Sundays to wipe floors and empty trash cans after 11. The escalators are kept off during the walking hours because many dogs are afraid of them.
Julie Gebhard, manager of Lush cosmetics, puts out five large water bowls for the dogs in front of her store. “Every day I hear thank-yous from customers who love what Rosedale is doing,” she said. “We’re big advocates of no animal testing, so we give out treats and put out water.”
Liz Ostrander, Rosedale’s senior marketing manager, said the event has “become a community gathering where people are meeting with their friends and neighbors as a Sunday ritual.”
Malls and open-air lifestyle centers occasionally hold dog-friendly promotions, and service animals are always welcome with their owners. But malls are experimenting with new ways to attract people as the retailers they house contend with online competition.
“Malls need to start seeing how people enjoy their lives instead of only how they spend their money,” Marshal Cohen, a retail analyst at NPD Group, said. “Pets are an important part of people’s lives and it’s about time that retailers are sensitive to this.”
Luna’s owners, Marc Beckelman and Beth LaForge of Minneapolis, invited 20 of their human friends, who brought 30 four-legged ones, to a recent Sunday morning walk to celebrate the dog’s birthday. “My wife made cupcakes for the humans and peanut butter pupcakes for the dogs,” Beckelman said.
He said the couple are shopping more at the mall as a result. And other dog-walkers are, too. “A lot of people come back after they walk the dogs,” said Andrew Monk, who works at the mall’s Abercrombie & Fitch store.
Wlaschin said the mall has seen a 10 percent increase in visitors on Sundays. “We’re seeing a lot of people we wouldn’t normally get from the western suburbs,” she said.
A few dog walkers say they put their dog in the car at 11 and shop for a bit if the weather is warm enough. Others return at another time.
“I came back to buy a scarf I saw as we were slowly walking by all the stores,” said Janice Wahlstrom of Arden Hills. She and her husband, Gary, brought their 8-year-old boxer, Jordan, who walks with the aid of a wheelchair due to degenerative myelopathy.
“Jordan doesn’t like to walk outside and boxers are known to be stubborn. If she’s not motivated to move, she won’t,” Gary said. But the boxer loves walking the mall’s halls as much as any teen. “She loves the attention. I don’t see her smiling as much since she got the disease, but her smile here is a mile long.”
It’s not just cold weather, slick sidewalks and muddy lawns that have dog owners hauling their pooches to the mall. Megan Eliason of Apple Valley brings her corgis Wigglebutt and Bubblebutt in hopes of “meeting other crazy corgi owners.” She met Michelle Stremikis of Blaine that way.
“This is a good place to bring them year-round because when you have animals that are so low to the ground like corgis, they don’t get dirty in the mall,” she said. “The dogs like the socialization and for me it’s almost like going to a dog show because you see so many breeds.”
Jane Jacobson, head of the obedience department at the Twin Cities Obedience Training Club, said that since all the dogs are required to be on leashes, the mall presents good training opportunities. “Sometimes you just want your dog to ignore other people and dogs when you’re on a walk. This is a great place to work on it,” she said.
Even as the mall extends the Sunday morning dog walks to a year-round activity, the 11 a.m. limit will remain in place. There’s shopping to be done, after all, and, Wlaschin noted, “We want to be respectful of people with allergies.”
When the weather turns warmer, many dog owners say they still plan to still visit Rosedale for Sunday morning walks. Beckelman said he, his wife and Luna have made new friends.
“Luna loves the belly rubs and hugs she gets from everyone,” he said. “She gets a lot of energy out. She’s ready for a nap when we leave.”