In Minnesota, we know how to do malls.
When Southdale Shopping Center in Edina opened in 1956, it was the nation’s first indoor shopping mall. It had 5,200 parking spots and room for 72 tenants. The grand opening drew more than 40,000 curious visitors.
Thirty years later, preliminary work began on the largest mall in the country, just 6 miles down the road from Southdale.
The official groundbreaking came in 1989, and the Mall of America opened its doors on Aug. 11, 1992. There were 330 stores, an amusement park, 13,000 parking spaces, more than 10,000 employees and 150,000 eager shoppers.
Buses and RVs from near (Iowa) and far (Florida) filled the lots. One group of women was tailgating outside Sears, with mimosas and muffins in hand — appropriate for the mall that stands where the Twins and the Vikings once played. The crowds were so enthusiastic that mall officials decided, for the sake of security, to open almost an hour early. And shoppers were ready.
Oshman’s Sporting Goods had 42 cash registers operating and managers said they were selling a pair of in-line skates every minute. More than 20,000 rides were taken at Camp Snoopy in the first four hours, and visitors had checked out all 500 strollers and rented all 40 cellular telephones available.
“It’s more than a mall opening,” said Bloomington Police Chief Bob Lutz. “It’s a Minnesota event people have bought into. It’s something to showcase.”
Since opening day, the Mall of America has continued to evolve as a shopping and entertainment destination. Sea Life aquarium opened in 1996, and the nation’s largest indoor amusement park has gone from Camp Snoopy to Nickelodeon Universe. General Mills’ Cereal Adventure opened in 2001 (and closed three years later), and Crayola Experience came along in 2016. The Lego Imagination Center has been there from Day One.
Culinary offerings also have expanded and evolved, as have the shops. There are now more than 500 stores, dozens of places to eat and more than 400 events each year, from concerts and book signings to fashion shows and charitable events.
Movies have been filmed at the mall, and so have reality shows. You can get married there, too — the Chapel of Love has joined 7,500 couples since it opened.
But for all its expansion, it’s no longer the nation’s biggest mall. That honor now goes to the American Dream complex in New Jersey, owned by Triple Five Group — which also operates the Mall of America.