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The Dayton family took a risk when it developed Southdale as the country’s first indoor shopping mall in 1956.

The area was undeveloped and no major roads drove traffic to the center. “The Daytons had knowledge that the Crosstown would be built, but it was delayed,” said Kermit Halden, 95, of Scottsdale, chief of staff for Douglas Dayton. Highway 62 was approved in 1956 but not completed until 1966.

“People thought the Dayton family was crazy to put Southdale where they did,” said Thomas Fisher, director of Minnesota Design Center at the University of Minnesota, a center created from a gift by the Dayton Hudson foundation in 1987. “They’d talk about having to travel over hill and dale just to get there. The Daytons wanted to play that up.”

The family was also cognizant that a “dale” is an old English term defined as a peaceful place to go for a respite, according to Fisher. Southdale was designed to be more than a shopping experience, complete with a day care, aviary, fish pond and sidewalk cafes.

Alex Conover of Columbia Heights, who moved to the Twin Cities from Winona in 2011, has wondered ever since why so many metro mall names end in “dale.” He turned to Curious Minnesota for the answer. “I’ve got nothing against it,” he said, “but there must be some system behind it, right?”

The Southdale concept inverted the whole model of a downtown commercial center that was the shopping model for the 19th and 20th centuries. “It changed the way people shopped from going into the city to driving out to the edges of the suburbs,” Fisher said. “Not only was it the first heated and air-conditioned mall, but it was the first concept to invite competition. Dayton’s invited their competitor Donaldson’s to anchor the other end of the mall.”

The risk soon turned into a sensation. “Everyone loved Southdale so much that it was assumed the Dayton family wanted to carry the ‘dale name forward in their other malls too,” said Herb Morganthaler, who managed the Brookdale Dayton’s and later Rosedale. “It was a kind of branding.” 

Brookdale opened in Brooklyn Center in 1962. Morganthaler recalled that the family was attracted to the location because it was near Hwy. 100, one of the few major highways already built at the time.

Rosedale opened in 1969 and Ridgedale in 1974, completing the original plan to have a mall owned and operated by the Dayton Corp. in four corners of the Twin Cities. “The idea was to ring the headquarters store in Minneapolis with a store in the south, Southdale, a store in the west, Ridgedale, a store in the East, Rosedale, and a store in the north, Brookdale,” said Stewart Widdess, a former marketing executive for Dayton’s. “After Southdale, the follow-up names for the others were almost automatic.”

The suburban ’dales have been seen by some as the Dayton Corp. sabotaging the downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul department stores, but they tried to mitigate the gradual move away from downtown shopping. Dayton’s added a parking ramp next to its Minneapolis store and incorporated a ramp into the construction of the St. Paul store to ease congestion. Skyways were added as a weather buffer.

“They saw change coming to downtown department stores,” said Fisher. “They changed their model and then they changed it again by developing Target.”

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