When I moved back to Minneapolis a dozen years ago to write about the shopping scene, I don’t think I fully appreciated how much time I would spend at Mall of America. Seeing new stores, interviewing celebrities, getting a pulse on consumer desires, pulling merchandise for photo shoots. When the world of print media seems shaky, I always know I’ve got a fall-back career as an MOA concierge, so well versed have I become in the landscape of the mall. Go ahead, try to stump me.
I was away at college when the mall opened its doors on Aug. 11, 1992. I vaguely remember the fuss about the coming of the “megamall”—largely in the context of whether or not it would ruin our beloved Southdale (nearly). Mostly, I remember the Mall of America’s magnet store. A whole entire store selling nothing but magnets—that seemed to sum up the mall in its early years. Novelty, on a huge scale.
In 2000, one of my first articles about the mall for the St. Paul Pioneer Press was a look at how the mall was moving away from gimmicky, touristy shops and trending upscale, just like the American consumer. J. Crew was in; Cabin Fever, out. Hugo Boss had recently arrived, too. Then it left. And now it’s back. That’s retail, and MOA (best bit of re-branding ever) is the ultimate example—a true laboratory of consumer trend and culture. We always sort of knew that need was not the primary driver for going shopping. MOA solidified shopping as entertainment. Visiting the mall is not just a means to an end; it is an activity unto itself. That concept now guides the most successful of brands, from Apple to Disney: The storefront, like the mall itself, is a place to create an “experience” that makes us want to associate with the products.
It no longer seems strange to pass a roller coaster between errands. Minnesotans tend to be nonchalant about the mall. We know how to avoid Legoland on the way from Nordstrom to GapKids. MOA is where we go to for a one stop shop. It’s got our only Nordstrom. Our Club Monaco. Burberry. Lacoste. And the list goes on. It’s where we go for dinner and a movie (and don’t forget miniature golf). It’s where we take our kids on inclement days. But were it not for the mall’s size and stature—still the largest nationwide—we wouldn’t have many of the stores in town that we do. Brands want to be at the Mall of America more than they want to be in Minneapolis. Celebrities see MOA as an important stop on any publicity tour. It has, for better or worse, put us on the map.
For a behemoth, MOA has proven extremely nimble. Right now, the former Bloomingdale’s space is being replaced by a fashion wing. A Radisson Blu hotel is under construction, adjacent to the mall’s south side, and plans are still in the works for an expansion. Whatever the trend, from Silly Bandz to fast fashion to sushi, you will see it come to life at Mall of America. And just as quickly, it may fall by the wayside. The contents change, but the mall’s importance in our retail landscape is a constant.
So how does the most mega of mall celebrate 20? Cake, beer and a back to school sale. TLC’s Cake Boss Buddy Valastro has baked a cake that will feed 2,000. It is 8 feet long by 4 feet wide with frosting depictions of the aquarium, the Lego store and other major attractions. See it in the Rotunda starting at 11 a.m., and line up for a slice to be served at 2 p.m. Then in the North Lot, Beer Fest kicks off at 3 p.m. Meanwhile, this Saturday is expected to be a huge day for back to school shopping and 30 MOA retailers are participating, with 20 percent off sales. That the MOA—just a sugar coated slice of life.