Forty years ago on Oct. 12, 1972, Northtown Mall officially opened.
There have been ownership changes and many different stores, including the anchor tenants, according to Linda Sell, the marketing director for Northtown Mall.
Sell said the economic recession did affect retail and Northtown Mall lost some national tenants when the national corporations chose to reduce the number of stores.
She said Northtown Mall has rebounded nicely though. There is a new Route 21 store and the Express men’s and women’s store moved to the former GAP store location. A school, Paladin Academy, remodeled and expanded its space.
Sell said she expects the tenant spaces to be full for the holiday season once seasonal tenants come in.
“Being a smaller mall, we were able to weather the economic storm, so to speak, a little bit easier than some others,” Sell said.
Noe Salinas, a shopper taking a break in the food court last Thursday, said he really likes the mall because it is organized well and very clean.
On the other hand, Pamela Dubield said, “I think it’s dead in here” when asked for her impressions about Northtown Mall. This was before 6 p.m. on a Thursday evening.
She typically shops at the Riverdale shopping area in Coon Rapids because she lives in Anoka, but does occasionally shop at Northtown and Rosedale Mall in Roseville, which she thinks is busier, according to Dubield.
Fouchee Moua, who works at a store in Northtown Mall, said it is slow on weekdays, but the weekend can be busy.
Robyn Olson frequently goes to Northtown Mall because she lives about a mile-and-a-half away. On a nice summer day, she will walk to the mall.
The mall opens every day for walkers, and there are various other community functions such as a Pinewood Derby race for Cub Scouts, Anoka-Hennepin School District art shows, wood carving shows and Santa Claus appearances bring people to the mall.
“We’re very much a community center,” Sell said.
History of mall
Northtown had Hollywood connections from its inception. According to old newspaper clippings organized by the Blaine Historical Society, a developer from Hollywood, Calif., named Robert Muir bought 137 acres in Blaine in 1965 after having flown over in his helicopter and seeing the major roads intersecting in this area.
Northtown Mall opened Oct. 12, 1972. Montgomery Ward and Powers were the first major department stores to open in the mall. F.W. Woolworth would follow a short time later.
Longtime residents will likely remember another Hollywood connection the mall had. According to an early 1985 newspaper article, a 30-foot, one-ton model of the Titanic was placed on display at the mall from December 1972 until early 1985.
The ship was used to film the 1953 movie “Titanic” and the model was bought by Muir for display at Northtown.
One of the principal partners in Rein-Northtown Associates, which bought the mall from Muir in November 1984, donated the model in early 1985 to the Titanic Historical Society.
Indoor shopping malls were nothing new to Twin Cities residents by the time Northtown Mall opened in 1972. Southdale Center in Edina is recognized as being the first fully enclosed shopping center in the United States, and it opened in 1956.
Apache Plaza opened in 1961 in St. Anthony Village, but was demolished in 2004 to make way for a new shopping center. Brookdale Center opened in 1962 in Brooklyn Center. Rosedale Center in Roseville opened in 1969.
Northtown Mall was the fifth enclosed shopping center to open in the Twin Cities.
Another Dayton’s mall, Ridgedale Center, opened in Minnetonka in 1974.
There have been some interesting architectural features over the years, according to Sell. When the mall opened, there was a sunken rest area amid tropical plants and a man-made waterfall and semi-circular aquarium.
Sell grew up in Anoka and remembers this as being one of her favorite places to hang out in the mall, she said.
During the 1980s and into the 1990s, the corridors around the mall had a “main street” feel to them with cobblestone walkways and lamp posts. An area of the mall called The Market Place had lattice around the corridors and stark ‘70s colors.
Anchor tenants changed over the years. The former Powers’ site changed hands a couple of times and is now occupied by Herberger’s. Woolworth’s closed in 1993 and its space was divided in the late ‘90s between Best Buy and Home Place, which closed in 2001.
Steve and Berry’s replaced Home Place, but this location closed in 2009 and is now home to Becker Furniture World.
Montgomery Ward had the longest tenure of the major anchor tenants. It closed in 2011 and the store was demolished in 2007.
Home Depot is in this area now. Although it is considered an anchor tenant, it is not physically connected to the rest of the mall.
Kohls was a major tenant at the mall between 1988 and 2004. Burlington Coat Factory replaced Kohls.
LA Fitness re-located a few businesses when it opened. One of them was Pet Ranch. Kristin Smith continues to own this business in the mall, although she changed the name to Four Paws and a Tail when she moved next to Burlington Coat Factory.
Smith has owned this pet store for over 25 years and started working at it under the previous owner when she was 15, so she has a lot of memories of the mall.
Glimcher Realty Trust has owned Northtown Mall since 1998.
According to Smith, it has done a good job keeping the mall safe and clean.
“I’m very proud of our mall,” she said. “I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]