Northtown Mall celebrates 40th birthday

Forty years ago on Oct. 12, 1972, Northtown Mall officially opened.

This sunken rest area with tropical plants and an aquarium (not shown) was a popular hang-out spot after Northtown Mall opened in 1972. Courtesy of Glimcher Realty Trust
This sunken rest area with tropical plants and an aquarium (not shown) was a popular hang-out spot after Northtown Mall opened in 1972. Courtesy of Glimcher Realty Trust

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.

A portion of a Montgomery Ward advertisement letting people know the great deals that can be had after the mall opened on Oct. 12, 1972. Courtesy of Glimcher Realty Trust
A portion of a Montgomery Ward advertisement letting people know the great deals that can be had after the mall opened on Oct. 12, 1972. Courtesy of Glimcher Realty Trust

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]

  • mall bangs

    I think the Burlington Coat Factory location, formerly Kohls, was built in the late 1980s and opened as Main Street.

    Woolworths was an interesting old fashioned store with a little bit of everything, including pets. There used to be one downtown on Nicollet mall.

    There was a smokey restaurant (Ponchos?) for many years in the wing now occupied by LA Fitness.

    I seem to recall hearing that the Walgreens that used to be in the mall (now across the street on the site of the old Embers) used to have a restaurant.

    Applebees used to be in the mall but I don’t think that space is occupied now.

    I can remember being in the mall on weekends in the 1980s. It was always jammed and there was plenty to do, including during the Christmas Holidays.

  • R

    Northtown was not the 4th mall.
    Apache Plaza has historic significance because it was one of the first enclosed malls in the US, opening in 1961. It was the second such center in the state of Minnesota, after Southdale. Its design, by architect Willard Thorsen, was state-of-the-art at the time. Apache had a spacious center court with a hyperbolic paraboloid roof (hyperboloid structure). The paraboloids were concrete shells, shaped like an inverted umbrella. Ten of these paraboloids made up the roof of the center court, which was ringed with Mondrian-inspired clerestory windows. The mall had more than 60 stores at its height, as well as a large monthly indoor antiques and collectables show. In the early 1970s, the mall was still thriving, despite the opening of nearby Rosedale. The larger mall would contribute to the Apache’s decline, with the relocation of the Apache’s anchor stores to Rosedale.

  • Nancy

    I don’t recall Walgreen’s having a restaurant, but I know Woolworth’s did. They served pretty good food. I remember the fish tanks well. My sisters and I would take my kids to Northtown every other weekend to walk around, shop, and see the fish. They also learned about the titanic and enjoyed seeing it at Northtown. I used to work at Only Deals when it was there. Oh so many memories about that mall:)

  • Karl

    I really like the idea of a mall being a community center instead of solely a hub for expensive merchandise and exclusivity. They should hold more events like pinewood derbies. The community and the businesses in the mall would greatly benefit.

  • Richard J.

    In the 1970’s, I remember driving southbound on University Avenue Extension from northern Blaine and stopping to pick-up teenagers who were hitch-hiking to the Northtown Mall to go to the arcade (I can’t remember the arcades name).
    When the hitch-hiker got in my vehicle, I would always ask them ” Going To The Arcade?”.
    They were always shocked that I knew where they were going to. Funny.

    • Tom Pfoolery

      I believe the arcade was called Piccadilly Circus.

  • Sandi (Magnuson) Hultman

    I worked at the HARVEST HOUSE CAFETERIA next to Woolworth’s as a teen. It was exciting when the mall opened just as I began 10th grade. My family loved having a mall closer to home than Apache Plaza.

    Sorry to see some of the anchor stores leave over the years and still miss Kohl’s being so convenient. Still use Best Buy a lot and hope they will stay. When Applebee’s was still inside the mall, it caused us to shop the mall more often than we do now. Shop Herberger’s only on occasion and little else is there for us now. Hope the mall will survive. It was sad to watch the demise of Brookdale, a real ghost town before they finally tore it down.

  • Jason

    They lost touch with the whole reason people went to Northtown, they went there because it WASN’T like the other malls. They used to hold car and boat shows, people could sit and relax by the waterfall or come to check out the animated scenes on the different holidays.

    Now all of that is gone and so are the customers, rocket science is not needed to figure out what happened, they commercialized every aspect of the mall and people lost interest.

  • Tom Freeman

    Does anyone have photos of the original stores in Northtown Mall. I worked at 3 different stores… shortly in GNC… later POWERS (which was a bit limited in the selections of men’s clothing aka suits rather than just suit style coats but the pants were not really selling what professionals would consider to be high class suits. They did have a nice perfumes and colognes on sale and some jewelry… , and then I went to Walgreens. Walgreens was a nice shop and it had a very nice restaurant. I was sorry to see Walgreens leaving Northtown, one reason is that the street we lived on (very humble homes) were torn down in order to make space for a mega-Walgreens.

  • Ron Hunnicutt

    I always thought of Northtown Mall as the step child mall in the family of the Dales