The Mall of America as a Tourist Attraction

By Gerlach, Jerry; Janke, James | Focus, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

The Mall of America as a Tourist Attraction


Gerlach, Jerry, Janke, James, Focus


Shopping malls and leisure time

The study of leisure activities has expanded at a rapid pace in the past decade. Traditional studies of tourist venues concentrated largely on swimming, hiking, skiing, or cultural discovery. Many of these studies noted that tourists like to shop. In fact, tourists have always been shoppers, from the days of the Romans to the present. In his 1993 article "The Magic of the Mall," geographer Jon Goss noted that shopping is the second most important leisure activity, exceeded only by television watching. It makes sense that developers would build a place to attract tourist shoppers, and the Mall of America is the ultimate "shopping destination."

In the 17th Century, "pall mall" was a game in which a wooden ball was hit toward a circular wicket down a narrow green lawn. The lawn, or "mall," soon became synonymous with a pleasant, well-tended greenspace in which to stroll, visit and view grandeur of the sort that can be found on the Mall in Washington, DC. By the 1950s in the United States, "mall" was also in the process of becoming synonymous with a clean, protected place to shop, where several businesses were gathered in a single, parking-convenient location. By the late 1960s, malls were being built as self-contained, privately-financed, roofed-over shopping centers, competing with and replacing the older American downtown Main Streets. These indoor malls were designed so that people could both shop and spend time in a pleasurable, if not fantasy-like, atmosphere. In a more recent article, Goss states that one function of a mall is to reduce feelings of guilt about conspicuous consumption. The mall is designed to literally trap the consumer in a wor ld of spending.

During the 1980s, mall developers observed and learned from the gambling industry, which was then adding non-gambling activities in order to attract families to casinos. To increase the customer base, the Nevada casino Circus-Circus added an entertainment section so that parents could gamble while their children were enjoying themselves. Caesar's Palace was next, adding an upscale shoppers emporium to attract and amuse. Children were not the sole target, as women make up two-thirds of all shoppers. To the observant mall developer, the casino approach was ripe for application to the shopping mall concept. The first mall to add recreation in the form of a theme park was the West Edmonton Mall, built during the early 1980s in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Brainchild of the Ghermezian brothers, the West Edmonton Mall was built as a complete leisure venue, including shopping, eating, hotels, a casino, and a theme park. This mall attracts fifteen million visitors annually and has contributed as much as one percent of all Canada's retail sales. A United States mall project was sure to follow, and it sure has!

As is common with most large-scale real estate development projects, the path from the first proposal to the opening of the doors of the Mall of America ("The Mall") was circuitous (please look in References and Further Readings for individual citations of source material). The initial proposal came in 1985 from the owners of the West Edmonton Mall. The chosen location was in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb of Bloomington on the former site of Metropolitan Stadium, which had been the home of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings professional sport teams, until they moved into the Metrodome in 1983 (see the map, "Mall of America"). At that time, the city of Bloomington had acquired the 78-acre parcel and was actively soliciting re-development proposals. The site was attractive because it was situated along two freeways, had ample parking nearby, was close to numerous hotels and motels, and was near the airport.

Despite their success with the West Edmonton Mall, the Ghermezians were unable to finance the Bloomington project, and the Simon Brothers (of the Simon DeBartelo Group) joined the proposal. …

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