Friday, November 07, 2003

Blog of America.

Notes on the Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota.

I'm taking the easy way out today, since my recent travels to Minnesota and then Michigan have worn me out. So I'm starting with some Mall of America stats, lifted from the media relations section of the mall's Web site (with some of the hyperbolic adjectives edited out, though I believe their "largest" claims):

"Mall of America is the nation's largest retail and entertainment complex. It's home to more than 520 shops; Camp Snoopy, the nation's largest indoor family theme park; Underwater Adventures, a 1.2 million-gallon walk-through aquarium; a 14-screen movie theater and more. The Mall opened in August of 1992 and is just minutes from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. [That last one is a stretcher. It makes it sound like the downtowns -- both of them -- are on the other side of the parking garage.]

• Cost to build: $650 million
• Gross leasable area: 2.5 million square feet [in the real estate world, the GLA is probably the most meaningful measure of size. That figure sounds big and it is.]
• Gross building area: 4.2 million square feet [an even bigger figure. Enough, I've read elsewhere, to hold seven Yankee Stadiums. I've never been to Yankee Stadium, but that does sound big.]
• Employees: 11,000 year-round, 13,000 during summers and holidays
• Parking spaces: 12,550 on-site
• Walking distance around one level: 0.57 miles
• Total store front footage: 4.3 miles."

I entered the Mall of America on Monday evening, just as the sun was about to set, but I went in through the back door. Or more aptly, the servants' entrance. I'd arrived at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport not long before, and decided that I would see the retail leviathan. But not any kind of in-depth look. I didn't particularly want to do any shopping, and I didn't have any children to entertain.

I took a municipal bus from the airport to the mall, which is only about a 10-minute ride. Best, I believe, to take a ride or two on a city's train or bus system if you can, to taste the full flavor of the place. Or maybe to get giddy on diesel fumes. Anyway, the bus deposited me at the Mall of America Transit Center, where a good number of bus lines meet and which had that tired look of a small bus station in a small town -- and I suppose the mall qualifies as a small town. It had hard plastic seats in a waiting area, some vending machines, and a milling crowd. More mall workers in the crowd than mall shoppers, it seemed.

Structurally, the Mall of America is a square doughnut. Three levels of stores surrounding, on four sides, a gooey amusement park filling. I took a walk through Camp Snoopy, the amusement park, which on a late Monday afternoon wasn't very crowded. It looked moderately interesting. Then I did an ambit all the way around the half-mile of the mall proper, taking time to note the defunct Cereal World -- a story-tall Lucky Charms leprechaun does get your attention, if nothing else. The store that amused me most, and one that I hadn’t seen before but which I know isn’t unique, was "As Seen on TV." Your infomercial products emporium.

I didn't go in. In fact, the extend of my shopping was to buy some Minnesota postcards in a Minnesota-themed store.


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