Up until about 30 years ago, there wasn’t much that made the North Star State  — Minnesota — a destination for international tourists. It’s 10,000 lakes included. That all changed on August 11, 1992, when 10,000 people all had their first day of work in Bloomington, a suburb of the twin cities, at what would become one of the most popular tourist destinations in America, second only to Times Square.

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The Largest Mall in the U.S.A:

The Mall of America has 5.4 million square feet, more than half of which is retail space. There are more than 500 stores, though many are duplicated. For instance, there are 6 Caribou Coffees and three Starbucks. There’s an aquarium, a movie theater, a wedding chapel, and an entire theme park inside. And to accommodate all those people, 12,287 parking spaces. 

You may hate malls, but it’s hard not to marvel at the Mall of America. 

How it all Began:

On April 24, 1956, Metropolitan Stadium opened in the Minneapolis/St. Paul suburb of Bloomington, and was home to several sports teams. First came the Minneapolis Millers minor league baseball team, then the Minnesota Twins and the Minnesota Vikings, and the North American Soccer League’s Minnesota Kicks. But in January of 1982, the Twins and Vikings relocated to downtown Minneapolis’s Metrodome, leaving a giant stadium and 78 acres in Bloomington deserted, and the town of Bloomington economically devastated. The site was only a mile and a half from the Minneapolis–Saint Paul Airport and it sat at the cross-section of Interstate 494 and Minnesota 77, an ideal location for a major development. Proposals included office complexes, condo towers, a new convention and visitor center, or a retail and entertainment complex.

The Bloomington Port Authority purchased the property and decided to focus efforts on getting a retail and entertainment complex built. In 1986 the Ghermezian brothers, who had built what was the world’s largest such facility in West Edmonton, Alberta, signed an agreement with the Port Authority to develop the United States’ largest mall.

Ground broke on June 14, 1989, and on August 11, 1992 Mall of America opened officially to the public.

When it opened, the massive multilevel space included a Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, and a Sears—the first time those four stores were housed under one roof. There were indoor roller coasters fast and fine restaurants, celebrity appearances, and 330 stores.

But believe it or not, the original plans were much bigger. 

It was originally pitched to be called the Minnesota International Center, with 800 stores, an entertainment park called Fantasy World, a 1-million-square-foot convention and trade center, two office towers, an 18-story hotel, landscaped gardens, an 18-hole golf course, an ice rink, night clubs, theaters and a giant indoor lake filled with exotic sea life that you could tour in a submarine. It was to be the world’s largest indoor lake. At 360 feet wide, with six-foot-high waves, visitors would be able to surf and water ski on it.

The Bloomington Port Authority voted unanimously to accept Triple Five’s pitch for the International Center, but it ended up being pared down to about half the original idea. 

A 2015 expansion of the mall included over 150,000 square feet of retail space. Shopping is key to the mall’s success, with the average visitor spending $160, but what makes the mall shine is its attractions. The most prominent being the 28-ride theme park, currently called Nickelodeon Universe. There’s also the 70,000-square-foot Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium.

The Mall of America, at still less than 30 years old, is truly one of America’s largest shrines to Capitalism. But even within its massive halls are hints at its past. There’s a bronze plaque that marks where home plate once stood, embedded in the floor in the northwest corner of Nickelodeon Universe. And if you take the Log Chute ride, you might notice a random chair affixed to the wall. It shows the spot where the longest home run at the Old Met Stadium was hit by Minnesota Twin Harmon Killebrew, 520 feet from home plate.

Photo courtesy of meetminneapolis.

Visiting the Mall of America:

The operation of the Mall of America is a massive undertaking. Despite Minnesota’s frigid winters, only the mall’s entrances and some below-ground areas are heated. Heat is allowed in through skylights above the central amusement park area and is also produced by lighting fixtures, and the sheer number of people in the mall,  In fact, even during the winter, air conditioning systems may still be in use during peak hours.

On the lower level of the eastern parking ramp is the Mall of America station, the busiest transit hub in Minnesota with light rail and bus services to and from the airport and many destinations in the Minneapolis – St. Paul metropolitan area. 

The Mall of America’s Security officers – or Behavior Detection Officers – are trained in Israel, each going through at least 500 hours of training that includes communication techniques, first aid, defensive tactics, crisis intervention, terrorism awareness, and rapid response.

There’s no sales tax on clothing or shoes and over 50 restaurants for every taste and budget. There are even 7000 hotel rooms on-site or nearby. 

Before its grand opening in 1992, there was worry that Mall of America would destroy local retail businesses, but the opposite happened. The people the mall brings in spend just as much of their money elsewhere in the metropolitan area, and even as malls across the country are struggling, the Mall of America is 95 percent leased and employs more than 12,000 workers.

The Mall of America might not be what you think of when you think of a road trip destination, but it’s surely as American as can be, and is surely not to be missed when visiting the Twin Cities. 

Want more great destinations? If you’re exploring Minnesota, we recommend The SPAM Museum, or are you looking for more metropolitan road trips? Check out the sculptures that dot Chicago’s urban landscape downtown.