Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines, IA: A Retail Saga Like No Other

Ah, Merle Hay Mall! If you’re a Des Moines, Iowa resident, you’ve likely spent many weekends wandering its corridors.

Opened in 1959, this mall is one of the oldest enclosed shopping centers in the United States. But let’s not dwell on the past. The mall has seen better days, and it’s fighting to stay relevant.

So, what’s the real story behind this iconic place? Buckle up because you’re in for a rollercoaster ride of retail drama, community spirit, and a dash of nostalgia.

The Golden Years of Merle Hay Mall

Ah, the good old days! Merle Hay Mall was once the epitome of retail splendor. Imagine walking into a bustling hub filled with the latest fashion, gadgets, and mouth-watering eateries.

This was the place to be, especially during the holiday season. The mall was more than just a shopping center; it was a social gathering spot.

Families, teenagers, and couples flocked to the mall, making it a vibrant part of the community. From holiday events to summer sales, Merle Hay Mall was the heartbeat of Des Moines. It was the go-to destination, from first dates to last-minute Christmas shopping.

“The mall was more than just a shopping center; it was the heartbeat of Des Moines.”

Remember Younkers? Ah, the memories! Anchor stores like these were the pillars that held up the mall’s reputation. They drew in the crowds, and the smaller stores thrived because of them. It was a symbiotic relationship that worked wonders for everyone involved.

In its heyday, the mall offered a diverse range of stores that catered to every need and want. Whether you were hunting for high-end fashion or scoring deals at a discount store, Merle Hay Mall had it all. It was a retail utopia that seemed too good to be true. And perhaps it was.

But all good things must come to an end, right? As the years rolled by, the retail landscape began to shift. Online shopping became the norm, and the mall started feeling the heat. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The Changing Retail Landscape and Merle Hay Mall

The 21st century brought a wave of change that no one saw coming. Online shopping started to dominate, and brick-and-mortar stores felt the pinch. Merle Hay Mall was no exception. The loss of anchor stores like Younkers and Sears was a significant blow.

To adapt, the mall leaned on its remaining anchor stores, Kohl’s and Target. While these stores provided some stability, they weren’t enough to restore the mall to its former glory. The need for innovative solutions has become more urgent than ever.

“In retail, adaptability is the name of the game.”

East entrance of Merle Hay Mall
Iowahwyman, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Online shopping became the elephant in the room that couldn’t be ignored. Why drive to the mall when you could shop from your home? This shift in consumer behavior was a wake-up call for Merle Hay Mall.

Despite these challenges, the mall didn’t throw in the towel. It started diversifying its offerings, adding non-retail options like Flix Brewhouse movie theater and GameDay Sports Bar & Patio. But was it enough to turn the tide?

2020 was tough for Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines, IA, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced many retailers to shut their doors for an extended period. By August, notable stores like Victoria’s Secret, Helzberg Diamonds, and Justice had closed their locations.

Adding to the challenges, the mall announced in October 2020 that the empty Sears building would be demolished for future development.

The people of Des Moines still had a soft spot for their beloved mall. However, the dwindling foot traffic was a harsh reality that couldn’t be ignored. The mall was at a crossroads, and something had to give.

Recent Efforts to Revitalize Merle Hay Mall

When you thought all was lost, Merle Hay Mall is pulling out all the stops to make a comeback. In November 2020, the Des Moines Buccaneers hockey team revealed plans to build a new sports facility in the old Younkers space and adjacent areas.

The project will include a 3,500-capacity arena for the Buccaneers, three additional ice rinks for tournaments and community use, and a 150-room hotel.

In spring 2022, a new Kohl’s store was constructed at the site of the demolished Sears. This move was a strategic attempt to breathe new life into the mall and attract a broader customer base.

With over 60 stores and restaurants, Merle Hay Mall still offers a variety of shopping options. From Target to Ross and Old Navy, the mall is hanging in there.

The mall has made room for some fresh faces. Businesses like Hiking Dog and Riddle’s Jewelry are the mall’s latest attempts to diversify and attract customers.

As autumn 2023 rolls in, Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines, IA, is buzzing with new plans to boost foot traffic. The mall, struggling for a while, is now pivoting towards entertainment and sports to attract more visitors.

One of the most exciting additions is an indoor pickleball court, courtesy of Dinks Pickleball—a business with members eagerly waiting to play.

The mall is also doubling down on sports by continuing its work on adding a Buccaneers hockey arena. The aim is to make the mall not just a shopping center but a hub for various activities and experiences.

The food court businesses are still struggling while new attractions await. Owners are doing their best to keep their eateries afloat amid delays in new interests. It’s a challenging situation, but hope springs eternal, right?

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.”

The people of Des Moines have a significant role to play in the mall’s revival. After all, a mall is only as good as the community that supports it. So, if you’re looking for things to do in Des Moines, Iowa, Merle Hay Mall is still worth a visit.

While the mall is far from reclaiming its former glory, these revitalization efforts are a step in the right direction. Only time will tell if these changes will be enough to turn the tide. But for now, Merle Hay Mall is not going down without a fight.

The Community’s Perspective on Merle Hay Mall

Ah, the complexities of human emotion! The people of Des Moines have a love-hate relationship with Merle Hay Mall. While many residents have fond memories of the mall, the current state of affairs is a bit of a downer.

A quick scroll through social media will give you a glimpse into the public sentiment. While some users reminisce about the mall’s golden years, others are excited about the new changes. It’s a mixed bag of emotions.

Online reviews of the mall range from nostalgic raves to constructive criticism. While some people miss the “good old days,” others appreciate the mall’s efforts to adapt and evolve.

The mall has been a significant part of the community’s social fabric, from holiday events to summer festivals. These events are a testament to the mall’s enduring appeal.

So, what’s the consensus? Well, it isn’t very easy. While the mall has seen better days, it’s not ready to throw in the towel yet. The community’s support will be crucial in determining the mall’s future.

The Future of Merle Hay Mall

Here we are, standing at a crossroads. The future of Merle Hay Mall hangs in the balance. Will it manage to turn things around, or is this the end of the road?

The mall is not sitting idle. Plans are in motion to further diversify the mall’s offerings and engage the community through events and partnerships. It’s a long road ahead, but the mall is ready for the challenge.

The ball is in your court, dear residents of Des Moines. Your support can make or break the future of this iconic mall.

The clock is ticking, and the stakes are high. Will Merle Hay Mall reclaim its former glory, or will it become another casualty in the retail apocalypse? Only time will tell.

Des Moines Aerial
Des Moines Aerial” by formulanone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


And there you have it—the mesmerizing tale of Merle Hay Mall, a retail giant fighting to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world. From its golden years to its current struggles, the mall’s journey is a captivating saga filled with ups and downs.

But one thing’s sure: Merle Hay Mall is not going down without a fight. So, the next time you’re in Des Moines, why not take a trip down memory lane and visit this iconic mall? Who knows, you might be part of its next chapter.

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