Southdale Center in Edina, MN – The Evolution of America’s First Enclosed Shopping Mall

The Birth of the Modern Shopping Mall: Southdale Center

Southdale Center, in Edina, Minnesota, is the first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall in the United States. Opened on October 8, 1956, the mall was designed by architect Victor Gruen, who aimed to challenge the car-centric culture of 1950s America.

The shopping center boasts 1,297,608 square feet of leasable retail space and currently houses 106 tenants. Simon Property Group owns Southdale Center, and its anchor stores include Macy’s, Dave & Buster’s, AMC Theatres, Hennepin Service Center, and Life Time Athletic.

Southdale Center in Edina, MN

Southdale Center has recovered recently despite facing high vacancy rates and multiple store closures since its inception. The mall has undergone several expansions and renovations, the most notable of which occurred in 2011 with the construction of a brand-new food court.

Southdale Center continues to utilize much of its original structure and has hosted numerous charity and community events.

Victor Gruen’s Vision: A Community-Focused Shopping Center

In 1943, architects Victor Gruen and Elsie Krummeck were tasked with envisioning the ideal post-World War II shopping center for competition in Architectural Forum magazine.

Their prototypes emphasized the communal aspects of shopping centers, proposing that services like public libraries and post offices could be integrated with retail functions. Gruen and Krummeck also aimed to make their centers visually appealing and inviting, encouraging shoppers to linger.

Gruen’s opportunity to bring his vision to life came when he met the Dayton family through Oscar Webber, head of Hudson’s department store. The Dayton family wanted to expand and build a shopping center in Edina, Minnesota, to accompany one of their stores.

Gruen’s European socialist ideals informed his design of the Southdale Center, which he intended as a communal gathering place for people to shop, drink coffee, and socialize. The center was loosely modeled on the arcades of densely populated European cities and featured eye-level display cases to attract customers to stores.

Southdale Center: From Construction to Grand Opening

Groundbreaking for Southdale Center occurred on October 29, 1954, with 800 construction workers employed to build the three-story, 800,000-square-foot shopping center.

The mall was constructed with a roof and air-conditioning system to maintain a comfortable year-round temperature of 75°F, considering Minnesota’s harsh winters. The original anchor stores were Dayton’s, Donaldson’s, Walgreens, and Woolworth’s.

Southdale Center‘s grand opening ceremony took place on October 8, 1956, attracting over 40,000 visitors. The mall was designed to unite the community by incorporating art, culture, and entertainment alongside retail.

Southdale Center was met with a generally positive public response, and the city of Edina changed zoning ordinances to accommodate its construction.

Transformations and Revitalization: Southdale Center’s Ongoing Evolution

Southdale Center has seen many changes, from adding new tenants and anchor stores to renovations and expansions. The early 2000s saw a significant overhaul, with a complete remodeling in 2001 and the addition of a sixteen-screen movie theater and an entertainment district called “The District on France.”

Simon Property Group has continued revitalizing Southdale as a mixed-use development, using all corners of the property to create a vibrant destination for shopping and community activities.

In 2017, the addition of a luxury apartment complex, One Southdale Place, was completed, providing an upscale residential option for those who value living close to shopping and dining amenities.

Recognizing the growing importance of experiential retail and the need to provide a unique shopping experience, Southdale Center has expanded its offerings by introducing innovative retailers and fantastic dining options.

Southdale Center
Southdale Center” by Bobak Ha’Eri is licensed under CC BY 3.0

As a result, the mall has become a hub for shopping, dining, entertainment, and community events, hosting everything from fitness classes to art exhibits and seasonal celebrations.

In 2021, Southdale Center unveiled plans for a major redevelopment project to transform the property into a walkable urban village. The vision for this project includes an open-air plaza, green spaces, a hotel, office space, additional residential units, and a network of pedestrian-friendly walkways.

By integrating these elements, the mall seeks to embrace the live-work-play model further, providing a modern, community-oriented space for residents and visitors alike.

As retail trends continue to evolve, Southdale Center has demonstrated its adaptability by transforming from a traditional enclosed shopping mall into a vibrant mixed-use development.

The ongoing evolution of this pioneering mall serves as a testament to the importance of innovation and the ability to adapt to changing consumer preferences, ensuring that Southdale Center remains a relevant and thriving destination in the years to come.

Southdale Center
Southdale Center” by Bobak Ha’Eri is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Embracing Sustainability and Technology: Southdale Center’s Path Forward

As the retail landscape shifts and consumers become increasingly conscious of environmental and social impacts, Southdale Center is committed to embracing sustainability and leveraging technology to enhance the visitor experience.

Simon Property Group has taken several steps to reduce the mall’s carbon footprint, improve energy efficiency, and promote environmentally friendly practices.

Some sustainable initiatives include installing LED lighting throughout the mall, implementing recycling programs for tenants and visitors, and introducing electric vehicle charging stations in the parking areas.

Additionally, Southdale Center has integrated green spaces and water-efficient landscaping, contributing to a healthier environment for the community.

Southdale Center is also harnessing the power of technology to provide a more seamless and personalized shopping experience. The mall has introduced a mobile app that allows visitors to navigate the property, exclusive access deals, and receive real-time information on events and promotions.

Retailers within the mall have also embraced technology, with many offering virtual fitting rooms, augmented reality experiences, and contactless payment options to enhance the overall customer experience.

As Southdale Center continues its evolution into a dynamic, mixed-use development, it is evident that sustainability and technology will play increasingly important roles in its future. By staying ahead of the curve and addressing the modern consumer’s needs, Southdale Center is poised to maintain its status as an influential and successful retail destination for years to come.

Avatar of Spencer Walsh

I'm Spencer Walsh, a professional traveler who loves to help people discover new places and learn about different cultures. I've traveled worldwide, from Europe to Asia and Africa to South America. My favorite thing about traveling is getting lost because it allows me to discover unexpected gems—finding a hidden museum or stumbling upon a beautiful park in the middle of the city.

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