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As West Acres nears 50, Fargo mall's operators share trove of photos, memories

West Acres Shopping Center, near the intersection of Interstates 94 and 29, was a catalyst for growth and turned Fargo into a regional shopping hub.

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Shoppers crowd the main hall of the West Acres Shopping Center on its opening day, Aug. 2, 1972. The mall quickly became the shopping hub for Fargo and the region. (West Acres Photo)

FARGO - In August 1972, kids were wearing bell bottom jeans and Earth shoes. Chicago was singing “Saturday in the Park,” Bill Withers was telling you to “Lean On Me,” and Alice Cooper was wailing that “School’s Out” for summer.

“The Godfather” was making offers you couldn’t refuse at the nation’s theaters.

And West Acres Shopping Center opened its doors.

Back then, what quickly became Fargo’s shopping mecca appeared more of a retail Hail Mary.

The biggest indoor shopping mall in the area was a mile from anything else urban, plunked down amidst farm fields along a still gravel stretch of 13th Avenue South.

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But it was close to the intersection of Interstates 94 and 29 and became a catalyst for the city’s growth, turning it into a regional shopping hub.

America was well into its whole-hearted embrace of shopping malls.

The Twin Cities had its “Dales.” Fargo had West Acres.

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As the mall nears its 50th anniversary, the operators have been sharing photos of stores and events from the mall's past.

West Acres Development CEO Brad Schlossman, whose father was one of the key players in getting the mall built, sat down with The Forum to share his memories of those decades.

Schlossman was 18 years old and fresh out of high school when the mall opened.

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Brad Schlossman, CEO of West Acres Development, LLP, stands by a holiday display in the Fargo mall on Nov. 18, 2021. (Chris Flynn / Inforum)

Q: What was it like?

A: Well, I had never seen anything quite like it before. So, It was a lot of fun to see it all come together. It felt huge to us.

Q: How big was it?

A. When West Acres opened, deLendrecie’s, which is where Herberger’s recently was, and Sears were the only two anchors, so the mall ran … between those two. There was no food court and just a portion of the JC Penney wing was completed.

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The Dayton's store at West Acres in FArgo opened as an anchor store in 1973, a year after the main mall opened. It was the first Dayton's built outside of Minnesota. The chain was later purchased by Macy's, which still operates today. (West Acres Photo)

Q. What was the vibe like walking through the mall?

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A. My memories … of the early days of the mall were always hustle and bustle. Always so impressed by all the people that were in the mall.

Q. What were some of your favorite places in the mall?

A. As an 18-year-old, my favorite store was probably TEAM Electronics. They had these fancy stereo systems with these giant speakers that nobody would even think of having today.

Q. What were some of the stores you thought were favorites with visitors?

A. County Seat is an example of a store that for a period of time was clearly a favorite in the mall and then lost favor. We’ve seen stores come and go.

The Limited, back in the early 80s was the hottest thing going. It held on for a long time, but once they left, they never quite got back again.

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A fashion show is held in front of the Dayton's store in the West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo in this undated photos. (West Acres Photo)

Q. You actually had a fashion show in front of Dayton’s. How often did that sort of thing happen?

A. Fashion shows were quite common years ago. We’ve held fashion shows as recently as the last couple of years. They’ll happen from time to time. The scale of them has been reduced. They used to be major productions, which is why they went away, as the cost of the fashion show came to be unproductive relative to the stores doing them.

Q. What were your favorite eating places?

A. I spent three summers working out here at the mall on the outside maintenance crew during my college summers. We would visit places to eat lunch. The Dairy Delight is something nobody would even remember. Walgreens had a restaurant, Dayton's had a restaurant, JC Penney’s had a restaurant that opened later. Country Kitchen was another favorite for an awful lot of people.

Hardees was a huge success back in the day, operating out of where Evereve is today. We had an A&W at center court, which is now Coolbird Creamery. Virgo’s Pizza. Virg Estenson was a wonderful operator; we miss him.

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An arm wrestling tournament, seen in this undated photo, was one of the events held at Fargo's West Acres Shopping Center. (West Acres Photo)

Q. One of the big changes to the mall was the addition of the food court in about 2009. How did that help the mall out?

A. The food court is our No. 1 gathering place in the mall. The food court has been a huge success for both the food stores and the mall, but mostly because it has been a big hit with customers.

When we were designing the food court, industry standards said we should have 400 seats. And we thought well, we like our space around here, so we almost doubled that number to 750 seats. And it ended up being the right move.

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Kay Bee Toys was a popular stop for children for many years in the West Acres Shopping Center. At one time, the chain had more than 1,300 stores and was the second-largest toy seller in the U.S. The corporation went out of business in 2009. Contributed / West Acres

Q. Some places have come and gone, such as Kay Bee Toys, talk about them.

A. Kay Bee Toys, our young children at that age were good customers of Kay Bee Toys. B. Dalton Bookseller. Musicland. These stores that no longer exist. They used to … things that we wish that we could still have at the mall. But if customers don’t need those stores, then we have to move on. Right now, we have added a more experiential version of a toy store with Legacy Toys . We’re delighted to have that as the major player in the mall.

Q. What is this place like around the holidays?

A. West Acres becomes far more festive during the holidays. It’s not just the decorations, it’s the music. We host about 80 or so live performances in the mall, school choirs, etc. All of those things combined, along with the general hustle and bustle of the season, it feels very festive out here.

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Santa is surrounded by children and parents in this vintage undated photo taken in the West Acres Shopping Center. (West Acres Photo)

Q. How has the mall evolved?

A. The evolution of a shopping center is always going on. You may not notice it from time to time, but anybody who comes back to the mall after not being there 10 years - typically a third of the stores that were there would be gone. A third of the stores would have somehow changed, expanded, moved, contracted, changed ownership, changed branding. A third of the stores would be status quo. That cycle happens almost every 10 years. It’s astounding. We’re going through very rapid changes right now. (We’re) very optimistic about the future.

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A crowd gathers for the grand opening of the West Acres Shopping Center on Aug. 2, 1972. Note that the mall's sign was not yet installed. (West Acres Photo)

Q. What do you think is important that we might have missed?

A. COVID had significant impacts last year, but when the dust settled, maybe it was less than what we were afraid might happen because of COVID.

One thing that COVID did not impact, that is very significant, is right now we are seeing shoppers at numbers that were totally unexpected. The mall store sales are now at a record pace. We just never expected that 2021 would be anything but a long, slow recovery. Instead, it’s been pedal on the metal. We are seeing sales that we never imagined.

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