Southdale Mall in Edina Minnesota was once a BIG deal.  A BIG BIG Deal.  Like Mall of America BIG.  In 1956, it was the first enclosed climate-controlled mall in the U.S.  Let that sink in a minute.  Before Southdale, people drove to a downtown shopping district, parked on the street and went from store to store for a day of shopping.  Rain or shine.  Or in Edina’s case: snow.  To say it changed how America spent its Saturday afternoons is an understatement.

At one time it has held a post office, a grocery store, a small zoo and even hosted the popular evening game show Truth or Consequences. Let’s (yawn) look at it today: A JC Penney, A Macys (was Marshall Fields, was Daytons, was beautiful…now, not so much) and that’s it.  Sure there’s a Gap, Ann Taylor, Victoria’s Secret and a few other Limited brands.  It lists the off-price retailer Marshalls as an anchor.  But even the Burger King in the food court closed last year.  In the past three years it has lost Crate & Barrel, Suncoast Video, B. Dalton, Maggiano’s, Wilson’s Leather, Motorwerks Mini, Gadzooks and many more. For nearly six years, Mervyn’s approximately 200,000 square foot location has been empty.

Southdale is….sad.  Competing with Mall of America, Eden Prairie Center and Ridgedale, it has nothing unique to offer its shoppers.  So, since there is absolutely no risk in using the space in a creative way (PLEASE stop waiting for Nordstroms.  They’re not expanding to a dead mall) here is my suggestion:

Reach out to local retailer Bachmann’s and ask them to create a new kind of retail space within the Southdale complex:

First Floor: Build on Lyndale’s enchanting home accessories area.  Continue to bring in locally-sourced one of a kind pieces.  Edinans LOVE limited editions!  Adjacent areas can include the cards, giftware and children’s areas that can change seasonally to remain fresh and enticing.  Also on the first floor, build a bridal destination area where love birds can select their arrangements, purchase wedding favors and register for wonderful Bachmanns products. Tie into Mens Wearhouse for bridal events.   Create a classroom space and continue to host events on bonsai, water gardening, landscaping with shrubs and all of the usual Bachmanns curriculum.  Finally, spill out into the Center Court with Bachman’s idea demonstration areas like the green roof shed, rain garden, xeriscape garden and fountains.

Second Floor: With ample access to the parking lot, carve out a portion of it for seasonal nursery stock and sales directly to drive-up customers.  Inside, sell gardening equipment, pots, gadgets and seeds.  Create a seasonally-changing department to feature holiday decor, grills and outdoor living products. Give Department 56 prominence in your interior windows.  Finally, embed a florist department with cash and carry arrangements as well as floral planning.  With Fairview hospital and a number of assisted living centers within a half-mile, you should be able to build up a profitable continuity program.

Bachmann’s might think this will cannibalize its Lyndale location.  But here’s some information: Edina has over 40,000 residences.  Little Sunnyside Gardens is NOT where most Edinans go for their annuals and perennials.  Shoppers at Southdale are increasingly empty nesters who are rethinking how they use their indoor and outdoor spaces.  And in Edina, where THE status symbol is a dumpster in the driveway (big renovations going on inside) money is being spent on outdoor kitchens, zen gardens and koi ponds.  If Simon (Southdale’s landlord) is smart, they’ll give Bachmann’s two years of free rent just to fill the sad gaping hole that Mervyn’s left behind.

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