Trail Of The Unexpected: Super shopper

Take a stroll in Minnesota's magnificent mall

Three children swaggered out of the Build-A-Bear Workshop variously hugging a cuddly moose, a pink-skirted teddy bear and a grinning groundhog. They were palpably proud of the creatures they had helped to make. In their wake came their shopping-laden grandparents. Would the kids like to ride the Log Chute rollercoaster? Yes, they chorused. And then, they suggested (while the grandparents wearied visibly), they'd like to visit the aquarium to meet the stingrays. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the Mall of America.

It goes quite beyond the mere retail experience, which runs the gamut from Abercrombie & Fitch to Zales diamond store. There's a 14-screen movie theatre on the mall's top floor, a large Lego outlet (with life-size rhino creations), two games arcades, and set over the basement is the Underwater Adventures aquarium, which is home to more than 4,000 sea creatures. Meanwhile the entire central atrium, four storeys high and covering seven acres, is devoted to a Nickelodeon Universe theme park offering not only a rollercoaster but 29 other rides. Even on the relatively quiet weekday that I was there, it was buzzing with children, the air filled with shrieks of excitement.

Set in Bloomington, a 20-minute drive south of downtown Minneapolis and 25 minutes from downtown St Paul, the Mall of America opened in 1992. It now has more than 520 retail outlets set behind about four miles of shop windows. There are also 20 sit-down restaurants and 30 fast food stores.

All of which presents a dauntingly big picture. Yet this is by no means the world's largest mall. Nor, at the moment, is the Mall of America the biggest such precinct in US. But work is due to start on an expansion to the complex that will integrate a large Ikea at present positioned opposite, and will provide scope for 300 additional stores, making the Mall of America the largest enclosed shopping area in the US.

Size doesn't entirely matter, however, for the Mall of America is certainly the country's most famous retail complex. And its most popular, too, attracting around 40 million visitors annually. Tax, or the lack of it, is one draw: there is no sales tax on clothing in Minnesota. But location is also a key feature. This shopping venue is just a 10-minute taxi ride from a great junction of America, the Minneapolis-St Paul airport.

If there is no scope to visit the mall between flights on the same day, you can opt to break your journey at one of many accommodation options nearby. Minneapolis and St Paul make a good destination for a stopover: take your fill of retail therapy and then enjoy some of the country's most absorbing art galleries and liveliest theatre outside New York.

I had booked into the Hilton Minneapolis Bloomington, which opened in February. Alongside 260 modern rooms, it offers pool, gym, two restaurants and free shuttle to the airport and the Mall of America. Before ushering me off on the 15-minute ride to the mall, the concierge gave me detailed instructions as to how to proceed from there to downtown Minneapolis and the Walker Art Center. ("After about three hours of shopping you'll probably need an antidote," he said.)

But it takes a little more time than that to explore the entirety of this palace of consumerism – known to some less enthusiastic locals as "The Sprawl of America". Staff manning the information booths at the four ground-floor entrances may tell you proudly that Buckingham Palace and its 40-acre gardens would fit inside the mall; and, perhaps more impressively, that in the winter there is no need for heating (the complex is kept warm through the miles of electric lights and the body heat of its guests, even when Minnesota's temperatures drop to –20C and more). In summer, on the other hand, the mall whirs with 12,900 tonnes of air conditioning.

Getting your bearings is relatively easy. At each corner of the vast, rectangular building is a department store: upscale Bloomingdale's and Macy's to the south-east and south-west respectively; Sears, more keenly priced, to the north-east; and Nordstrom to the north-west.

The ground floor is generally where the most stylish outlets are located. Meanwhile, there are swathes of jeans and T-shirt outlets on both the ground and the second floors. But the third floor is where you'll find most of the real bargains and some real regional flavour.

Lake Wobegon USA is the merchandising arm of the works of local author, and local hero, Garrison Keillor. Here there are CDs and DVDs of Keillor's readings, T-shirts, mugs, postcards and, of course, books. I snapped up a copy of Keillor's latest hardback, Pontoon, signed by the author. Among the sprawl of rides and stores here, this personal touch was truly heartwarming.

Mall of America (001 952 883 8800; is open Mon-Sat 10am-9.30pm and Sun 11am-7pm. The Hilton Minneapolis Bloomington (001 952 893 9500; is at 3900 American Boulevard West. Bloomington, Minnesota. Doubles start at $99 (£52), room only.

State Lines: Minnesota

Population 5 million
Area 11 times the size of Wales
Capital St Paul
Date in Union 11 May 1858
Flower Showy lady's slipper
Motto "The Star of the North"
Nickname North Star State

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own