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; www.mallofamerica.com) is open Mon-Sat 10am-9.30pm and Sun 11am-7pm. The Hilton Minneapolis Bloomington (001 952 893 9500; www.hilton.com) 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
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Sport
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager - Commercial Cable & Wire - UK

    £60,000 - £75,000: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the major Aer...

    ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    Day In a Page

    Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

    Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

    Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities