Shopping malls are part of the landscape of life across America. People go to the local mall to shop, dine, socialize or just watch people and pass the time. At Mall of America, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, you can do all those things plus, play, learn and even get married.
Mall of America, opened in August 1992, is the largest mall in the United States, covering 31 hectares. "You could fit seven Yankee stadiums inside Mall of America itself," Mall spokesman Daniel Jasper says. "We have more than 520 stores, 4.2 million square feet [390,000 square meters] of space, 60 restaurants.
The complex is more than a retail center. It's a city within the city of Minneapolis.
"We kind of picture ourselves as the town square of the metro area,"says Daniel Jasper. "We have more than 350 special events every year, whether that's rock stars or authors or famous chefs or TV stars, or movie stars, all making appearances here. All of these events are free and open to the public."
And the public comes by the millions. And they come from all over the world. Mall of America is now one of the nation's top tourist attractions.
"We have more than 45 million visitors every year," he says. "In fact that's more than Disney World, Graceland and the Grand Canyon combined. On any given day, there are so many people at Mall of America that it makes us the third largest city in the state in terms of population. So it's a busy place. We also have a lot of amenities that people find in cities, like a post office, our own police station. We have a university. We have a high school. We have a clinic. We have the Chapel of Love."
More than 4500 couples have been married in the Chapel of Love since it opened. "We can do a wedding as small as the wedding couple and two guests," owner Felicia Glass-Wilcox says. "We can do the full service wedding, which is up to 70 guests. So they can do a larger wedding, with the walk down the aisle, the flower girls. We provide services for guest books, programs, ushers if they want them, custom music. We provide the whole package."
Glass-Wilcox says a ceremony in her Chapel of Love is an unforgettable experience. "A lot of people like it for a memory. They want to be unique," she says. "They come from all over the world. We've had Japan, Germany, England, France."
She points out that those couples can do last minute shopping in her bridal boutique before walking down the aisle.
As befits the nation's largest shopping center, Mall of America is also home to America's largest indoor amusement park. Marketing Director Jennifer Lauerman says the attractions cover nearly three hectares. "We have over 30 rides and attractions," she says. "We have the large-scale roller coasters. We've got two of them. We've got a spinning roller coaster called, 'Timberland Twister.' We've got kiddy rides. So, the moms come and go shopping and the kids can go on rides. There is something for everyone. We think the park adds really a unique element to the Mall of America."
There are seasonal activities as well. Now, Lauerman says, the park is ready for Halloween. "It's one of the only non-scary family-focused Halloween events in the Twin Cities," she says. "It's targeted at younger kids. There is a lot of décor, there are different treat stations throughout the park, a lot of interaction with non-scary characters like pirates, ghosts, aliens, that type of thing. We have trick or treating and a costume contest, lots of entertainment."
There's something fishy at the mall, too: Underwater Adventures Aquarium, the world's largest underground aquarium, according to aquarist E.J. Smith, who adds visitors of all ages find it entertaining and educational. "We've got 47 different species of sharks here alone, as well as 4500 animals. We have quite a few schools from the area that come in with biology programs and aquatics programs. A lot of the students really love it."
During the winter months, when temperatures in Minneapolis rarely climb about freezing, it remains warm inside the mall, even without a heating system. "Can you imagine a building this large, in the state of Minnesota, is not heated, even in January and February!" spokesman Daniel Jasper exclaims. "We heat the mall through our skylights and through body heat of all of our customers and light bulbs. Believe it or not! We don't have a central furnace."
Jasper says the huge complex is environmentally friendly in other ways as well. "We recycle tons and tons of material. More than half of the waste material we have is recycled," he says. "A lot of our food waste is recycled and actually shipped to a local hog farm to feed his stock. We recycle even our cooking grease. It's made into bio-diesel and it's used in special trucks. We recycle enough fuel every month to fill a truck and let it drive from New York to Los Angeles."
Mall of America will begin a yearlong celebration in January marking its 15th anniversary.