The Fox Valley holds a notable place in the history of retail business.
And while the mall era of American shopping is now feeling the impacts of the Internet era, it doesn’t take from Valley Fair Shopping Center nor the memories it forged in residents throughout its run.
Valley Fair claimed to be the nation’s first enclosed shopping mall.
And its first stores opened their doors 65 years ago today — welcoming shoppers on Aug. 11, 1954.
Krambo Food Store worked to tempt would-be shoppers to its opening in an advertisement boasting “the largest meat department in Wisconsin north of Milwaukee.” Construction would continue and the mall’s grand opening event would come the following March.
The community recognized the innovation.
“Shoppers will be protected from winter’s cold, wind and snow and summer’s heat and rain by the completely sealed mall, believed to be the only one of its type in the world,” the Post-Crescent wrote in a preview of the mall grand opening.
Krambo would anchor the mall’s west end.
Badger Paint and Hardware, Eddie’s Self Service Liquor, Mrs. Hamilton’s Kitchen, Donald’s and the House of Cameras and Cards also opened before the full mall was ready to go. At the March grand opening, 18 stores awaited shoppers and five more were near ready.
Although Valley Fair billed itself the first mall, it’s a matter of debate among people who argue about those sorts of things. It comes down to criteria.
The credit is often given to Edina, Minnesota’s Southdale Mall, which became the first larger-scale, enclosed regional shopping center upon opening in 1956.
Regardless, Valley Fair was certainly something different and became a town square of sorts.
Shopping malls are often looked upon as a major factor in the decline of downtown shopping, And one could begin to see those early signs as Valley Fair took off.
One of the big draws was the off-street parking and the mall advertised the lack of parking meters in their sprawling lot.
Valley Fair through its years was more than a place to shop.
Its lot would host a go-kart track, circuses and carnival midways. A cinema was added in 1979. It was a dining destination whether for breakfast at Golden Griddle or dessert across the hall at Mother’s Ice Cream. Pedro’s was among the first places serving up Mexican dishes in the Fox Valley.
Competition would take its toll, most notably from the regional Fox River Mall, which opened in 1984.
When on its last legs, a nonprofit tried to innovate once again and turn the first mall into the nation’s first youth mall. Costs took a toll and the vision wasn’t fully realized.
Demolition began in 2007, although the cinema held on into 2015.
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