Iron Range mall at heart of latest Daily Yonder piece

irongate mall hibbing 2The Daily Yonder published my second contribution today, “Decaying Malls Struggle to Find Niche.” I explore the specter of failing malls, a common site on northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. I pay special attention to one Iron Range mall in Hibbing, the Irongate Plaza, which is still open but has never recovered from losing most of its stores after the Wal-Mart Supercenter opened about a decade ago (or, really, from the local economic devastation of the 1980s.

I was born the year Hibbing’s Irongate Mall opened in 1979. The late ad manager at the Hibbing Daily Tribune once told me the high school band played and the people of this flagship city on Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range rejoiced, reveling in the chain stores, video arcade, two restaurants and three-screen movie theater. It was there I waited in line to see the re-release of my first movie, “Pinocchio,” my dad in his work Dickies blowing Winston cigarette smoke to the heavens of the tall red ceilings of the lobby.

Earlier this year I walked my sons through that same mall, or at least the parts not cordoned off from the public after the Kmart closed. The surviving J.C. Penney and Sears stores stand in contrast to the darkened alley of shuttered storefronts, most scarred with the remnants of signs for stores that closed before my oldest was born in 2005.

Read the whole piece here.

Malls were supposed to be “what came next” after downtowns began to struggle. Now we drive to strip malls on the edge of the city — isolated concrete islands that require four miles of driving to reach, even in town. No one quite knows what to do with the malls. Sure, I talk about the Irongate and Mesabi in Hibbing, but most malls in towns like these are struggling.

You know, it’s cold in the winter up here. We could do something inside. Art. Community activities. It’s going to take a lot of creativity to figure out this one.


  1. PS anafterthought says

    I can’t help but wonder if a different management style would have made a difference. For example, at malls I’ve driven past, or stopped at, in Wisconsin, there are large signs, visible to from the highway, that tell what stores are in that mall. Not so, for the most part, in Virginia and Hibbing, even though, at least in Virginia, lots of tourists drive past the mall. Also, what about the cost of rent? If the cost is too high, the stores stay away. What if the management had made it attractive to place a store in the mall? Now some of these “dead malls” have other businesses in the spaces, businesses that don’t attract a general flow of customers, but rather those who are there for just a particular reason. The mall in Hibbing has had a VA clinic for about 5 years, but the client base for that is mostly older men, not exactly the Shoppers of the World. I’ve wondered if the mall owners have used these spaces for some kind of tax write off. They certainly didn’t seem to think outside the box to attract renters. I believe that Wal-Mart and Target aren’t the only reason, not even the prime reason, that the malls have failed. More likely it is due to the upgraded Hwy 53, taking people right to the Miller Hill Mall, etc. The Big Box stores don’t sell the type of goods that mall specialty shops have traditionally sold, but they didn’t help either. In Manitowoc Wis, there are two dead, completely dead, malls right next to each other. Once they are in the death throws, they go fast.

  2. As someone who worked in the Paul Bunyan mall in Bemidji before it started to become a dead mall, I can attest to the fact that the rent is much to high, and that is why many of the stores that MAY have gone in there have opted to rent out a space in the mini malls. (The Bemidji and Hibbing malls are owned by the same company, I believe.)

    I remember many a Girl Scout sleepover in the Hibbing mall, when it was the cool mall to go to. I’m very sad to see the state it’s in.

  3. Skate park!

  4. Lets keep in mind that even the strip malls in Hibbing have vacancies. Even with Wal Mart and Lowes people still drive to Duluth, Virginia, etc to do their shopping.

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