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Northland Mall: Crumbling History of A Rose Blooming Through Concrete

Updated on March 18, 2015

The First Enclosed Mall

NORTHLAND: The first enclosed mall was located in the suburbs of Detroit, MI; circa 1954
NORTHLAND: The first enclosed mall was located in the suburbs of Detroit, MI; circa 1954 | Source

History of the Nation's First Enclosed Mall

NOTICE: This is an article I composed a few years ago for a local content assignment - which is no longer available since the hosting site shut down last year; I chose to share it on my hub page because it is local [Detroit, MI] history, and should be shared for educational purposes (not limited to). Please enjoy:

In an effort to generate suburban business for Detroit-based retail store J.L. Hudson’s, Northland mall was built in 1954. Labeled as a "New Shopping Paradise" by The Detroit News, Northland Mall started as a ring of retail outlets, circling the 4-story J.L. Hudson’s department store located on the outskirts of metro Detroit.

Besides Hudson's, Northland opened with a number of other prestigious local retailers including Hughes & Hatcher, Himelhoch's, Winkelman's, Kresge's, Robinson Furniture, Better Made Potato Chips and Sanders in the 2-million-square-foot, open-air center, on nearly 60-acres of land.

It wasn’t until the 1970s, Northland was enclosed, and other retail stores were added. The mall housed more than sixty stores when it first opened.

By the start of the 1980s, Northland’s walls housed not only shopping outlets and stores, but an infirmary, drugstore, and cinema within its lavish property. Northland had been the first largest mall in America; it was the very first mall built in Michigan.

A Rose Blooming Through Concrete

Nearly sixty years of survival was gradually taking its toll on the historic shopping center; the parking lot itself, is a definite sign of deterioration. Cracks and potholes throughout Northland’s parking lot is the first sight shoppers see, and is often a deterrence. The once flourished large department store chains have either left the shopping center, or have diminished their businesses altogether. Leaving little opportunities for shoppers in search of those particular stores.

Over the years, Northland was hit by economy pressures and company crossovers, but never yielded to fail. Steadily blooming in a concrete society where once over 10 million shoppers spent most of their time, Northland’s mere 5 million shoppers are keeping the dream alive, according to 2004 reports by Larry Ruppert, Northland's general manager. Only anchored by two major outlets (Macy‘s and Target), Northland was continuously adding new smaller shops and boutiques for its shoppers.

Although the image of Northland Mall has declined, and the number of large retail outlets were slowly disappearing, residents are still spending time at the shopping center. For some visitors, the mall is more than a place to shop. Residents can be seen at the mall power-walking, having lunch and enjoying a cool stroll during hot, summer days.

Northland, once the largest shopping experience for a nation for nearly 60 years, may have been just a blur to the memories of many, but to Detroit residents and surrounding areas, Northland was still a "Rose Blooming Through Concrete".

A National Gem

The rage of all, Northland Mall struggled to survive for 60 years.
The rage of all, Northland Mall struggled to survive for 60 years. | Source

At the time I composed this article in 2013, Northland Mall was steadily struggling to stand tall amidst the economy and crime that was hindering its stability.

Store occupants were creating more and more vacancies in the building, causing a domino-like effect on the crumbling of Northland's history... the struggle was being lost.

The Crumbling Of History

Almost at the doorstep to its 60th birthday, Northland Mall found the concrete crumbling from an approved plan by an Oakland County Circuit Judge. It was official - the mall would shut its doors in the upcoming Spring.

The first of the major stores to leave would be Target, with Macy's following immediately.

Saying Good-bye...

As the buzz took over the internet, and between the residents of Detroit and surrounding areas, Northland shoppers voiced what they'd miss about the first mall to be built in the U.S. Many mentioned to reporters, and posted photos of the infamous "Boy and Bear" statue that could be seen in the middle of a corridor of the mall. Others would reminisce of their first time shopping at the mall, and the long list of recent stores that once occupied the busy shopping place.

I, myself have several fond memories of Northland Mall; one being the time I spent in the mall looking for after school jobs; shopping for my prom accessories; and even spending my first check from Burger King at Hudson's department store. The list of memories could go on for a longtime, but who wants to cry, right?

NORTHLAND: "The Boy and The Bear" statue welcomed shoppers to the very first enclosed mall in America.
NORTHLAND: "The Boy and The Bear" statue welcomed shoppers to the very first enclosed mall in America. | Source

Are You A Shop-a-holic?

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What's Next For Northland Mall?

According to a Detroit Free Press report, "...[that] there are potential buyers of the property, including some that might keep Northland open as an enclosed mall. He did not name the interested parties, although court filings identify the City of Southfield as one interested potential suitor..."

The report sounds better than the reality, I'm sure. According to records, Northland Mall was losing millions of dollars yearly - with no sign of regaining profits.

From my point of view, the entire plot of land will need a miracle to rebuild and start to flourish: crumbling parking lots, mass exposure to crime, and a need for more tenants. This cannot and will not happen overnight, maybe even over a year's span of time. There will be a lot of footwork and money to invest bringing the historical mall back to life.

It seems like a harsh reality, but the city officials have hope, and reports have shown the optimism, "... officials are 'optimistic that this important section of Southfield will be revitalized by new development or redevelopment efforts in the near future.'"

Northland Mall tenants may be forcibly evicted by April, 2015
Northland Mall tenants may be forcibly evicted by April, 2015 | Source

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