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Randy Lewis

Home is Where the Mall Is . . . . : Knott's Berry Farm, Minnesota Developers Take Shopping Into New Realm

July 16, 1989|Randy Lewis

Did you read about the Knott's Berry Farm people, teaming up with the developers of a shopping mall in Minnesota to create the nation's first combination theme park and retail complex?

What they are putting together in Bloomington is a $600-million "Mall of America" that will sprawl over 4.2 million acres and offer up to 800 places to spend your money, everything from major department stores, restaurants, nightclubs and movie theaters to a miniature golf course and a health club.

Sounds like the only thing missing is sleeping quarters for 2 million--and even that appears to be on its way, via planned residential housing and three high-rise hotels.

The Knott's contribution will be an indoor version of Camp Snoopy, patterned on the one in Buena Park that features the Charles Schulz comic-strip characters. The whole thing is going to be way bigger than South Coast Plaza (which, size-wise, is now second only to the Del Amo Fashion Plaza in Torrance). And that's just Phase One! The planners already have approval to add as many as 5.3 million square feet, including office space.

I can see the advertising now: "Move in here and don't leave home--ever."

Bill Dawson, president of a leisure development firm based in Los Angeles, said that by combining a shopping mall and an amusement park, "you're really changing the shopping center into a community center. . . . It's fulfilling the needs of the consumer. And the more needs you fulfill, the longer people stay."

This transformation happened long before "Mall of America" came along, though. Ever go by a mall movie theater on a Friday or Saturday night and see all the teen-agers cruising the parking lot? No need to take, in the words of the old rock 'n' roll song, "a trip down Whittier Boulevard" anymore.

Actually, though it's the first of its kind in the United States, the Minnesota project is similar to one the same developers built in Edmonton, Canada. That one has a Ferris wheel, rides, shows, a huge aquarium and, yes, even a church ("Dear Lord, please include that De La Renta jacket in Saks' semiannual clearance").

True, they once had a minor problem with circus animals getting loose in the mall, but what's a wandering lion here or there when we're talking prime retail footage?

In any case, if this merchandising marriage takes off as well as the developers want it to, we should expect to see more of this sort of thing popping up across the country.

Just think: We'll be able to indulge our insatiable appetites for conspicuous consumption and intellectual diversion all in one place. Imagine the convenience, especially with the "Peanuts" characters providing the thematic backdrop: When Charlie Brown loses his kite to that voracious neighborhood tree for the umpteenth time, he can lift his chin, walk into the toy store and put a new one on his Visa.

Then he can march down to Sears, charge up a chain saw and ensure that he will never be humiliated by a wooden enemy again.

Short of that, he can drop in on the mall psychiatrist (surely they'll have at least one) and probe his failure fixation.

What surprises me is that the Knott's people had to go all the way to Minnesota, though. Why not right here?

I doubt that there is anywhere in the world where people take their shopping more seriously than we do in Orange County.

Attending perfectly enjoyable plays, concerts or other cultural events, I often find myself wondering why there so frequently is a sea of empty seats around me. But last weekend, while hitting numerous stores in search of bath towels, I realized that Orange County culture lovers aren't dead: They've gone shopping!

OK, so it was a frenzy of bumped elbows, crinkled credit card drafts and wrinkled receipts. As we head into the '90s, That's Entertainment! One business analyst, in fact, already has observed that the Mall of America idea acknowledges shopping as a major, perhaps primary, form of entertainment in America.

Maybe the Knott's folks are simply getting warmed up in Minnesota, awaiting the obvious next step in their home turf's evolution.

Yes, I'm certain that all this must be a prelude to the creation of the Orange County Shopping Arts Center--a state-of-the-art, second-to-none home for truly world-class shoppers and sales.

I suppose there would have to be a few limitations, as we've encountered in exploring the other arts at our world-class Performing Arts Center.

Any record stores would carry only opera, symphonic music, ballet and Broadway musical recordings--no rock, thank you.

And of course, refreshment stands would serve no colas, red wines, coffee, tea or other dark beverages that might stain carpeting.

On the other hand, in the more relaxed retail environment, we would feel free to applaud at will between blue-light specials without fear of critical reprimands.

And what better world-class shopping mascot than Snoopy, the canine who already has his own lines of greeting cards, stuffed animals, coffee cups, T-shirts and infant wear?

Happiness is a warm credit card, Charlie Brown.

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