In 1922, the J.C. Nichols Company created the nation’s first shopping mall in Kansas City, Missouri. Although the Country Club Plaza was nothing compared to the size of today’s malls, it nevertheless moved the common marketplace indoors from the street.
A far cry from that first structure, the largest shopping mall in the nation exists right next door in Bloomington, Minnesota. Built in 1992, the Mall America includes over 500 stores, not counting the many restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues. Those that have been there know that it is virtually impossible to traverse the mall in just one day. Impressive, you say, but what does all of this have to do with Downtown Fargo?
When William (Bill) Schlossman built the West Acres Mall in 1972, many of the city’s retail venues made the move to the west side of town. Slowly, more and more establishments began filling in the space west of I-29. The result was a downtown that began to lose some of its vitality. Although there were still a few bars and restaurants that were frequented on a regular basis, the draw to that area just wasn’t there.
In the past several years, there has been a renewed focus on reenergizing Downtown Fargo. The Downtown Community Partnership (DCP) and other city officials have made a concerted effort to bring small business back and drive traffic to the area, particularly on Broadway Avenue. Compare the avenue to that of even a few years ago and the difference is striking.
Ask people their opinions of Downtown Fargo and you will likely hear several responses that deal with parking or lack thereof. Yes, parking can sometimes be an issue, especially in the evenings and weekends, but that doesn’t mean one should abandon downtown altogether. The specialty shops and restaurants that are now calling downtown home are very much worth the hassle.
Some of the best restaurants in the Fargo/Moorhead area are located downtown, including Spicy Pie, the Toasted Frog, Sazerac Alley, Blackbird Woodfire, Toscana, Sweeto Burrito, Vinyl Taco, JL Beers and Kitchen Gremlin. Each restaurant brings its own unique flair to the restaurant scene, which sets it apart from the chain restaurants found to the west. Whether you are hungry for the laidback vibe of Spicy Pie or the upscale ambiance found at the Toasted Frog, you will find the restaurants in Downtown Fargo as varied as they are delicious.
Specialty shops are another way Downtown Fargo sets itself apart from the rest of the city. Sure, the emergence of big-box stores like West Fargo’s Costco was exciting, but there comes a time when one-size-fits-all just doesn’t work. If you are looking for products with personality and panache, you are not going to find them at Target. You will likely, however, find what you are looking for downtown, especially those “I’m not sure what I am looking for but I’ll know it when I see it” type of items.
Broadway is still home to several mainstays that have graced the avenue for several years. Among them are Zandbroz Variety, Beyond Running, Unglued, O’Day Cache, Art Materials, The Spirit Room, and the MinDak Gold Exchange. In addition, however, other players have joined the retail game. If you haven’t been to the Blue Eyed Girl Salon, Gruber Guitars, The Red Silo, or Polished, you are not taking full advantage of all Downtown Fargo has to offer.
Within a five-block stretch of Broadway, you will find every shop, eatery, or entertainment venue you could ever want. Branch out a block or two in each direction and you will discover even more hidden gems. Summer is a great time to explore the area. You never know when you’ll find that one thing that you just must have, even though you never knew you needed it.
By Jamee Larson