SOUTH FORKS CENTER
South Washington Street / US 81 and 17th Avenue South
Grand Forks, North Dakota

Which shopping facility qualifies as the Peace Garden State's first mall? Charter stores in Minot's ARROWHEAD CENTER began business in 1962. Bismarck's NORTHBROOK CENTER opened in 1963. These complexes, both fully-enclosed, each encompassed between 71 and 84 thousand leasable square feet.

In essence, the total area of one of these mini centers would almost fit inside the south anchor of a much larger mall-type complex being built in Grand Forks. SOUTH FORKS CENTER, a regional-class facility, was designed by the Grand Forks-based Wells-Denbrook firm. It was developed, by H. Grant Jensen, on a 40-acre land parcel. This was located 1.5 miles southwest of downtown Grand Forks.

The first operational store, 1-level (71,000 square foot) Kmart, was dedicated February 8, 1964. The second anchor, a 1-level (50,000 square foot) Sears, commenced operation on October 8th. This store was part of a northern mall section that was completed in 1965.

SOUTH FORKS CENTER originally consisted of two sections, with their mallways not connecting. Most stores had interior and exterior entries. Charter tenants included Del's Coffee Shop, Leonard's Barber Shop, Stonegate Pets, Kinney Shoes and a Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio.

The two mall sections were connected with an addition dedicated in November 1973. A subsequent expansion, completed in 1977, housed the Mid-Continent Theatres (Midco) Plaza 1 & 2 Cinema. By this time, the shopping hub was officially known as SOUTH FORKS PLAZA. It encompassed approximately 275,200 leasable square feet.

A major retail rival came on the scene in August 1978. The Dayton-Hudson Corporation's COLUMBIA MALL was built 1 mile southwest of SOUTH FORKS PLAZA. Housing 571,800 leasable square feet, COLUMBIA MALL was quickly established as the preeminent mall in the region, relegating the SOUTH FORKS property to second-class status.

A 51,000 square foot addition was built onto SOUTH FORKS PLAZA in 1989. Known as the South Forks Pavilion, it was an convention-type facility, which hosted various shows and pageants. The next enlargement was completed in 1991. Kmart was expanded into a Big Kmart-format store, increasing its area to 95,000 square feet. The mall now encompassed approximately 351,400 leasable square feet.

Rumors about the SOUTH FORKS PLAZA Sears moving to COLUMBIA MALL surfaced in early 1988. However, the SOUTH FORKS store was remodeled between May and September, putting the rumors to rest....for a while.

Eventually, the rumors were confirmed. Sears opened its new COLUMBIA MALL store August 12, 2000. The old location at SOUTH FORKS PLAZA was subdivided into five tenant spaces, with the largest being a (31,000 square foot), a Columbus, Ohio-based Big Lots. This store welcomed its first shoppers in mid-2002. Adjacent to Big Lots were North Dakota Ballet Company, Family Dollar, Zimmerman's Furniture and Aaron's.

SOUTH FORKS PLAZA had changed hands in January 1996. Its new owners were the Chattanooga-based Provident Life & Accident Insurance Company. They flipped the property in June 1997, with the new proprietor being Denver-based J. Herzog & Sons. They completed a face lift renovation in May 1998. Interior walls were painted. Moreover, new lighting, flooring and a Center Court gazebo were installed.

A local congregation, the Hope Evangelical Covenant Church, had opened a temporary sanctuary in the mall in October 1995. After the shuttering of the South Forks Pavilion, they purchased it and converted it into a (50,000 square foot) house of worship, which was dedicated in April 1999.

A 250 thousand dollar renovation revamped the interior of the shopping complex with "turn-of-the-century" storefronts. A carousel was also installed in Center Court. As a facet of the remodeling, the name of the facility was changed to GRAND CITIES MALL in August 2001.

On May 15, 2007, the GRAND CITIES MALL Big Lots closed for good. The space was divided between two tenants. Play It Again Sports commenced operation in 2009, followed by ConsignIt Home Furnishings, which began business in March 2010.

The Hope Evangelical Covenant Church acquired GRAND CITIES MALL in March 2015. The congregation decided to maintain the mall's function as a retail center for the foreseeable future, with the intention of expanding church facilities into vacant selling space. Plans were made for the establishment of daycare, pre-school and adult education centers. Church offices were also moved into the mall.

Play It Again Sports and ConsignIt relocated into smaller storefronts in May 2015. This provided a (31,000 square foot) space for a new Popplers Music store. It opened for business in July 2015.

Sources:

The Grand Forks Herald
Grand Forks County, North Dakota property tax assessor website
http://www.jherzog.com
http://www.hopecovenantchurch.org
http://www.bismarckpride.com
www.cinematreasures.org
http://movie-theatre.org / Mike Rivest
"Grand Cities Mall" article on Wikipedia