VALLEY FAIR CENTER
South Memorial Drive and West Calumet Street
Winnebago County (Appleton), Wisconsin

Where was America's first fully-enclosed, climate-controlled shopping center? Most mid-20th century historians would cite SOUTHDALE CENTER, in Edina, Minnesota, as the nation's first interior mall. This complex opened for business October 8, 1956.

However, a little-known retail establishment in Northeastern Wisconsin's Fox Cities area would probably qualify as the nation's first suburban-style mall. VALLEY FAIR CENTER was officially dedicated March 10, 1955, well over a year before business began at Minnesota's SOUTHDALE.

Work commenced on the Wisconsin retail hub on July 1, 1953. The mini-mall was built on a 26.8 acre parcel, located 1 mile south of downtown Appleton. The site was originally within a section of unincorporated Winnebago County known as Town of Menesha.

VALLEY FAIR CENTER was developed by Hoffman Shopping Centers, Incorporated of Appleton and designed by George Narovec. There were six stores in business by October 1954. At the official grand opening, held March 10, 1955, eighteen were in business.

By 1956, an additional eighteen store spaces along the enclosed corridor and "Central Mall" were occupied. The 1 million dollar shopping complex encompassed approximately 150,000 leasable square feet. It was comprised of a single retail level and 10,000 square foot (upper level) office mezzanine.

VALLEY FAIR CENTER had parking space for 1,500 hundred cars. The facility was anchored on the west by a 1-level (20,000 square foot) Krambo Foods supermarket. On the east was a 1-level (20,000 square foot) W.T. Grant "junior department store".

Charter tenants included Walgreen Drug, Badger Paint & Hardware, Three Sister's ladies' wear, House of Cards & Cameras, Eddie's Self-service Liquor and an F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10.

The Krambo chain was acquired by the Cincinnati-based Kroger Company in June 1955. The twenty-five Krambo stores would retain their original nameplate until 1962, when a Kroger-Krambo brand appeared. This was phased out in 1963, when all Kroger-Krambo operations were rebranded as Kroger stores.

The VALLEY FAIR Kroger was shuttered in 1971, with the store space being leased to an independent grocer. Grants shut down March 15, 1975. Its vacant area was soon gutted and incorporated into a new East Wing.

This housed a 1-level (78,000 square foot), Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin-based Kohl's department store and (33,000 square foot) Kohl's Foods supermarket. Twenty new retail spaces were created in the old Grants space and an adjacent addition.

As part of the expansion project, the decor of the original mallway was given a 1970s "earth tone" update. The renovation was officially dedicated in the fall of 1978. A second construction phase added the Marcus Theatres Valley Fair Cinemas I-II-III to the south side of the mall. This venue showed its first features in December 1979.

The first competition for VALLEY FAIR CENTER came in 1983, when NORTHLAND CENTER {3.1 miles north, in Appleton} was renovated into the partially-enclosed NORTHLAND MALL. In 1984, FOX RIVER MALL {3.1 miles northwest, in Outagamie County} was dedicated.

As these shopping hubs were being developed, the City of Appleton was preparing to annex the VALLEY FAIR CENTER site. This was accomplished on December 9, 1983.

By the early 1990s, competition had sent the VALLEY FAIR complex into a downward spiral. It would be bought and sold several times over the ensuing years.

Meanwhile, the mall's multiplex had been expanded and reconfigured as a 6-plex venue in the late 1980s. It was renamed, as the Valley Value Cinemas, in 1996. Kohl's department store was shuttered in March 2000. The adjoining Kohl's Foods had been converted to Foods Basic, a limited-brand low-price point grocery, in 1995.

This store was out of business by 2002, with a flea market being set up in the space. Several slots in the mall were vacant by this time. A plan to energize the aging center was undertaken. A non-profit organization, known as Youth Futures, sought to reinvent VALLEY FAIR as a "teen mall".

The vacant Kohl's department stores were divided into an indoor skateboarding track and live band venue and local "family-oriented" retailers were contracted to fill the remaining retail spaces within the 239,100 square foot complex. Unfortunately, this initiative was unsuccessful.

Youth Futures sold the virtually vacant property to Wisconsin-based VF Partners in February 2006. VF Partners, a joint venture between Commercial Horizons, Rollie Winter Associates and Bomier Properties, demolished the remaining circa-1950s mall in August 2007, leaving only the cinema, a freestanding Chase Bank and vacant Kohl's stores standing.

The plan was to redevelop the site as a mixed-use office and retail complex, tentatively named VALLEY FAIR CENTER. The old Kohl's buildings were to be renovated and worked in with new structures. This plan was never carried out.

In October 2009, it was announced that a (70,000 square foot) Copps Food Center was to be built at the mall site. The Kohl's buildings were razed and replaced by the new supermarket, which held its grand opening June 12, 2010.

On September 7, 2015, the Valley Value Cinemas was shuttered. The Copps Food Center was rebranded, as a Pick 'n Save supermarket, in November 2016.

Sources:

Appleton Post Crescent / "18 Stores In Valley Fair's Biggest Preview Starting Thursday" / March 9, 1955
"Valley Fair" article on Wikipedia
"Kohl's" article on Wikipedia
http://www.commercialhorizons.com
Appleton Post-Crescent / "Valley Fair Redevelopment Plan Announced, Good Portion Of The Building To Come Tumbling Down In July" / Maureen Wallenfang, staff writer / June 9, 2006


FAIR USE OF VALLEY FAIR CENTER IMAGES:

The images from The Appleton Post-Crescent illustrate a key moment in the mall's history that is described in the article. The graphic image is of lower resolution than the original (copies made would be of inferior quality). The images are not replaceable with free-use or public-domain images. The use of the images does not limit the copyright owners' rights to distribute the images in any way. The images are being used for non-profit, informational purposes only and their use is not believed to detract from the original images in any way.