Where all the lights are bright

Nicollet Mall is more than just a shopping street.

by Katie Wilber

Hop on a westbound route 16 bus from the University and in about 10 minutes you’ll arrive at Nicollet Mall, home to bookstores and pharmacies, discount stores and haute couture.

A huge hole surrounded by concrete barriers greets visitors as they exit the bus. The construction site of the new central branch of the Minneapolis Public Library takes up an entire city block, and gigantic cranes tower over the scene. It’s a surprise to see an empty space in this part of town, and many first-time visitors question the reasoning behind it. Turn left, though, and there stands a Minneapolis landmark in all its glory.

Built in the late 1960s, Nicollet Mall draws business people making a quick shopping stop during lunch, soccer moms picking up birthday party supplies and college kids in need of some new CDs to drown out the noise in the dorms. Sneakers and sweatshirts mingle with suits and high heels; Subway sandwiches and Sam Goody bags are clutched in one hand while a Jessica McClintock dress bag is thrown over the other arm.

With the buildup of enclosed shopping malls in the Twin Cities and the suburbs, Nicollet Mall seems to be trying to re-create itself as a tourist attraction and not just a shopping center. Some people wander along the mall talking on cell phones or listening to music, while others march through as if they’re preparing for a power-walking competition. Well-dressed men-about-town with leather briefcases that perfectly set off their highlighted hair saunter past the people who come to get away from the cold and those who don’t want to drive or ride the bus all the way to the Mall of America. Bus stops line the mall because cars aren’t allowed to drive down Nicollet, and the stops shelter suede jackets and NFL sweatshirts together.

A walk outside might do the body good, but the skyway helps when the Minnesota winter gets cold enough to make Chicago seem like Maui or when the dog days of summer make the air smell like a garbage barge floating down New York’s East River. But you win some, you lose some; even though the skyway connections expose shops hidden from the sidewalk view, they turn the uniqueness of a 12-block shopping tour de force into a generic shopping center. It gives people more room and more time to get from one place to another, but the interior lacks the eclectic atmosphere the mall truly deserves.

So just take a break from the troubles of studying and traverse the Nicollet Mall. A few hours there might cost a little more than a stress-relieving session with a therapist, but it’s a lot more fun.