If you’re under a certain age, you may not remember a Minnesota without the Mall of America. But before it opened in 1992, the mall was a long time coming, and its success was far from certain.
Hundreds of retail stores, 40 restaurants, an 18-hole mini golf course, an amusement park — some thought it would turn into a giant, empty eyesore.
Host Cathy Wurzer talks with Maureen Bausch, who was the Mall of America’s public relations manager for 25 years, for our latest edition of Minnesota Now and Then.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Click the audio player above to listen to their conversation.
You were hired essentially to convince folks the building was going to work, right?
Yes. There were lots of stories that were printed, some accurate, some not so much. We had done extensive research before the mall opened with the developers, the Ghermezian’s, as well as the Simon group and our investors. So that’s what we had faith in. But you know, with anything, you can research it and find an answer that meets your needs. And many retailers did not want us entering this market for sure.
Did you think right away the MOA would be a success?
I did, but I was a retailer. I came out of the supermarket industry. I grew up in retail and I traveled the country for the job that I was in at Cub. And for some reason, I just knew it was going to be successful. I didn’t know we’d have such fabulous partners like Northwest Airlines who would do these great shop to drop flights. I didn’t. I couldn’t imagine people coming from England to shop there. But I did know it was going to be successful.
How did you get the PR out there to a national audience?
It was almost completely earned media that helped us tell the story through credible publications. And it worked, it really worked. Then we had great partners again who would talk about it with us and co-brand with us and that helped also. But it was hard to convince people that first of all we were going to open, people didn’t think it would ever open and then that they would like it.
How did you feel opening day?
Probably exhausted to be real honest with you because we had worked so hard the last few months. And we had done more research that said, people finally believed it would open, but they were going to come and absolutely hate it. And it was so funny.
I remember rounding the corner, outside the media center and we had 2,400 media from around the country that were covering it. It was just amazing. But we rounded that corner, and there were people with their faces pressed up against the door, and the crowd was as deep as you could see.
I think I started to cry. Like, “Oh my gosh, they’re actually coming.”
And we had 13,000 People starting work the very first day, at the same time in those hundreds of stores — 150,000 people entered the building that day, and it just never stopped.
I give you a tip of a hat for the various events that have been held at the mall over the years. Because that was a big marketing tactic for you. Right?
It was and what we realized very early on was that we had to keep that building fresh, that we had to always have something new and something happening. And in those days, the record labels and the agents really liked to get their celebrities out to promote whatever they had, a book a movie or a video. And so we marketed to them and they brought their celebrities and events to the Mall of America because there were a lot of people.
People knew they’d find something new. And there was such a variety there that whether you were one or 100, or you had $1 or $10,000 to spend, you could come and enjoy yourself. It is a promise we could keep.
Do you have any favorite memories from some of the live events?
Oh my gosh, there’s so many and I don’t think we have that much time. But I remember, these are oldies, but Zsa Zsa Gabor came in 1994 and she was in her 70s and I remember that she came into my office and I was in the basement of the mall with the fluorescent lights and she said “Oh darling, never sit under fluorescent light. You’ll age so quickly.”
I was like 30 something. She was hysterical. And Joan Rivers, oh my gosh, that woman was a workaholic. And Mary Kate and Ashley Olson were 11 year old’s that ran around our office for 10 days when they filmed their movie they were just delightful girls was so respectful. And they called me Mrs. Bausch all week.
And Britney Spears, we used to get celebrities on their way up or or on their way down, she had pigtails in her little pleated skirt. And I remember when Planet Hollywood opened and then of course, the wonderful Vince Flynn, he had his first and I believe his last book signing at Mall of America. He was a real friend to the mall.
I have to commend the team, they have brought in attractions and retail to that building that can’t be found online. And that, it’s beautiful, probably prettier than the day it opened — it’s in fabulous condition and they’re still adding new things every day. But there are a lot of attractions and you just can’t do those online.
What does the future hold?
They’re adding the big waterpark to the north and probably more hotels and you know it’s like Disneyland, as long as you keep adding and changing with your customers and understanding what consumers want, you’ll be fine.
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