October 27, 2015
As we hit the 50th anniversary of NorthPark Center, I find myself reminiscing on my adventures there over the past three years. My escapades have encompassed everything from holiday concerts to the search for the perfect black blouse.
Last December the children I tutor in South Dallas encouraged me to attend their holiday concert. As we all know, elementary school kids can be less than reliable or accurate. I traipsed the four corners of the mall in search of the concert, and nearly missed the show.
Another adventure included carrying two large cookie cakes from the second floor food court to the Pi Kappa Alpha house on SMU’s campus. After a successful philanthropy event, my sorority wanted to thank the brothers of PIKE with a couple of large cookie cakes to devour, and it was my duty to retrieve the delectable treats.
My best friend and I end up at NorthPark more often than we should, especially for our college budgets. One particular time, we grazed the halls of the mall returning to this particular black blouse at Neimans. My friend loved it, but the price tag gave her second thoughts. She finally pulled the trigger, and the blouse has become a staple in her wardrobe and the perfect use of her Christmas money.
NorthPark: The History
NorthPark was built by Ryamond D. Nasher, a Dallas developer, and his wife Patsy. The mall opened July 22, 1965. It became the largest climate controlled retail center in the world, according to NorthPark’s website. Neiman Marcus is the only original anchor that still remains while early tenants JCPenny, Woolworths and Titche-Goettinger have closed their doors.
After 30 years Nasher sold his portion of NorthPark to his daughter Nancy A. Nasher and her husband, David Haemisegger, who expanded the mall by 1.2 million square feet, completing the square shape. Nordstrom, Macy’s, Dillard’s and Neiman Marcus anchor the mall at each of the four corners.
SMU girls definitely have an affinity toward NorthPark Center, and you’re guaranteed to run into one of your classmates while shopping. In fact, I just did while on my latest venture. Most girls don’t need an excuse to make a trip to NorthPark, but once Halloween approaches, American Apparel might be their first stop. During formal season, girls make a trip or two to BCBG Maxazria and Neiman Marcus. When they are game for a girls’ movie night, they check out a film at the AMC Theater.
NorthPark Center has grown exponentially over the last 50 years, not just in size but also in the number of visitors and retailers it has hosted. As NorthPark continues to flourish, SMU girls can look forward to Zara, AG Jeans and a larger Free People entering the mall in the near future. But what factors make NorthPark Center so successful and unique?
NorthPark assistant public relations manager Shelby Foster says there are a number of reasons shoppers are drawn to the center. NorthPark is much more than a mall, but a “community-gathering place that people have been coming to for generations,” Foster says. It’s been said that NorthPark is like the “Central Park of Dallas,” she adds.
“The unparalleled mix of retailers, the award-winning architecture and the vast collection of 20th and 21stcentury art keep shoppers coming back for decades,” Foster says.
The stores that line the halls of NorthPark have drastically changed since 1965. Back then, mom-and-pop shops were commonplace, but today the majority of the 230 retailers that call NorthPark home are global “best-in-class” brands, according to Foster. One of Nasher’s goals is to bring the latest and greatest retailers to the Dallas area.
The mall caters to most with sections just for children and others focusing solely on luxury brands. Nasher added the children’s corridor in 2006 as well as a movie theater and food court. When looking around NorthPark, there isn’t just one particular kind of shopper. Foster challenged me to spend a Saturday afternoon there, and she is right. “We have moms pushing strollers through the children’s wing, teenagers frequenting the movie theater, home owners browsing through PIRCH or Williams-Sonoma, techies at Apple and Microsoft, timepiece collectors, and the luxury shopper who can be found at Neiman Marcus, Valentino, Gucci and more,” Foster states.
To stay competitive, Nasher told The Dallas Morning News how necessary it is to not only renew retailers that are doing well but release the ones that are falling behind. Nasher said that a lot of thought goes into designing a new retailer’s space, and the process often takes over a year to complete. The 230 stores that line the halls of NorthPark remain high-volume and competitive stores.
Throughout all the change in the last 50 years, one thing that has remained is NorthPark’s philanthropic pursuit. “We are as focused on giving back to the community now as we were then, welcoming philanthropic organizations of all kinds into the halls of NorthPark to give them exposure to all who shop here,” Foster says.
NorthPark: The Art Collection
According to SMU Style blogger Sara Mullally, NorthPark’s art collection lends itself to a cultural shopping experience with artists like Andy Warhol, Frank Stella and Joel Shapiro. Mullally explains that as an art history major, it amazes her when pieces spotlighted in class are a couple of miles up the road in NorthPark. Anthony Gormley’s Three Places, 1983, Mark Di Suvero’s Ad Astra, 2005, and Jonathan Borofsky’s Five Hammering Men, 1982, are pieces that have played a pivotal role in Mullally’s studies.
The art collection is not the only thing that keeps Mullally returning to the mall at least twice a month. She explains, “I would much rather shop at NorthPark than online. I just love the experience of shopping – touching fabrics and trying pieces on especially in such a beautiful environment.”
NorthPark’s appeal draws visitors from all over the world. According to NorthPark, an average of 26 million people visit the mall each year, which is continually ranked in the top five shopping destinations in America. “Shopping at NorthPark is an experience – the clean architecture, world-class art collection, unmatched retail mix and variety of dining options – an experience you can’t get from shopping from home,” says Foster. Shoppers engage all senses while shopping from smelling fresh cookies, viewing the newest piece of art, and feeling a cashmere sweater.
Not every retailer has flourished in NorthPark, however. Barneys New York left the mall in 1997. The flagship store returned in 2006 but closed its doors yet again seven years later. After a brief uptick in crime due to the 2006 mall expansion, security and safety became a top priority for the owners. In 2013 Haemisegger told D Magazine that security is one of the most important items in their budget. Since then, crime has decreased.
Fashion writer and reporter Holly Haber fell in love with NorthPark the first time she visited the center. Haber describes her first moments in NorthPark: “I could not believe the artwork on display. I instantly fell in love with Jonathan Borofsky’s Five Hammering Men, and NorthPark has been my favorite shopping destination ever since.” The garden has also become one of her favorite spots. She argues that shoppers come for the experience, one that’s unrivaled by many other malls.
Haber agrees with Foster that NorthPark has become a community center, a place where people gather, dine and see films. The duck pond and sliding planters have become iconic outside of Neiman Marcus. People have grown up visiting this spot and have returned with their own children.
As an SMU student, I think we can expect SMU girls and guys to run the halls of NorthPark for 50 more years. It appears growth will continue for North Texas’ biggest and highest grossing shopping center.
“Frankly, I know of no other mall anywhere like it,” says Haber, “and there are many reasons for that but chief among them is Nasher’s insistence on top quality everywhere, all the time. That is rare.”