Des Moines’ first enclosed mall was the Park Fair mall. It opened up in 1956 at the corner of Euclid and 2nd in Highland Park, in the north part of town. It was a pretty tiny mall, at just over 300,000 square feet or so, between the basement and the main level. It was anchored by a W.T. Grant Department store and Woolsworth’s. The original mall tenants were Lazy M Shoes, The Record Shop, Walt’s Jewelry, and dozens of others.
With some small exceptions, the majority of the merchants were local, some just at Park Fair, and some like Tripplet’s and Frankel’s were successfull, long-standing merchants in the downtown area of Des Moines. In 1956, the majority of the retail stores were in downtown.
Park Fair had a couple great years of business until Merle Hay Mall was built. It was right on the outside of town, and it was just accessible to people who were in the western suburbs. Park Fair happened to be in an older neighborhood, and it was part of a solid middle class area, and it would soon move to the suburbs though, leaving the area to a wake of quick decline henceforward.
One indicator of a dying mall is the unusual tenants who are taking up shop there. With Park Fair, there had always been some of that, even when the mall was in its heyday. In the initial eight years of its life, it it held a US Navy recruiting office, dance school, massage parlor, optometrist, and finance company. There was a state DOT branch that issued drivers’ licenses too, and this would become very important later on.
As it went into the 1970s, the mall seemed to be in good shape. It had some unconventional tenants, but it was leased fully, and the people were still shopping there. However, as the decade kept going on, things started to alter some. Merle Hay Mall, which was just a few miles down the road, got enclosed, and it expanded totally, and it added a third anchor and a lot more retail spaces.
The DOT moved out of Park Fair in 2007, in a new facility that was custom-built. This made the mall kind of empty. The final plan seemed to be to sell the idea of the mall being like a kind of office park. All of the mall’s empty storefront was converted into office space that could be leased, and there were a few kiosk spaces that have been finished off too.
I’m not sure whether idea of selling Park Fair as an office plaza, as opposed to a mall, will work any better. However, it just might. However, the area is still plagued with poverty and crime. The businesses that have a lot of excess capital would rather make the journey out west instead of setting up shop where there’s a lot of crime nad poverty. There are few shops there, like a restaurant, welfare office, and a counseling center as well.