By Barb Teed / Photos by Barb Teed
In 1992, I was looking for work to pay for my kid’s dance lessons. A new mall was just about finished in my backyard of East Bloomington, Minn. named “Mall of America” it boasted to be the largest mall in the nation. I was hired in July of 1992 and started before the mall was officially open. I was recruited to be a Guest Services Representative and given three weeks of training, a red, white and blue jacket and a name tag with my birth city on it (Duluth). The new management team traveled to Walt Disney World to see how to run a guest services department. They like the WDW employee name badges listing where in the world they were from. This little detail was one of my favorite memories of working for the Mall of America guest services team for the next ten years.
The Mall of America initially hired 162 guest service representatives to staff information booths on three floors on four sides of the mall. The 162 guest service reps came from all over the world and spoke many languages. Part of our three week training included diversity training. The Mall of America was so big, we were given a compass key ring to find our way around (above). I was trained to give tours, tourist meet and greets, renting equipment such as strollers and wheelchairs, give directions, tell people where to park, where to find their cars, kids, parents and lost items, and even find camp grounds and hotels.
The Mall of America was so popular when it opened, hotels were sold out for miles. Some had to go to neighboring states of Wisconsin or Iowa to get a hotel room. I had to find one.
There was a preview night before the Mall opened. This was to thank everyone who helped build the Mall of America. Held the night before grand opening in Aug. 1992, it featured Ray Charles in the main Rotunda playing songs on a grand piano.
The Mall of America opened on Aug. 11, 1992. I was on duty. Crowds packed every entrance and at each entrance of the mall’s main stores: Macy’s, Sears, Nordstrom and Bloomingdales. When the doors were opened for the first time, the crowds resembled the running of the bulls. No one predicted how large the turn out would be. We had to park our cars in neighboring church parking lots and get shuttled in by contracted school buses because every lot in the mall was full.
The first year the Mall of America was open was a milestone. Our first Christmas parade: the guest service reps wore jingle bell necklaces that people tried to rip off our necks as souvenirs.
We discovered how to access the mall’s mammoth basement tunnel and corridor system to quickly get around.
The mall was originally designed with an architectural concept on the four sides: the West side resembled a European train station, the North side a European city with merchandise carts, the South side featured high end stores and the East side was based on the bright lights of New York City including neon lighting. This made getting around the mall easy: look for the side with the green train station and you are on the West side, when you see neon lights you are on the East side. Camp Snoopy was in the middle of the mall and Lego Land was the big hit of the Midwest.
In addition to renting strollers, we also rented pagers and a new item: cell phones. Yes, we rented cell phones by the hour. We sold hand-written paper gift certificates and sold Mall of America merchandise at our desks. Guest Services worked closely with the Mall of America Security division, and the two departments merged in the late 1990’s. In the first year, we had security-issued radios and we would ask other entrances if they had any extra wheelchairs, etc. We also used the radios to communicate lost children.
Our guest services desks had thousands of lost and found items every month. If not claimed, we donated the items to charity.
The Mall of America had celebrities all the time. I met numerous famous people; my most memorable was when N’Sych arrived with over 22,000 people to greet them in the mall’s rotunda. Before that, mall management let my daughters meet them, a highlight. Justin Timberlake was just getting established.
As head of the MOA “Sunshine Club” I did my share of birthday parties. I took more than a few photos! Thanks to all team members who helped me pull off these parties. Mostly held in the roll-call garage or East break room. It’s only fitting that I wish the Mall of America a Happy Birthday.
The Mall of America has turned 25. But working there from the very beginning has given me the best memories and some of the best friends. Some of our original crew is meeting to celebrate at the Twin Cities Grill in August to give a toast to our fun times working at a fun place.