Northwest Plaza

Last week, I discussed the development of St. Ann, an inner-ring St. Louis County suburb. Perhaps St. Ann’s greatest claim to fame is Northwest Plaza.

Now defunct, Northwest Plaza was, in its heyday, perhaps the grandest place to shop in the St. Louis metropolitan area. And by “heyday,” I don’t mean its peak years as an enclosed mall. To me, the 1989 enclosure was a desecration, a move that made the mall as plastic as any number of other malls in the St. Louis area.

No, for me, the glory days were its incarnation as an outdoor air mall. Sure, the elements could get to you sometimes – snow and sleet could pelt you as you scurried from one shop to another, looking for warmth, and the humid St. Louis summer weather could wilt you as you valiantly pushed on to yet another part of your shopping expedition. But these were minor worries as you enjoyed the beautiful surroundings of the “Plaza,” as my grandmother called it.

I’ve seen two dates for the mall’s opening: 1963 and 1966. Any Wellston Loop readers care to weigh in on which date is correct? According to Wikipedia, at the time the mall opened, it was the largest mall in the world. Certainly it continued to be one of the grandest malls anywhere. As a child, then a teenager, and eventually as a young adult, I took Northwest Plaza for granted, assumed that every metro area had such a stand-out place to go shopping. Only in retrospect have I come to appreciate what a treasure St. Louis had.

Anchor stores were Famous-Barr (later Macy’s), JCPenney, Sears, and eventually Stix, Baer & Fuller (referred to simply as “Stix,” later Dillard’s). Also featured were Vandervoort’s (a local department store), Boyd’s (an “upscale apparel store), a Walgreen’s pharmacy (complete with a great grilled cheese sandwich that I used to love to purchase on my excursions to the “Plaza”), and a two-story Woolworth dime store. Famous had an iconic rotunda (and in fact, if there were any public domain images available of the rotunda, I’d post that on this page as my symbol of Northwest Plaza).

After its enclosure, the mall experienced a rebirth for a time, but eventually crime came to plague the mall (including a gang-related murder and two other fatal shootings), and the mall suffered a decline from which it never recovered. The mall was finally closed in Fall 2010.For more on the decline and closure of Northwest Plaza, read the Wikipedia entry.

As always St. Louis blogger Toby Weiss offers a thoughtful take on the history and demise of Northwest Plaza; the comments section on this blog post is especially rich – well worth the time it takes to read through the 18 responses.

Another excellent discussion of Northwest Plaza is offered by Label Scar, a retail history blog. This post has generated (to date) 183 comments, but they are fabulous and, again, well worth the read.

And finally, if you really want to trip down Memory Lane, listen to this great radio jingle about Northwest Plaza. It includes references to eight record stores and to shoe stores that offer everything from Earth shoes to platforms!

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