When it was built in 1981, Edmonton’s West Edmonton Mall was the largest mall in the world, a blazing beacon of the excess of the 80s. So popular was this mecca of merchandise, that travel packages were created from Vancouver and the prairies for people to fly in on shopping trips – much like you would go to Las Vegas or Phoenix or LA.
That was in the 80s.
Today, 30 years later, Edmonton’s West Edmonton Mall is old. Very old. It’s looks like a dreary bunker from the outside. The most impressive side of the mall, is the west side, that’s where the movie theatres and hotel are located, but it’s the very old east side that visitors first see when they pull in off the Whitemud. It’s a depressing low brown facade with an ancient Zellers logo glowing in the night.
Inside, the mall is no better. A victim of it’s 1980s design, the concourse is narrow, the ceilings are low and there are adornments of brass and glass begging for the ghost of Krystal Carrington to come and save them.
No longer is it the world’s biggest, now it’s just 5th. A walk from end to end which used to seem daunting, now feels like a warm up for a lap around Calgary’s sprawling Cross Iron Mills.
But things are about to change. Major renovations (the first since the mall was built) are starting this year and expected to last nearly 2 years. The mall needs it, the place feels like Las Vegas of the North, but more like the old school tackiness of Fremont St.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I’m thinking Edmonton might make for a great 36 hour escape with the family for a weekend away that has the feel of being much further south. The Palace Casino is attached to the mall, The FantasyLand Hotel offers theme rooms that sample from the strip, Galaxyland offers rides and roller coasters. Toss in the wave pool, the seal shows, skating rinks, movie theatres and underwater adventures and you can have a weekend at the mall and pretend you’re in Vegas for the weekend – until you step outside.