The Kalamazoo Mall opened on August 19th, 1959, as the nation’s first downtown pedestrian mall.
The Mall in 1960.
Eisenhower was President. Elvis was King. It was August 19, 1959, and a new era in Kalamazoo’s history was about to begin. The nation’s first pedestrian shopping mall opened on the two blocks of South Burdick Street between Water and South Streets with much fanfare, a mere two and a half months after construction first began. The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra was on hand to celebrate the event with 50,000 people who visited the mall on its first day, more than ten times the usual number.
The Mall today.
According to the Kalamazoo Mall webite : “The morning dew still in the air, you catch the early birds making their way to their stores, cups of coffee in hand. You hear a few laughs, friendly hellos, and the jingle of keys. Not long after that, stores open and people crisscross the herringbone brick and cement street on the Kalamazoo Mall. Customers visit merchants, some of them long-time friends. Stop for a bagel or pastry or lunch, if it’s already midday. Get their shoes shined. Or pick up an out-of-town newspaper. Some have business at one of the corner banks. Others have creative interests at the Epic Center, where so much of Kalamazoo’s artistic talents now reside. Come evening, people come out to dine or just window shop, while folks who work downtown relax at quitting time and take in an evening event near the Radisson.
Year round, there are constant reasons to come to the mall. Parades and sidewalk sales. Art on the Mall, Mixer on the Mall, the holiday season, and more. All of it at the heart of a growing, diverse Central City.”
Kalamazooans enjoyed the mall for nearly forty years, but ultimately it could not counter the continued effects of suburbanization. Critics complained of the lack of convenient parking, the exposure of shoppers to bad weather, public perceptions of crime, and less shopping diversity. In the mid-1990s the proposed introduction of an access street through two blocks of the mall became the most controversial component of Project Downtown’s 10-point plan for Kalamazoo’s revitalization. In a hotly contested election, voters approved the access street in May 1997. Construction on the 14-foot wide street began a year later in April 1998. The city officially reopened the street on October 9, 1998 with a weekend celebration highlighted by a visit from Governor John Engler, a big band concert reflecting the one in 1959, and a fireworks display. There was even a citywide raffle to select the lucky citizen who would drive the first car down the mall since 1959.
From Wheels to Heels: The Mall City, courtesy of , Kalamazoo Public Library, December 2, 2009.
Michigan History, July/August 2012.