BLOOMINGTON, Minn.—In sandy places where poor people are all that is plentiful, mobs burn U.S. flags.
They think we are decadent. We are arrogant. We are selfish. We have too much, want too much and waste too much.
The largest mall in the U.S. is in a Minneapolis suburb, and when its expansion is finished in three to five years, it may compete as the biggest on the planet.
The owners are well-aware of big-target symbolism during turbulent times, which is why they have terrorism insurance for the Mall of America. The $750,000-a-year policy covers up to $100 million in damages.
Security is unobtrusive at Mall of America, with 130 surveillance cameras and 100 mall cops circulating in uniform and undercover. There's a Bloomington Police substation and a 911 emergency call center at the mall.
And they've got a lot to protect beyond the estimated 43 million-plus shoppers (including repeaters), who hit the stores each year.
This mother of all U.S. malls is you've-got-to-be-kidding big: 520 stores, 20 kiosks and 55 carts, and 60 places to eat, counting the seven nightclubs.
Saturation shopping is only one mall attraction.
The mall's Underwater Adventures Aquarium lets you walk acrylic tunnels through a 1.2-million-gallon aquarium featuring sharks, sting rays and a few thousand other creatures swimming above and around you. Tickets run $12.49 to $18.95.
The LEGO Imagination Center can take several hours to see and do.
If you don't want to go to a movie--14 screens--you can go bowling at Jillian's Hi Life Lanes.
You can even add to the 3,700 couples who have been married at the mall's Chapel of Love.
Opened in August 1992, the mega-mall is about 10 miles--or a 30-minute express bus ride--from downtown Minneapolis. (For more on downtown shopping, see accompanying story.) You could fit seven Yankee Stadiums or 258 Statue of Libertys into the Mall of America.
Even with a map, you can be in a perpetual state of lost.
You shop the mall's four wings--north, south, east, west--each with four floors of stores. Mall management refers to the wings as streets, with each offering a different look to help shoppers find their way around.
The North Garden (wing) is meant to evoke an open park with trees, plants and fountains. East Broadway is neon, glass and chrome. West Market Street is designed as a European train station with a wide corridor, bridges and a cart market. South Avenue has carpeting and chandeliers.
Because the mall is so big, you can't count on using the four anchor stores as landmarks: Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Macy's or Sears. You can't even depend on flagship stores of brand-name chains, such as Old Navy, Limited, the Gap or Banana Republic.
Just when you think you've figured out where you are, you realize something's wrong as you mutter, "Didn't I just pass Abercrombie at the other end?" Well, you did. There are three Abercrombies, including one for kids and an outlet store. Several stores have multiple locations.