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Mall of America: Miles and smiles — under one roof

Published: Sunday, March 16 2008 12:17 a.m. MDT

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Minnesota isn't known for moderate weather. But blizzardlike winters, blinding rainstorms or muggy summers don't deter shoppers at the Mall of America, where it's always a dry, comfortable 70 degrees.

In fact, you can catch the light-rail transit from downtown Minneapolis on one end, or the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on the other end, and ride it right inside the mall's parking garage, missing any bad weather.

That's exactly what my 17-year-old daughter, Amy, and I did on a rainy day several months ago. We sloshed from the Graves 601 Hotel in downtown Minneapolis to the light-rail stop. For the cost of $1.50 per ticket, we stayed warm and dry, and in only 35 minutes we entered the Mall of America's surreal shopping paradise. This is the largest retail/entertainment complex in the United States and the second-largest mall in the world, with top honors going to the West Edmonton Mall in Canada.

Before the trip, Amy visited mallofamerica.com and mapped the locations of stores she wanted to visit. She had seen many of them in her monthly Seventeen magazine, and none of them were found in our neighborhood mall. This was a good idea, because we only had about 10 hours to blitz the place. With 520 shops, if you spent only 10 minutes in each store, it would still take you 86 hours to visit them all, according to the mall management's calculations. And since the mall is so big that 258 Statues of Liberty could lie inside it, you'd be exhausted in the process.

And why travel all the way to Minnesota just to shop at the same old stores you could visit at home?

I'm not much of a shopper. But there are plenty of ways to entertain yourself while others in your group are dropping their cash:

• An indoor amusement park

• A 1.2 million-gallon aquarium

• A 14-screen movie theater

• 20 sit-down restaurants

• 30 fast-food restaurants

• A four-story LEGO Play Area

The mall also hosts various events and guest appearances. The largest, an 'NSYNC autograph signing in 1999, attracted 20,000. So, it's possible to spend a full day there and leave without buying anything.

The mall is built on the former site of the Metropolitan Stadium, where Minneapolis' professional baseball and football teams, the Twins and the Vikings, once played. The teams moved to the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis in the 1980s, leaving Bloomington with 78 acres of real estate with a great location. It was less than two miles from the airport, and at the intersection of four major highways. The mall was built and is owned by the Triple Five Group, Ghemezian brothers of Canada, who also built the West Edmonton Mall. In 1992 the doors opened with 330 stores and 10,000 employees.

It's designed in a square, with four anchor stores in each corner: Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Nordstrom and Sears. The amusement park is in the middle, with three levels of retail shops on the avenues connecting the anchor stores.

There's clothing for every price range: from the $650 Burberry trench coat at Bloomingdale's to $4 shirts at Petter's, a discount store that boasts, "Twice the fun, half the price." In between, there are lots of recognizable names like Charlotte Russe, Rainbow, Wet Seal, Delia's, Old Navy, Deb, Aldo, Lane Bryant, Urban Outfitters, H & M Hollister's, Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Sports Authority, and Nordstrom Rack.

To sweeten the deal, there's no sales tax on clothing or shoes in Minnesota.

While my daughter hit Delia's and a prom-dress store called Glitz, I tried on a few things at Torrid. As the name implies, there are no frumpy mu-muus at this plus-size women's shop. It was hard to find much that wasn't sheer, skimpy or low cut.