Fifty years as retail royalty
West Acres marks a half century of creating unique, community-centered shopping experiences
By Kaylee Cusack, Minnkota Power Cooperative
Fargo’s West Acres Mall celebrated a significant birthday on Aug. 2 – the big FIVE-0. Much has changed since the shopping center’s doors opened in 1972 and, according to West Acres Chief Operating Officer Alissa Adams, that’s all by design.
“Our goal is to not look 50 years old,” she said.
“That’s true for all of us,” joked Chris Heaton, Senior Vice President of Property Management for West Acres.
To celebrate 50 years of being the premier shopping destination for the region, Adams, Heaton and the rest of West Acres’ partners and staff have been pulling out all the stops. They hosted a week of birthday bash events (live music, donut decorating, balloon animals, you name it), developed 1970s throwback installations throughout their space, and created a birthday lounge featuring a photo timeline of milestones from the groundbreaking to the here and now.
“It’s been fun hearing from people who have been coming to West Acres since the beginning, saying they remember driving down the dirt road to get to West Acres when it first opened,” Adams said. “We’ve been hearing a lot of fun, reflective stories from guests.”
But November is the time to switch from birthday cake to pumpkin pie and gingerbread, and Heaton and Adams are ready for it. West Acres recorded a record-breaking sales year in 2021, and they hope that momentum carries into 2022’s holiday shopping season.
As many other retailers faced challenges from a downturn of brick-and-mortar shopping, tailed by an industry-upending global pandemic, West Acres has continued to thrive through a tumultuous few years. Heaton attributes that success to the fact that West Acres is privately and locally owned, which gives them the flexibility to do things differently.
“We don’t have to answer to shareholders – we answer to our partnership,” he said.
“It’s really the community connection that makes the difference. Most shopping centers aren’t locally owned and managed,” Adams added. “The West Acres team and partners are very invested in the community, from giving back financially to supporting local artists to hosting events. Those details matter to guests.”
Partners in progress
A commitment to community is a value West Acres shares with its electricity provider, Cass County Electric Cooperative (CCEC). The entities have been natural partners from the start. When the first plans for the shopping center came together more than 50 years ago, it was CCEC that built out electric service to the site, which was just outside the city enough to be considered “rural.”
Once West Acres was open to guests, CCEC continued to help the facility overcome obstacles and make smart energy choices.
“The mall started with fuel oil boilers in the ‘70s, and then the oil shortage hit,” explained Chad Brousseau, CCEC business accounts manager. “The fuel supplier didn’t think it would have enough fuel oil for the mall’s heating needs for that winter, so that’s where West Acres and Cass County Electric really worked together.”
With the help of CCEC, West Acres transitioned to electric boilers on the cooperative’s off-peak program. During peak demand times, the electric boilers would switch to fuel oil backups. West Acres received a discounted rate for that electric use.
“It was kind of the start of our dual-fuel off-peak program, for sure on the commercial side,” Brousseau said. “That program has expanded and evolved over the years, and West Acres is still on the off-peak program. But now they switch over to backup generators during those peak times.”
West Acres and CCEC blazed another trail together in 2016, when the organizations partnered for a Level 2 electric vehicle charging station on the north end of the property. It was one of the first in the region at the time.
“That was a great addition for customer service. We’ve added a second one since then – a DC fast charger,” Heaton said. “They get good use, which is fantastic.”
It’s important for West Acres leaders to see the trends ahead, whether it’s on the road or on the rack. New popular stores like Athleta and Sephora recently opened on the property, with Guitar Center soon to follow. Adams says they are close to announcing even more surprises this fall.
“We always have that forward-looking viewpoint. We want to make sure that we adapt as consumers’ wants and needs change,” she said. “The core of West Acres will remain the same, but there will also be a lot of changes to make sure we remain a vibrant retail destination that people can truly enjoy for the next 50-plus years.
“We’re really excited for what’s to come,” she added with a grin