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Monday, July 13, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: NorthTown Mall

It’s Christmas season and people will again flock to NorthTown Mall to shop for holiday gifts, eat at restaurants and see movies inside a building with more than 1 million square feet of leased space, making it Eastern Washington’s largest shopping mall.

NorthTown started as a shopping center surrounding a new 30,000-square-foot supermarket built by Idaho grocery magnate Joe Albertson at the corner of Division Street and Wellesley Avenue. The store was twice as big as Albertson’s “home” store in Boise and opened in 1951. The massive parking lot had a strip of smaller stores which included Bell Furniture, a W.T. Grant dime store and other clothing or drug stores.

In 1959, Sears made plans for a new 200,000-square-foot store on the site to be completed in 1962. The Crescent department store followed suit with a 90,000-square-foot store opening that same year.

Although the walkways were still outdoors, the center began to feel like a mall with more than 40 tenants and a major expansion of the grocery store.

Just as Albertson’s supermarkets had changed the grocery business, NorthTown changed the shopping habits of many Spokane citizens with a wide range of shopping destinations in a suburban setting and plenty of free parking. But even bigger changes came in the early 1990s when a new owner, Seattle-based David Sabey and his Sabey Corp., began a complete makeover of the center, creating a two-story indoor mall with several anchor store spots.

One anchor spot went to J.C. Penney, which closed its downtown store to open at NorthTown in 1991. Sears, Mervyn’s and Emporium were part of the new mall. Nordstrom Rack opened in 2000 but later moved to the Spokane Valley Mall. Macy’s, Marshalls, Kohl’s and Barnes & Noble are in the current lineup.

The Albertsons store closed in 1989. A massive parking garage was added.

The impact of NorthTown’s success was especially felt in downtown Spokane. The loss of J.C. Penney and bankruptcy of the venerable Crescent department store prompted the owners of River Park Square to begin a massive redevelopment effort, resulting in a new Nordstrom store and indoor mall with a cinema multiplex and food court.

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