Even before Rochester's Apache Mall opened its doors to throngs of shoppers in 1969, it was already driving major changes by luring the city's largest retailer out of downtown.
The eight-story Dayton's department store had lorded over downtown on the corner of Second Street and South Broadway as an "anchor" since 1954. It was the first store Dayton's built outside of the Twin Cities.
The downtown Dayton's was a Rochester landmark in the same way that Mayo Clinic and IBM were at that time.
Enclosed, "climate controlled" shopping malls were the hot new thing in retail in 1950s and 1960s.
As he sat eating pretzels with his daughter Rhiannon in the Apache Mall's sunny Food Court this week, Randy Pooler remembered traveling from C…
However, Rochester soon found out that nothing lasts forever and the unthinkable sometimes happens.
The Post Bulletin got word in mid-September 1969, a month before the sprawling Apache Mall opened, that Dayton's was in talks with Apache Mall about possibly purchasing the whole mall or becoming a tenant. Either option meant the keystone piece of Rochester's downtown was thinking of pulling out.
Dayton's President Carl Erickson said that if the department store didn't move to Apache, it would undergo a major expansion downtown.
While being an anchor in a shiny new mall was certainly an attraction, Rochester voters were a primary reason Dayton's started looking beyond the faded downtown.
Voters killed a referendum in February 1969 for a massive downtown urban renewal plan to revamp downtown. Mayor Dewey Day and other city leaders opposed it, betting on future local development projects being talked about for downtown.
Erickson told the Post Bulletin that if the referendum had passed, Dayton's "probably would not have given any thought to moving out of downtown."
The road to moving Dayton's out of downtown was not a smooth one. Talks between Apache Corp. and Dayton's hit some bumps, and Dayton's said it couldn't make a decision before the November deadline set by Apache.
The Rochester City Council urged Dayton's to stay put. A proposed multi-million development was in the works for the Michael's area at Broadway and Center Street, but it required Dayton's presence to go forward.
"If Dayton's moved out of the downtown, it wouldn't kill us, but it would hurt while we are trying to shore up the downtown picture," said Mayor Day before Dayton's had made a decision.
Once Dayton's announced its decision to move to Apache Mall, other downtown businesses followed.
Pete Chafos, owner of Boston Shoe Repair, said the defeat of the urban renewal plan and Dayton's move spurred him to move his shop to Apache Mall in 1970. He still operates the shop there today.
"Downtown was dying. Dayton's moving just quickened the pace," he remembered.
After lots of planning and construction, Dayton's broke ground a $4.5 million store addition on south end of the almost two-year-old Apache Mall in May 1971. An army of 500 people used 24 vans to move Dayton's from downtown to the new Apache Mall space. The two-story store opened on Aug. 1, 1972.
"Decision by Dayton's to expand to Apache mall is obviously bad news for the central business district, and potentially for Rochester taxpayers," wrote the Post Bulletin editorial writers at the time.
The editorial cited "overwhelming property taxes, parking problems and lack of any overall plan for improving traffic or redeveloping downtown" as reasons why Dayton's chose to move to the mall versus expanding in the downtown.