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Making mall magic

WASHINGTON SQUARE MALL in Detroit Lakes is celebrating its 25th year in business this weekend. Mall businesses will be having 25 percent off sales, as well as items for $2.50.

The Washington Square Mall in Detroit Lakes is getting set to mark a major milestone in its history-- its 25th anniversary.

The mall, which was opened in November of 1986, sort of rose from the ashes, if you will.

"After a fire took out a couple of buildings on both sides of the mall, a developer came in and thought this would be a great place to build a shopping mall -- right in downtown Detroit Lakes," said Washington Square Mall Manager Dawn Olson.

The mall, which was constructed around the original street-side buildings that survived the fire, is owned by a partnership called Washington Square Limited Partnership.

"Several of the owners are people who have been a part of the lakes area. They're families who have lake homes here," said Olson.

Over the past 25 years, Olson says the mall has had its ups and downs, which included periods of fairly low occupancy.

"There's been a lot of different businesses that have come and gone over the years," said Olson, "There's been mom and pop-type businesses that tried to make it a go of it, but just couldn't because of an economic downturn or something."

Tracy Kohler has been working at the mall for 24 out of those 25 years as a waitress at Pizza Hut, one of the two original businesses still in the mall (the other being Regis Salon).

"I think we've been able to stay around for so long because we've got a nationally known name, and it's a good location," said Kohler.

However, Olson says these days are good ones for the mall, which is now home to 35 businesses and 250 employees.

"A lot of it has to do with our economic development," said Olson, "there's more jobs that are available in our community; there are more attractions now in our community ... all those things make more people want to live here, work here and play here."

Olson credits a strong downtown business sector as another factor in mall success.

"You can pretty easily say there are 50 shopping opportunities in the immediate downtown area," said Olson, "And I think the new Downtown Crossing development will actually increase our economic base in Detroit Lakes even more because business begets business."

Olson says another factor for current success is the fact that the mall is multi-use.

"It creates a larger demographic of people who will come here," said Olson, "so people will come in here to plan a trip at the travel agency and then see all the clothing stores."

The newest business in the mall is Embellish -- a resale boutique that opened up at the end of April.

"I really like being in the mall for the simple fact that there's a lot of walk-in people, and the mall does so much advertising," said Embellish owner Erin Redetzke.

In fact, Redetzke says she hasn't had to do any advertising since opening up because of her spot in the mall.

"It's one cost that we don't have to worry about," said Redetzke, "We've been able to put our money elsewhere and buy new racks and improve our computer system instead of having to do advertising -- we're doing much better than I had expected."

The mall currently sits at a 95 percent occupancy rate -- a strong showing for what mall management hopes is a spectacular 25th anniversary party.

"We'll be having what we call a "Sale-a-bration," said Olson, "so many of the businesses will be giving discounts from 25 percent off to something that's $2.50 -- centering around that 25 theme."

The event is this Saturday starting at 10 a.m.

"That's when the Bazaar Fest starts," said Olson. "It's a non-profit fundraiser where different organizations bring in baked goods. The Sons of Norway will be there with lefse. And some churches are bringing things, so it's like a giant bake sale."

Starting at 11 a.m. is both the Peoples' Market and the Holiday Styles and More Fashion Show.

"We have Christopher & Banks, Glicks, Maurices, Vanity and Styles by Brittney all modeling different types of themes," said Olson, "everything from what you might wear to a holiday party or out with your friends to what you'd wear on a Sunday afternoon."

A cake reception follows the fashion show at noon.

Every single mall employee will be wearing the same long-sleeved black t-shirt with a "Celebrating 25 years" logo.

Also as part of the milestone anniversary, the mall will begin taking registrations for a free trip for two to Hawaii.

"We'll do one qualifier per store, per week with the final drawing being Jan. 21," said Olson, who is also busy planning Holiday Magic at the Mall on Dec. 4.

"It's a private ticketed event where businesses offer once-a-year specials, and we give away a $500 shopping spree," Olson said, adding that tickets are $5.

For more information on the mall and its events, log on to