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Merle Hay Mall

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Address: 3850 Merle Hay Road, Des Moines, IA, 50310

Stores: 95
10:00 - 21:00 ( Mon - Sat )  12:00 - 17:30 ( Sun )  
Phone: 515-276-8551

Merle Hay Mall is an enclosed super-regional shopping mall in Des Moines, Iowa, in the United States. It is the oldest regional shopping center in Iowa, having opened in 1959, and it was also the largest mall in Iowa in terms of gross leasable area before the 2004 opening of Jordan Creek Town Center in neighboring West Des Moines. It was also the site of the deadliest fire in Des Moines' history, which killed ten people in 1978.

Sears, Younkers, Kohl's, and Target are the mall's current anchors while Applebee's, IHOP, and Starbucks operate on the outparcels of the mall. While most of the mall is in the northwest part of Des Moines, the wing that contains Younkers, Kohl's, and the food court is inside the city limits of neighboring Urbandale.

Merle Hay Mall is independently owned by the Merle Hay Mall Limited Partnership, and the family of one of its original developers continues to manage the mall. A Chicago-based company, Urban Retail Properties, handles the mall's leasing duties.


The site of Merle Hay Mall was originally home to St. Gabriel's Monastery from 1921 until its demolition in 1958. In 1956, the Passionist monks who resided there sold the monastery site to Chicago-based developers Joseph Abbell and Bernard Greenbaum. Abbell, in a 1994 interview, stated that the developers chose Des Moines for their mall because of the city's "reputation as a model urban area in middle America." The mall was known as Northland Shopping Center early in its planning stages until Younkers executives suggested that it be named for Merle Hay, the first Iowan killed in World War I and namesake of the road in front of the mall, instead. Merle Hay Plaza was originally planned as a strip mall before it was redesigned as an open-air plaza with two department stores and four buildings around a commons area shortly before construction began in early 1958.

Merle Hay Plaza opened on August 17, 1959. It had 31 stores at the time of its opening, including its first anchor (Younkers), as well as a bowling alley that is still in operation today. A second anchor store opened later in 1959 as Sears moved from downtown Des Moines to Merle Hay Plaza. Other early tenants included a Safeway supermarket, Kresge's, Bishop's Buffet (which closed in 1995), and Walgreens (which was replaced by an Old Navy in 1999). A movie theater and six-story office building were added in 1965.

In 1972, Merle Hay Plaza was enclosed, becoming Merle Hay Mall. Two years later, as Valley West Mall and Southridge Mall were under construction, Merle Hay Mall completed a major westward expansion that doubled the size of the mall. Two additional anchors, Montgomery Ward (which also moved from downtown) and Younkers Store for Homes, were added to the mall as part of that expansion. By 2000, Merle Hay Mall would attract an average of 35,000 shoppers per day.

In a 1994 interview with The Des Moines Register, Iowa State University economist Kenneth Stone stated that Merle Hay Mall successfully adapted to the changing lifestyles of the 1960s and 1970s by offering longer shopping hours during a time when downtown Des Moines merchants began restricting their hours. Author and Des Moines native Bill Bryson commented on how Merle Hay Mall's opening changed Des Moines in his 2006 memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: "My father never shopped anywhere else after that. Neither did most people. By the early 1960s, people exchanged boasts about how long it had been since they had been downtown. They had found a new kind of happiness at the malls." (In 1989's The Lost Continent, Bryson wrote that "Jack Kerouac, of all people, thought that Iowa women were the prettiest in the country, but I don't think he ever went to Merle Hay Mall on a Saturday" when he commented on the obesity of Iowa women.)

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