Rushmore Crossing just a freezing, overgrown strip mall

We often hear Rushmore Crossing referred to in the media as an “open-air lifestyle center.”

It’s part of what to me is a puzzling trend. A devolution in shopping.  One that just doesn’t make sense, especially this time of year, especially in this part of the country.

How about walking around in the elements to go shopping? Awesome idea. Like last Wednesday when I decided to go to Scheels. The air temperature was 18 degrees and all of western South Dakota was under a wind advisory. That meant with an average wind speed of 30 miles per hour and gusts up to 45, the warmest wind chill was -20 degrees.

It was OK when I scurried into the store, but then I foolishly decided to go to Target. And as part of my commitment to fitness and the environment, I refuse to drive that short of a distance.

The walk to Target was not so bad. But when I left the store to return to my car parked in front of Scheels, I headed directly into the brutal wind, walking in the store’s long winter shadow. My eyes immediately teared up and several seconds later my cheeks began to sting.

It was a far cry from my trip to Rushmore Mall the day before. I parked in the second space nearest JC Penney’s west entrance. I didn’t find what I was looking for there. Thinking Herberger’s might have what I wanted, I exited the store into the enclosed mall.

I noticed that some of the architecture was reminiscent of 1978 when the mall was built. But then my eyes were drawn to the sunlight streaming in from the overhead windows and the plants growing green and lush in the dead of winter. Ah, both timeless pleasures certainly nowhere to be found at Rushmore Crossing.

As I strolled along toward Herberger’s I noticed several men sitting on the benches, waiting for someone that they came with I supposed. The only people sitting around outside at Rushmore Crossing were a couple of bronze figures frozen in place in front of Scheel’s.

I found what I wanted at Herberger’s, but decided to finish my tour of the mall. A group of a couple dozen people ate together at a whole row of tables in the food court. It was a pleasant place to walk, sit and enjoy the company of others on a winter day.

When I got home I decided to go online to see if I could get my head around this “open-air lifestyle concept.” I learned a couple interesting things.

First, the trend is not new. In August 2004 USA Today called the outdoor lifestyle center “a new twist” in the retail world. These centers focus on landscaping and having places to sit that give it the feel of “cozier Main Street shopping districts of years gone by.”

Sounds a lot like something I remember back in the 1960s. In suburban Chicago, Golf Mill was an outdoor shopping center with courtyards that pre-dated enclosed malls. I remember hustling between stores while Christmas shopping and dreading the cold.

Second, except for the outdoor part of it, Rushmore Crossing isn’t really an “open-air lifestyle center.” According to the International Council of Shopping Centers these shopping venues have upscale specialty stores, small department stores, dining and entertainment. And they don’t have anchor stores.

No, Rushmore Crossing is pretty much just a strip mall on steroids. No atmosphere. No ambiance. Just the wind roaring out of the north and a scenic view of cars whizzing by on I-90.

It’s a mystery to me why the new Rushmore Mall owners have to worry about “reviving shoppers’ enthusiasm for the property.” Unless I consider that shoppers (and diners) tend to mindlessly flock to whatever’s new, thinking that alone makes it the place to be.

Dare to be different. Shop at Rushmore Mall. Dare to be really different. Shop in downtown Rapid City.

About Ken Steinken

Ken Steinken is a writer, retired teacher (journalism, English, Spanish), park developer, and cave explorer, who lives with his wife in Rapid City.

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