In the ever-expanding world of dead Milwaukee malls, Northridge Mall reigns supreme. The 800,000 square-foot behemoth has stood (mostly) empty since 2003, sprawling across the city’s far northwest side at 76th Street and Brown Deer Road like a decaying pleasure palace straight out of Logan’s Run. These days, the only life inside the mall comes courtesy of airsoft players and the urban explorers who snoop around and dig up unlikely treasures. And, um, that YouTube guy back in 2017.
Speaking of treasures, let’s travel back to Northridge’s ’80s heyday via some vintage videos, shall we? We’ll learn a few facts along the way, and imagine a likely time in the not-too-distant future when malls are in vogue again. Please.
1. “Momentum 1984”
Northridge was built in 1972 and opened a year later. It was a near-identical copy of its sister mall, Southridge, which had been built two years earlier by Herb Kohl and Taubman Centers. That Northridge/Southridge double threat is highlighted in this “Momentum 1984” video. “More merchandise than Mayfair!” the video proclaims. “More convenient than Grand Avenue!” Cue a seemingly endless list of thriving Northridge stores (Musicland! Boston Store! Radio Shack!)—all of which would be gone in roughly two decades.
2. “We’ve Got It!”
But seriously: they went all in on the trumped-up “Northridge or Southridge?” rivalry.
Northridge celebrated its 10th anniversary in the fall of 1982 with a 10-day event dubbed “Encore.” The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra was just one of the event’s draws—concerts, fashion shows, and trick-or-treating for the kids were all promised. And yes, specials from all 135 (!) stores.
4. “Let’s Take It To The Mall!”
Long before “flash mobs” became a (really annoying) thing, four dudes grabbed their giant VHS camcorder, hopped in their giant ’80s car, drove the Northridge, and surprised the shopping masses with an impromptu dance number. Did they eventually get kicked out? Looks like it. “This is just like Footloose, man,” one of the dudes says. “All we want to do is dance!”
5. “Giggles: See It By Night”
Northridge would see many changes over the years—a new food court was added in 1988, for example—but none rocked the shopping world quite like the nightclub transformation of Giggles. Okay, maybe that’s pushing it, but this video is solid gold.
6. “Business Watch”
It happens to every mall: shoppers start to get scared by unruly teens and other, ahem, “youths.” Also, good old fashioned shoplifting. So it went with Northridge. In 1985, the mall instituted a new “business watch” program modeled after neighborhood watches. Watch out for “large groups of people entering a store, as a group, that doesn’t look quite right.”
But never mind crime, because: Santa! Was/is there a better time to hang out in a mall than the holiday season? No. The decorations! The caroling! The crowds! The screaming children! JCPenney!
9. “Still Thriving”
Malls may be synonymous with the 1980s, but they still had plenty of kick to them in the ’90s. Here’s some Christmastime footage shot by TMJ4 back in 1994—two years after the infamous/horrific/racist Jesse Anderson incident.
10. “The Final Nail In The Coffin”
Boston Store was the last store standing in the mall’s final days. And then, in December 2002, the retailer announced it would be closing up shop the following March. And thus, in 2003, Northridge was dead.
What’s the status of Northridge these days? While the City of Milwaukee owns the former Boston Store section of the mall, the bulk of the empty building belongs to “a group of Chinese investors who city officials have criticized as being non-responsive.” So long, food courts, hordes of Aqua Net teenagers, and the indoor shopping highs of the ’80s; hello, cruel light of the 21st century and endless building violations.