By Liz Collin

MINNESOTA (WCCO) – With the heatwave setting in for the weekend, Mall of America offers hundreds of stores to stay cool. Foot traffic is picking back up at the Mall after a brutal stretch of months for retail due to the pandemic.

“For the first time I’m actually happy to be at a mall,” said Mia Miller.

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Miller, whose visiting from Kansas with her grandparents, says they share a deep appreciation for post-pandemic life.

“It’s very important it almost felt like the whole world was in prison,” her grandpa said.

The same relief this St. Francis family with eleven kids felt during their Friday run to the mall.

“Just the energy again we’re really appreciating that. Hearing the screams from Nickelodeon. Oh yeah more screams like I don’t get enough screams at my house,” Stephanie Gerads joked.

Dan Jasper is Vice President of Communications at Mall of America.

“It’s been a long year and a half for everyone,” he said.

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Jasper says visitor numbers are 80% of 2019 totals right now. Nearly 50 of the mall’s 500 stores didn’t survive but, with capacity limits lifted last week at Nickelodeon Universe and relaxed mask requirements for those vaccinated, crowds seem to be coming back.

“Day after day things are beginning to feel a little more normal than they have in a long time,” Jasper said.

Jasper points to a new theater owner after the last declared bankruptcy and a giant M&M store as reasons to visit; along with free AC always on the mall’s menu as record-setting temperatures move in.

“Whether it’s 30 degrees outside in Minnesota or 95 degrees outside in Minnesota. It’s always 70 and comfortable inside Mall of America,” Jasper said.

Last summer, Mall of America owed the city of Bloomington more than two million dollars in unpaid property taxes. Those bills have all been paid.

But, its owners aren’t out of the woods yet as money troubles continue at The American Dream Mall in New Jersey which is owned by the same company.

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The Triple Five Group did not respond to our request for comment.

Liz Collin