50 Years Of NorthPark: Where High-End Meets Low-Key

If Dallas had a Central Park, it would be a mall. A mall called NorthPark.

By Courtney CollinsAugust 19, 2015 10:53 am

This story originally appeared on KERA News.

NorthPark Center turns 50 this week. At a time when shopping malls are closing, NorthPark remains one of the top-performing malls in the country, generating more than $1 billion in sales a year.

For half a century, North Texans have been shopping at Neiman Marcus, soaking up the air conditioning and snacking on food court fare.

It’s Dallas’ high-end shopping center and it’s diverse too – from the stores to the visitors.

With well over 200 stores, it’s not an overstatement to say NorthPark has something for everyone. In fact, most shoppers have mapped out their own, very specific mall route.

NorthPark is a place where you can spend $5,000 on shoes in the same time it takes you to order a $5 sandwich at the food court.

Gap To Gucci

“We kind of describe NorthPark as being Gap to Gucci,” says Victoria Snee, NorthPark’s head of marketing. “We see people that spend all levels of money here. They shop in different stores. There are so many things you can come to NorthPark for.”

She says the diversity of stores matches the diversity of shoppers. Some people have standing appointments at Nordstrom. Others buy a pretzel at Auntie Anne’s and spend the day browsing. Snee says it’s that phenomenon that makes NorthPark a destination.

“You really have to just grow with the demand. And we’re seeing people that come to NorthPark not only from around North Texas, not even from around the country, but internationally,” Snee says.

Before Opening Day

Fifty years ago, NorthPark didn’t have global appeal. To Darwin Payne, it was simply an irritating newspaper assignment.

“I was a courthouse reporter for the Dallas Times Herald at the time and I was very pleased to have that as a beat,” Payne remembers.

“And I was shocked one day when the news editor called me in and wanted me to take a week off to go to NorthPark where they were constructing this huge shopping center,” he adds.

Just a few months after the shopping center opened, a newspaper ran a story claiming that on any given Saturday, there were more shoppers at NorthPark then there were in all of downtown Dallas.

A Prime Spot

When developer Raymond Nasher picked a spot to build, Payne says, he was thinking ahead.

“When it opened it was way out at Northwest Highway and Central Expressway. And nowadays that’s really like the center of town,” Payne says.

The mall is equally close to working class neighborhoods and upper-middle class neighborhoods. You can take DART to get there, or you can drive over in your Tesla and plug in at one the mall’s charging stations.

Shopper Pam Frank says you can have a different experience every time you go.

“Do we want to buy a $540 pair of Tod loafers today or do we want to just go get a cookie?” she says.

Or you can opt out of spending altogether and just gaze at the public art collection. Dozens of sculptures, paintings, even retro advertisements for Mac computers and Mobilgas.

NorthPark Traditions

During the holidays, people wait for hours to visit the mall’s iconic Santa – the same one NorthPark has had for 25 years.

Kids slide on the concrete planters by Neiman Marcus, teenagers people watch at the food court, adults take advantage of covered parking and free air conditioning.

“You see pictures of downtown Dallas, let’s say in the ’40s, the ’50s when it was crowded, the streets were full of shoppers,” Payne says. “And that’s where downtown Dallas is right now, at NorthPark. All those people going all directions, carrying bags and generally feeling very good.”

From a 97-acre cotton field to one of Dallas’ premier shopping destinations – all in 50 years.