Joyce Goetzke takes a wide swing through Nordstrom Court, third floor, in her white New Balance sneakers. She’s headed toward Culinary on North, the new food court, just as the first rays of sunlight poke through the glass ceiling and splash across the shiny white floors. The bright new look of the halls is nice, she says, but her knees miss the old carpet.
Goetzke is a mall walker—one of hundreds who flock to Mall of America early each morning for exercise. Although stores don’t open until 10 a.m. (11 on Sundays), the Mall opens at 6 a.m. for walkers. It’s been this way since day one, says Dan Everson, president of the MOA Mall Stars. The Mall Stars program puts on monthly meetings with educational speakers, offers incentives for walking goals, and tracks minutes walked for its 225 members. If you added up the stats of the past 25 years, the Mall Stars have logged 3.5 million laps and 1.75 million miles, Everson says. That’s the same as 70 times around the world at the equator.
Even with hundreds of walkers striding through the building, the Mall feels quiet and peaceful in those early morning hours. You get perspective on just how massive its hallways really are as walkers glide by. Retired couples. Groups of girlfriends. A trio of stroller-pushing moms in yoga pants and tank tops, side by side without bumping anyone as they pass. Some power walkers even pump hand weights as they go. There’s no other (free!) indoor track in town that can compare to the mall’s wide, circular corridors. One time around is half a mile—actually, more like three quarters of a mile when you add in the new north wing.
Goetzke, 75, doesn’t need a Fitbit to keep track of the two to three miles she logs at the Mall three times a week. Like most regulars, her route is consistent: She starts on the third floor, twice around, clockwise—first on the outer perimeter of the corridor; the second time, on the inside. Then she goes down to level two and does the same, and then, one. She passes the same people on each floor. Goetzke started walking the Mall years ago with her husband, Butch, a construction worker who helped build the Mall. She remembers opening day, and how breathtaking it was to see the Mall completed. She wanted to go on the Log Chute ride but was too scared. Still is.
Butch died nine years ago, and Goetzke has continued to walk every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday on her own. He always made sure they finished their walk before the stores open, Goetzke recalls with a smile, so she wouldn’t “accidentally” buy anything. She stays true to that rule today—often leaving her wallet at home. But there are mornings that call for a post-walk visit to Christopher & Banks. Or White Barn Candle—they sell three wick candles, which Goetzke says can be tough to find.
“Some really strong friendships have developed here,” says Everson, who recently attended the funeral of a longtime Mall Stars member. “A lot of people start walking for fitness and keep walking for the social aspects.”
Sure enough, a group of older men have pulled together a few tables near the new third floor Starbucks. Of course, early birds know that Tucci Benucch puts out free coffee, while supplies last, shortly after 6 a.m. most days.
Morning walk complete, Goetzke treats herself to a warm drink at Caribou Coffee. As she heads toward the parking ramp, lights start popping on inside stores. Restaurants are firing up their grills. Over the Nickelodeon Universe® intercoms, you can hear “Hola, keep your arms and legs inside the car” on repeat as ride technicians run their morning checks on El Circulo del Cielo, the Dora the Explorer Ferris wheel. Soon, the halls are bustling and shopping bags are swinging. Another day is underway at the Mall.
As Mpls.St.Paul Magazine’s senior editor of Shopping & Style, Ali Kaplan has racked up a lot of miles at Mall of America…along with plenty of points buying sneakers at Nordstrom.