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Published August 01 2012

Forum editorial: A retail vision, 40 years later

Visionaries often are ahead of their time. When the late Bill Schlossman envisioned in the 1960s, and then in 1972 built the West Acres Shopping Center, it truly was located on distant west acres. But his vision was sound, and today – 40 years later – the shopping center remains one of the most enduring and successful developments of its kind in the nation.

And it permanently changed Fargo and West Fargo.

There were naysayers and head-shakers. Construction on the center began on farmland sold to Schlossman by Carl Rabanus, who had farmed the land for decades. At the time, the site was far away from Fargo. It was accessed by a gravel road that in later years would become busy 13th Avenue South. At the time, however, some saw the entire project as less-than-visionary.

They were wrong. Not only did the regional shopping center change shopping habits and patterns of shoppers from the city and the region, it also was the primary influence in altering retail and residential development in Fargo and West Fargo. The vast expanse of farmland between the two cities today is so packed with commercial and residential districts that most people don’t know where one city begins and the other ends.

Moreover, that development has created a tax base for both cities that has supported steady and continuing private sector economic growth.

But it’s the story of the shopping center that is most intriguing. Few shopping centers can boast of four decades of extraordinary success. That West Acres continues to be the shopping hub of the region is a testament to the initial vision of Bill Schlossman and the management skills of son Brad Schlossman and the management team.

Stagnation and resting on past success have never been part of the management formula. As other regional shopping malls deteriorated or struggled to hold retailers, West Acres thrived as a shopping destination, in large part because the great space was always being improved, the retail mix was changed to meet customer expectations, and the place was maintained and scrubbed to look as fresh as the day it opened.

(By the way, is there a better shopping mall food court anywhere in the nation?)

Fargo has never been short of visionaries whose ideas might not have caught on right away. Consider the late “Goose” Johnson, who never let go of his dream to build the Fargodome. Or Doug Burgum, whose early work in the computer industry eventually brought Microsoft’s second largest campus to Fargo. Or former North Dakota State University President Joe Chapman, who understood how a downtown Fargo campus would be good for the school and the city.

Bill Schlossman was the pioneer when it came to visionary thinking. His West Acres was the template for taking a risk and creating a success. His family has carried on a great retailing, development and public service tradition. We join the community in celebrating the center’s 40th anniversary.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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