08 April 2023

Holiday Village Mall, Great Falls, MT

 A relic of retail

Holiday Village is the type of discovery that I just love.  Eccentric, unconventional design?  Check.  Lots of errant angles hiding irregular hallways and nooks and crannies?  Check.  Appears not to have been renovated for at least a couple of decades?  Check.  And located in a smaller market?  Check.

And that market is Great Falls, Montana.  As one may be able to surmise from some of my previous statements, I travel somewhat unconventionally.  Beachy and touristy destinations really aren’t my thing.  I just like exploring cities and towns.  Great Falls was never on any bucket list of mine; in my quest to visit all 50 states, I had never been to Montana.  And the cheapest destination in the state to which I could fly just happened to be Great Falls.  And as we descended over the massive buttes on the high plains just west of the city, I knew that I had made a good choice.

1& 2- Downtown Great Falls.  3- One of downtown's many colorful murals.  4- The Cascade County Courthouse.  5- A live mermaid at the famed Sip n Dip Lounge.  6- Nighttime scene downtown.

Before a lovely walk through a manicured and mural laden downtown as well as nocturnal mermaid sightings, I visited Great Falls’ only enclosed shopping center located to the south of downtown.  From mallmanacs and photos I have viewed online, I knew that a walk through the facility would be quite the unique experience.  Starting on the miniscule second level, I entered the truncated passageway with a handful of small store spaces (most were empty) and the entrance to the only remaining traditional anchor, JCPenney.

The eastern and older side of the mall.  The "JCPenney entrance" is actually a mall entrance leading to the second level concourse.

I exited the second level down a narrow and featureless hallway and past a casino which I couldn’t tell if open or not.  I found myself facing the rudimentary exterior of the mall’s backside.  The most noticeable feature here is the large JCPenney label, but, in fact, only a tiny exterior entrance to the anchor exists on this side.  Besides this small, almost forgotten egress, the venerable department store has no direct access from the outside.  The only other options are the small upstairs passageway and an escalator from the bottom level leading directly into the center of the store itself.  This was just one of the mall’s peculiarities that I loved, and was where I found myself upon reentering on Holiday Village’s lower tier.

1- The mall entrance to the recently closed Bed Bath & Beyond.  2 to 4- The upper level and JCPenney mall entrance.  5- The barren hallway and the casino of questionable status.  6- Outside the upper level on the mall's backside.

Near the passageway leading up to JCPenney was the mall’s center.  Directly behind it stands what remains of the food court.  Though only host to two eatery spaces, both were vacated by their tenants, Orange Julius and Pretzel Twister, during the pandemic.  While studying one of the nearby mall directories, an unusually pleasant mall security guard asked me if he could help me find anything.  I said I was just looking to see what they had just before he lamented, “Not much.”  We spoke a little more about the mall before we parted ways, and he never once admonished me for daring to take photos within their sacred halls.

1 & 2- The JCPenney sign at the rear of the mall and the only exterior entrance to the store- a small two door entrance to customer pickup.  3 & 4- The lower level concourse closer to the mall's center.  5 & 6- The escalator leading directly up to the center of JCPenney.

Further to the north is a small corridor leading to another escalator that heads up to one of Holiday Village’s healthy yet non-traditional anchors, Scheel’s (sporting goods.)  Once upstairs, there’s another small hallway leading to the second level shops, though one could miss it if they weren’t paying attention.  It all lent itself to the discombobulated, labyrinthine layout of the center and made me love the place even more.

Holiday Village Mall mallmanac, ca 2018.  View the full PDF version here.

The main first level concourse, much larger than it’s upper-level peer, ran due west of my location.  There were several grade changes along the way, resulting in the west end’s being much lower than the east.  The center of the corridor seemed to be the healthiest part of the mall, with national names like Spencer Gifts, Hot Topic and Buckle still doing business.  In fact, despite all of the darkened spaces, foot traffic in the mall still seemed to be quite brisk.

1 & 2- The empty food court  3- The stairway to the upper level near Scheel's.  4- Looking down from the upper level outside of Scheels.  5- The almost hidden hallway leading to the upper concourse.  6- The Scheel's entrance.

Holiday Village Mall opened as an open-air shopping center in 1959 boasting Albertson’s as an anchor.  During the sixties, a Hesteds department store as well as an attached enclosed concourse was added.  Two more expansions during the same decade saw a Montgomery Ward and a Buttreys Suburban department store added to the lineup.  The seventies then saw some anchor shuffling as Herberger’s took over the Hesteds space and with JCPenney occupying Buttreys’ former outlet.

Walking down (literally) the main lower level corridor to the west.

Sears moved from their location in downtown Great Falls in 1990, taking over the footprint of Osco Drug in 1991 while Herberger’s embarked on an expansion.  During the latter part of the decade, Montgomery Ward announced their closure, with Herberger’s soon taking over their building on the far western end of the mall.  Scheel’s sporting goods took over the former Herberger’s space in the mid-aughts while Albertson’s, the mall’s original anchor, closed their store, which was replaced by Ross.  The former Scheel’s space was taken over by Bed Bath and Beyond, which shuttered in early 2023.

1- One of the main mall entrances.  2- The former Herbergers, now home to a Harbor Freight Tools.  3 & 4- The former Sears, now a PetSmart and Hobby Lobby.  5 & 6- The exterior of Scheel's.

Holiday Village lost two of its three original department store anchors during the 2010s, with Sears moving out in 2014 followed by Herberger’s in 2018.  Hobby Lobby and PetSmart now occupy the Sears building while Harbor Freight Tools does business out of a subdivision of the Herberger’s spot, though they feature no mall entrance.  Despite all of these changes, the mall still hangs on.  No matter what happens from here, I’m glad to have been.  These haphazardly intricate first-generation malls are, unfortunately, becoming more and more of a rarity.

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