The West Edmonton Mall is the Largest Mall in North America

West Edmonton Mall
West Edmonton Mall / West Edmonton Mall

Ever walk through your local mall and think to yourself, "Wow, this place is huge"? Unless you live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, then you have no idea. The West Edmonton Mall is the biggest shopping center in North America, and formerly the biggest mall in the world (until 2004). Aside from having more than 800 stores, two luxury hotels with individual country-themed room styles, and 100 restaurants, the WEM has an indoor amusement park called Galaxyland, an indoor lake and sea-life park that includes a life-size replica of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria (it's used for birthday parties), an 18-hole mini-golf course, and a regulation-size recreational ice rink that also functions as a practice space for the Edmonton Oilers hockey team. In other words—with a size equivalent to 48 city blocks or 104 football fields—it’s massive.

Plans for the mall were initially hatched in the late 1970s by four Jewish Iranian brothers—Eskander, Nader, Raphael, and Bahman Ghermezian—who moved to Canada with their father in the 1960s to escape Islamic fundamentalism in their home country. They quickly built a real-estate empire—called the Triple Five Group—out of their family’s prosperous Persian rug business. As a way of honoring traditional urban bazaars in Persian cultures, the brothers envisioned a kind of Disneyworld of shopping malls, where people could shop and be entertained all at the same time.

The mall itself was constructed in planned phases, and even continues to grow today. The first phase of the mall, featuring only shops and services, opened in September 1981. Phase II was completed in September 1983, and added more shops, the ice rink, and the amusement park (originally called Fantasyland until Disney sued them in 1993 over naming rights).  Phase III was completed in September 1985, adding both the waterparks and more, ballooning the mall's size to a whopping 5.2 million square feet of conspicuous consumption, and a total land mass of 120 acres. The current incarnation of the mall was completed with 1999’s Phase IV, which saw the construction of a separate hotel across the street called the West Edmonton Mall Inn, which was built solely to accommodate the 30.8 million yearly visitors and tourists. So far, the cost of building the mall is an estimated $1.2 billion.

In 2002, the city of Edmonton approved plans to expand the already gargantuan mall even further by adding more than 300,000 square feet of retail space and adding a convention center, a 12-story office building, and a 600-unit apartment building, however none of these projects has yet to begin construction. As it stands now, attempting to visit everything in the mall at least once would take an estimated three 24-hour days of constant shopping—a feat that would surely cause the most hardened platinum card-wielding consumer to literally shop till they drop.

Sources: West Edmonton Mall; The Canadian Encyclopedia