apacheplaza.com exclusive!

Ten questions with Gene Johnson,

original manager of Apache's Farnham's store.

(1961 print ad for the Grand Opening of Farnham's)

1.  How long did you work at Apache Plaza?
      I worked at Apache for about 3 and 1/2 years after opening day plus about 3 months setting up our store.

2.  Tell us a little about Farnham's.  
     Farnham's was a very large stationery, office and school supply company. They provided most of the office supplies to companies like 3M, General Mills, Control Data, Pillsbury, Medtronic to name a few and were the largest supplier to most school districts in a five state area. They also had nine retail stores in the state which served smaller companys and school students. They were in business since 1889 and went out of business in 1971, four years after I left the company.   Most people think their demise, (bankruptcy) was caused by an IBM computer system that didn't work; they were the first company of their type in the country to go online with inventory. Their business also included office furniture.

3.  What was your history with Farnham's prior to the store's opening at Apache?  
    I worked at Farnham's, starting in the Minneapolis store, the only one at the time, for 10 years overall, opening a downtown St. Paul store, the Apache store and the last 2 years as a buyer and store coordinator for all stores .

4.  Could you tell us about the 10/19/61 Grand Opening of the mall?
    The Apache grand opening was the most exciting thing to happen in all of the north metro area in many years. It was responded to by long lines of people awaiting their first glimpse inside the mall. It was said to be the biggest grand opening in the country of a new mall, a claim, believable but never validated to my knowledge. The ceremony was hugely attended and included local media stars and dignitaries. Speeches were made by the governor and Raymond Plank, CEO of Apache corp and others. There were cars lined up for miles along Stinson and Silver Lake Road.

5.  I understand that you lived in the area prior to the opening of Apache Plaza.   What impact, if any, do you think the mall had on the community?
    I lived at 35th and Benjamin through high school, and college and after that in Fridley(grand opening time) , Columbia Heights and St. Anthony until 1980. The impact on the whole area, including N.E. Minneapolis was huge. Almost all major events took place at or around Apache. It was the place to go and see friendly and familiar faces.

6.  What personal standout memories do you have of the mall? 
   One feature of the mall was the center court fountain that didn't work for about the first two years. Also the many fashion shows held there and a robbery at National Tea grocery stores. There was also a flood in the lower level one time that closed the bowling alley and other stores for awhile. I remember the clamor at Jolly's Toy Store at Christmas time when people almost fought with fists over Chatty Kathy dolls and other hot toy items.

7.  How would you describe Apache Plaza, circa 1962, to those of us who weren't around to see it then?
  Apache was semi-upscale, but without the trendiness of other places. A great place to shop with a hometown atmosphere. Being at Apache was not unlike small town downtowns used to be every Friday night. You felt safe, secure and comfortable there. 

8.  What do you see as the mall's greatest strengths/weaknesses in its heyday?
   Strengths were as mentioned in the previous question, as well as good stores, mostly well-run, easy parking and easy shopping with friendly clerks, many of which were your neighbors. Weaknesses were a lack of restaurants, a major, major department store and a poorly run Montgomery Wards store.

9.  Could you share your views on the decline of the mall?   What factors do you believe led to its current state?
   Apache's demise started with the opening of Brookdale and then Rosedale with their larger store makeup. Since those days it has been a slow but definite decline. It was, after that, a "neighborhood", rather than a "regional" shopping center. People did their convenience shopping there but their major shopping at the "Dales".

10.   Do you have any contact today with people who worked or shopped at the mall when you worked there?
   I still have relatives that do some shopping at Apache and one in particular who is devastated by word of its closing. Mostly though, I have little contact with any of the people I knew there; only fond memories.

Many thanks to Mr. Johnson for making the time to do this interview!