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Canada Boasts World’s Biggest Mall

<i> Merin is a New York City free-lance writer</i> .

Edmonton boasts more shopping malls per capita than any other North American city. Most famous and best of them is West Edmonton Mall, a conspicuous consumer showcase that is eight city blocks long and three wide.

The Guinness Book of World Records calls West Edmonton Mall the world’s largest shopping complex.

In addition to more than 800 shops and 110 eateries, it has 19 cinemas, five amusement areas with dozens of rides (including the world’s largest indoor roller coaster), an indoor ice rink (where the Edmonton Oilers practice), a miniature golf course (modeled after the famed Pebble Beach course), a wave pool (with six-foot waves and 22 thrilling water slides), plus a bingo hall and a nightclub.

This fantastic mall, one of the Province of Alberta’s major tourist attractions, was developed in three phases.

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Opened in 1981

The first phase of the mall, fairly standard in size and concept, opened in 1981. Shortly thereafter, the completion of Phase 2 added more shops, a king-size carrousel and other amusement rides.

Phase 3 brought more shops, plus the water park, complete with wave pool and a submarine ride through a miniature ocean inhabited by sharks, porpoises and other aquatic life. All this is quite fantastic, considering that the mall--and Edmonton--are in the middle of Canada’s land-locked prairies.

Fantasy is a major West Edmonton Mall component. This is further exemplified by the Fantasyland Hotel (it’s inside the mall), where theme rooms feature beds built into railroad cars, semi-trucks and Victorian coaches, or have lighting that suggests Hollywood sets or Arabian nights. But the key question for shoppers is, size and fantasy aside, just how good are the goods at West Edmonton Mall?

The answer: first-rate. The phenomenal range of shops promises shoppers a broad selection of high-quality Canadian and/or international merchandise, including clothing, personal and home accessories to suit all budgets and life styles.

U.S. citizens will find their dollars still have buying power in Canada, especially in Alberta, which has no sales tax. Furthermore, the mall offers its own Mall World Plus credit card with free membership for the first year, an automatic credit line of $1,000 and discounts in many mall shops and restaurants.

Mall maps, distributed free at conveniently sited information kiosks, will help to prevent your getting lost or disoriented in the vast sprawl.

And guided tours give a good overview to visitors with too little time to learn mall logistics or who don’t plan to spend several days scouring the place. Call (800) 661-8890, for bookings.

Get Around by Rickshaw

To get around quickly, hire a rickshaw (403-444-1162) or rent a scooter (403-444-1151). And be sure to stop at these shops:

Au Coton (No. G1357) has a complete line of fun, cotton separates in lime green, bubble-gum pink, electric blue, violet and other live-wire colors. Tops are priced from $7, slacks from $15.

Suzie Cream Cheese (No. A1021) sells its own three lines of women’s fashions labeled Chocolate, By Night and P.S. I Love You. Styles include cool wool or poly-cotton-blend business suits (about $180) in colors ranging from coral or geranium red to navy blue; walking shorts (around $35) and other casual attire, and sequined evening gowns (about $1,000).

Goodman Manteau’s (No. V2558) magnificent outer wear ranges from elegant green trench coats ($165) to butter-soft black leather overcoats with ornately embroidered shoulders ($1,275). Especially appealing are Linda Lundstrom’s baby-blue or creamy-white wool-lined nylon waterproof parkas with fake fur-lined hoods ($500).

Beaver Canoe (No. H1510) outfits athletes and outdoorsmen in style. It has 88 colors of sweats sets ($26 for tops, $28 for pants), plus walking shorts in neutral colors and pleasant plaids (from $30) and button-down shirts (from $30) in stripes and solids.

Bowring (No. Q2001) specializes in handcrafts and appealing Canadian-made gift items. Stock ranges from traditional well-made wooden Canadian Mountie statues ($28) to wooden lifelike dolls ($80 and up), from hand-thrown pottery to hand-knit wool socks and sweaters (pullovers from around $50), from attractive necklaces made from porcupine quills ($10) to patchwork quilted jackets (from $125). There’s a good selection of Inuit (Eskimo) stone carvings ($50 and up) and charming prints ($30 and up).

Many Gift Items

Den for Men (No. R2095) features practical and cute gift items and accessories for men. Included are comfortable cloth slippers made to look like chicken feet, crocodile or cow heads with little horns ($22), lovely leather date books (from $30) and briefcases (from $60), lighters made to look like miniature cordless phones ($17), gumball machines (from $20) and a miniature roulette set packed neatly in a violin case ($110).

Everything for a Dollar (No. H1449) gadgets and gewgaws ($1 each) include kitchen utensils and oven mitts, toy trucks and dolls, men’s and women’s hosiery, batteries, cosmetics and dozens of other bargains.

Moyer’s The Teacher’s Store (No. L1812) is a terrific source for educational materials, including books for teachers and kids, blackboard and bulletin board sets ($8), colorful alphabet sets and blocks (from $7), animal puppets (from $17) and stamps ($4) that praise achievers for “Good Work” and other accomplishments.

Kites and Other Delights (No. D1181) has about 30 types of kites ($2.50 to $180) ranging from box and stunt models to dramatic dragon kites as well as radio-controlled hobby cars (from $68), planes (about $450) and art supplies.

Appeal to Fantasy

Studio 86 (No. H1502) provides another facet of the mall’s appeal to fantasy. For $14 song this shop offers the opportunity for would-be recording artists to tape their favorite tunes in well-equipped professional studios.

Master tapes of more than 300 popular tunes ranging from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to “Happy Birthday” and from “The Locomotion” to “Grandpa, Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days,” are used as background, and real-life singer/sound engineer Mike Eager gently coaches and encourages singers of all ages, all styles and all levels of accomplishment.

Duplicate cassettes to send to friends and fans cost $3 each. Studio 86, part of a Nashville-based chain, is great fun. If you feel your voice tightening at the prospect of recording, you can run off to warm it up with a ride on the mall’s roller coaster.

If you love department stores, West Edmonton Mall has a dozen of them.

Best are Eaton’s (No. A1053) and The Bay (No. A1001). Both of these top Canadian chains offer a full complement of departments with their own special lines of fashions for the family, table and kitchen wares, bed and bath accessories and gift boutiques.

Marks & Spencer (No. P1984), an English department store chain, has inexpensive clothes, including pullovers (or jumpers, as they are called here, from $20) and kilts (from $40), hats, gloves, hosiery and other personal accessories. Marks & Spencer always has terrific buys on underwear, especially the cotton panties ($3) in a bouquet of colors.

Prices quoted in this article reflect currency exchange rates at the time of writing.


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