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Little stores thrive in the big Mall of America

Mikaela McElroy rings up a customer at Hammermade men's boutique clothing store in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015. (ROBB JEFFRIES / FORUM NEWS SERVICE)

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- When you think of stores in the country’s largest mall are you usually think of its anchor tenants: Sears, Macy’s, Nordstrom.

But several Minnesota-owned stores bring a local flavor to the Mall of America.

Duluth native Jason Hammerberg called operating one of his four Hammermade men’s boutique clothing stores on the first floor of the Bloomington destination shopping center “a dream,” one that many Minnesotans aspire to.

“I remember going down with a bunch of kids from high school to go Christmas shopping in the Mall of America when it first opened up,” Hammerberg said. “It’s fun to think about, having a store there now. I need to remember and be grateful for that, it’s really a blessing.”

Hammermade is one of a handful of Minnesota clothing brands that calls the MOA home along with stores like Farm Boy Farm Girl and a locally-owned Rockport franchise. Hammerberg pays homage to his roots with a series of state-themed T-shirts to go with his high-end dress shirts, sweaters and accessories.

Some national -- and international -- brands in the mall have local family ownership, too. Vom Fass, a European oils, vinegars and liquors brand, is locally owned by Tamra Kramer.

“Just because we’re at the Mall of America doesn’t mean we’re not small family businesses,” she said. “We have dreams of bringing in business and creating a legacy for our families.”

Smaller businesses say they benefit from being on the big stage of the MOA. The mall hosts 40 million visitors annually, and that foot traffic is crucial throughout the year.

That’s not to say it isn’t a daunting task, particularly during the holiday shopping season.

“Our first year, we were asking ourselves ‘How do we even handle the volume of shoppers?’” Hammerberg said. “I think we’re a little more comfortable being in our third holiday at the Mall of America. It’s a whole different mentality. There’s so many big-box retailers out there with Black Friday deals and that sort of thing. We don’t do sales at all, so we’re a little different.”

The variety of small businesses provides the opportunity to help cross-promote brands, Kramer said. She said she makes an effort to frequent the other “little guys” in building, and that appreciation is often reciprocated.

“Some of our fellow tenants are our best referral partners,” Kramer said.

Even the mall itself is a family-owned establishment.

The Mall of America was designed in the 1980s by the Triple Five Group, owned by the Iranian-Canadian Ghermezian family. When Kramer was pursuing space at the mall to open Vom Vass, she said she was surprised at the mall’s emphasis on family tenants.

“When my leasing agent told me the mall was family-owned, I was like ‘No way!’ But they have been very easy to work with and welcoming,” she said. “They really have treated me like they want me here, and are supportive of my success.”

Robb Jeffries

Robb Jeffries is a news coordinator for Forum News Service. He is a graduate of the University of North Dakota and previously served as a reporter and copy editor for the Grand Forks Herald. Reach him at rjeffries@forumcomm.com and follow him on Twitter at @robbjeffries.