11:40 AM CST on Wednesday, November 17, 2004
By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News
The jumble of mostly vacant buildings along U.S. Highway 80 doesn't look like a landmark. But 45 years ago, people came from all over the state just to see Big Town.
The shopping center on the western edge of Mesquite was the first enclosed retail center in this part of the country.
When it opened in 1959 – six years before NorthPark – the idea of an air-conditioned shopping center was unheard of in Texas.
It didn't take long for folks in the Dallas area to warm up to the idea, especially in August.
With department stores Sanger-Harris, J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward, the project was an instant hit. Shoppers even got to learn a new term: mall.
When Big Town opened in 1959, the idea of an air-conditioned shopping center was unheard of in Texas. The country's first enclosed shopping mall was built in Edina, Minn., in 1956. Today there are more than 1,100 malls.
But the number of enclosed shopping centers these days is falling, not growing. A retail center in the works for Cedar Hill, for instance, will have almost everything a big mall offers, but it will be all in the open.
A similar village-style shopping complex is under construction in Garland.
And with changes in the retail industry, more old malls are being knocked down or redeveloped.
Big Town has outlived two newer Dallas neighbors – Prestonwood Town Center and North Town. But its days are probably numbered.
Real Estate broker Staubach Co. has a contract on the shopping center with a buyer that wants to redevelop the site.
The city of Mesquite has been pushing to see the land reused for industrial development.
But anyone who grew up in North Texas in the 1960s probably remembers when the little shopping center was the closet thing we had to the Galleria.
image caption "When Big Town opened in 1959, the idea of an air-conditioned shopping center was unheard of in Texas."