242 & 65 - Northgate Mall! Perkins! Taco John's! KFC!

That's a really cool marquee!

As the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area has grown in the past 40 or so years, expansion to the second and third ring of suburbs boomed. Meaning that useful stuff built in the 1970's and 1980's were now becoming obsolete after the turn of the century. And they must be removed for something that will be of more use to the city's current needs. In this case, that would be removing these buildings completely to expand the capacity of this busy intersection.

Highway 242 (I refuse to address this road as County Road 14!) crossing Highway 65 was one of the deadliest intersections in the state of Minnesota, for many years. The amount of daily traffic passing through this intersection in all four directions, was far too great for traditional stoplights to safely handle.

Creating a bridge with entrance and exit ramps would drastically reduce the chance of dying on your way to this particular Cub Foods. However, doing so would sacrifice some of the older established businesses that profited from their prime location.

Even though work on the bridge didn't begin until 2007, the old retail in the area had been on watch for years. The first drastic move was played by the owners of the failing Northgate Mall. With the grand plans being talked about by the city of Blaine, their property would have far more appeal and value as a clean palate, rather than a dated indoor shopping mall. One that was very small to begin with.

The mall was probably built in the mid 1970’s, with an interior decked out in old western pioneer type decor. By the mid 1990's (when I last was inside), it was rather pathetic in it’s lack of upkeep and tenants. Rather than trying to renovate the mall, it would be demolished in July, 2004. Getting a head start on evolving the property, before major bridge work would drastically change the landscape.

This means that I should get out of bed early and go take pictures of it... I showed up to photograph the mall in mid-demolition on July 29, 2004. Unfortunately it was more than half demolished on this day.

I don’t know a majority of the businesses that once leased space at the Northgate Mall, but I have distinct memories of the Rainbow Foods grocery store. They anchored the north end of the mall. The south end was anchored by Thrifty White Drug (amongst others).

Dialing the way-back machine another 20 years from today (meaning 2004), you would find a really cool arcade across from Rainbow. (I don’t remember if the grocery store was a Rainbow back then…) Some of the video games inside had "speed-up" buttons installed on the console of the machines. Pressing them during play would speed the whole game up ridiculously fast. A game of Ms. Pac Man became impossibly difficult to control if you kept the button pushed down. I don't know why that feature was needed for games, but that arcade was the only place I'd ever seen them.

Next door to the arcade was a Pet Store that I think was called The Ark. I remember looking at the puppies and kitties after my arcade quarters were wasted.

The old Subway sammich shop sat to the left of the mall entrance, which was torn down before I drove by. (I blame that cute little Sandwich Artist that rejected me when I asked her out in the Summer of 1994.) But back in the 1990’s, a Subway sammich was usually purchased each time after visiting the mall for actual buying purposes. 99% of the time, those purchases would come from here:

Ron and Terry from Coach's Corner opened their second card store in the south end of Northgate Mall, in the Summer of 1993. With business booming at their Apache Plaza store, expansion made sense. And it was a lot more convenient for me to come here instead of driving to Apache to pick up my special orders and hot junk wax!

I thought Snyder’s Drug Store was still going on the other side of the hallway, but it may have been called Thrifty White even back then… Or Snyder could have been in the other shopping center on the north side of 242? Yes, it was... I’m forgetting that it’s been 25 years since 1994… The drug store sat next door to that one store with all the cool hockey jerseys lining the ceiling.

They sharpened skates! 

Coach's Corner II was open for only about a year. One day I went to the store to find Ron and Terry angrily cleaning the store out. It was explained to me that the store was closing abruptly after the mall sold out their lease to Video Update. The video rental flavor of the month needed a large section of the mall for their planned chain store. Ron and Terry were right in the middle of what they wanted. After a settlement, they left and that whole wing of the mall was converted into a Video Update.

In it’s last years, the mall still housed Subway, Rainbow Foods and a bunch of empty store fronts.

Soon after the Northgate Mall was scraped from the Earth, this non-enclosed retail plaza was built where the south wing once stood. (Photo from November, 2017)

The above story of Northgate Mall was partially written 15 years ago, for inclusion in the planned Coon Rapids issue of Wasted Quarter, which obviously was never completed. These lonely 5 blurry pictures were set aside until I had something else to add to them.

Hooray for now!

Recently, I was digging through a box of photos at my folks house. Amongst them, I found an envelope with some of the closed restaurants of the 242 & 65 intersection. The former KFC, Perkins and Taco John's buildings would need to be removed to allow for the construction of the bridge and ramps.

I don't know the exact dates these were taken. The film was developed in August, 2007. I was living in Denver back then, so I had no way of keeping track. My mom forgot she'd taken them, but knew I'd appreciate it when she did. Four Baggers wasn't even a thought in 2007, but I definitely wanted these pictures, regardless of whether or not I had any plans for them!

Taco Johns sat in the parking lot of the Northgate Mall. 

Facing Highway 65, with a perilous entrance directly off the highway.

I do remember eating at this Taco John's exactly one time. 

I can't remember when or who I was with, but I do know it happened. 

Love the panda graffiti!

After it's demolition, the front half of Taco John's was buried under the new Highway 65 exit ramp onto 242. 

The other half was converted into a frontage road and parking lot landscaping islands. 

Crossing over to the west side of Highway 65, looking back at Taco John's. You can see part of the new in-line retail that replaced the south wing of Northgate Mall. A brand new (in 2007) Walgreens has grown out of the soil where Rainbow Foods once occupied north Northgate. A road cutting through the center of the mall, now allows access for parking lots on both sides.

Next door to Taco John's used to be the Blaine KFC.

I don't think I ever ate at this particular KFC. 

Kentucky Fried Chicken was pretty good in the 1980's. I have fond memories of eating the Colonel's chicken when I was a kid. However, when they no longer wanted to admit their cooking method by name, the product quality rapidly declined.

Remember that terrible "Kitchen Fresh Chicken" campaign they tried to get over in the mid 90's? Now, the lamely named "KFC" was cooking up nearly inedible food by the late 1990's. Ruining stomachs and colons nationwide. Everyone knows and regrets the post-meal KFC oily chicken dump.

No! It doesn't!

Yum Brands ruined many cheap fast food options with their cost cutting ways... 

Finding a way to make barely mediocre food taste absolutely repellent!

KFC sat up against the southeast corner of the 242 and 65 intersection. The entire footprint of the building is now under the ramp and bridge. Directly across the street, on the northeast corner of the intersection sat the Blaine Perkins.

As far as I can remember, this Perkins opened in the very late 1970's. A few years after the legendary Crapids Perkins opened in 1977 (I think). I'm a bit hazy there, so those numbers can be contested. The high traffic volume at 242 & 65, even that long ago, made it a very busy and appealing location for restaurants.

Various combinations of the family ate here often. From the point when it opened until the day it closed. Well, closed and relocated across the highway, but I'll get to that in a bit.

I remember loving the hash browns at the Blaine Perkins as a little kid. Served extremely hot, cooked in their own porcelain dish, upside down on the grill. Crispy dark brown on top, with soft greasy potato underneath. Salted and peppered to taste! And with extra butter on top, because no one cared about cholesterol in the early eighties!

Back then, Perkins used to supply paper placemats on the tables. Four color printed on one side of a 17" x 11" sheet of glossy white paper, advertising their current promotion. The back side was always blank. An open canvas to a four year old wanting to draw intersections. Yes... As a child, I drew intersections on the backs of Perkins placemats, while waiting for my food, at every visit. Roads crossing other roads or roads crossing railroad tracks. Sometimes crossing rivers, if my mom had a blue pen in her purse.



I even worked a shift here when this Perkins was shorthanded, instead of my typical shift at the Crapids Perkins. It was a Saturday morning in the fall of 1991. This store was a lot busier than Crapids. It was larger too, making my busboy job even more tedious. Working twice as hard for the same pay didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, so I never worked a second shift at the Blaine Perkins.

While the Crapids or Anoka Perkins were more popular in my circles for boothrotting purposes, I used the Blaine location once or twice for this traditional late night past time, in the mid 1990's.

With all the trending Perkins and boothrotting thoughts going through my head lately, I've been thinking of adapting some stories from Wasted Quarter's salute to boothrotting: Bottomless Pot of Wasted, that I printed in October of 2006. Maybe someday...

With the old Perkins restaurant demolished, ramps for the new bridge were built in its place. The land now used only by a large sign for the SuperAmerica gas station that used to be next door.

While SuperAmerica was allowed to stay and keep it’s original building after the bridge went up, they lost their name in 2019. Now Speedway, there really isn’t much of a difference in the station besides the name. Especially when it comes to stocking their inventory, a major weakness of this franchise for years.

I’ve complained publicly about the SuperAmerica/Speedway chain in the past, lamenting the lack of 7-11’s in this part of the country. Then it was pointed out to me that we have Kwik Trip convenience stores around town. 

And though they number fewer, they are better than 7-11…

Behind where Perkins used to be, sits the Blaine Town Center. 30 years ago, this was another small enclosed shopping center that looked quite different. Cub Foods was on the south end of that center, as opposed to the north end, where it is now. Snyder drugs used to be where Cub now is. My family spent more time at this shopping center versus the Northgate Mall. I remember my dad taking me to model train shows inside the mall here. And the Upper Crust pizza place had a Mario Bros. machine that I could play while my mom looked at that one craft store she liked.

But I have no pictures of that... 

So let’s go across Highway 65 to the northwest corner of the intersection!

And look at the KFC from here… 

And Taco John’s across the weedy turn lane island. 

That turn lane would become a ramp after the bridge crossing 65 was built. 

Before ascending the bridge to cross, a left turn onto Ulysses Street would bring you to a newer retail area. Only this was built up a few years before the intersection was redone.

The northwest and southwest corners of 242 & 65 used to have some 1960’s or 1970’s era gas stations and other small old buildings, accessed by a frontage road, accessed by turning at Ulysses Street. They were removed over the years and eventually replaced by modern looking sets of in-line retail on both corners.

I don't know when, I lived out of state. Correct me if you know...

I’m beginning to think there are more Great Clips stores than there are strands of human hair on the planet.

After the Blaine Perkins closed, they moved across 65 to this newer complex. Setting up camp inside the closed bar & grill formerly known as Hankerin’s.

My only memory of Hankerin's comes from getting really drunk there one night with Mr. Plow, back in the winter of 2004. What a strange time that year plus was...

My dad inside the new Blaine Perkins lobby, February 2017.

But as a Perkins, the building has continued to provided my folks with a place to go and eat their long time Perkins favorites. Except for the Supreme Burger and Country Club Melt... Which they pulled from the menu after decades of being very tasty sammiches! After the beloved Crapids Perkins closed in 2002, Blaine became their go-to family restaurant.

If I can find the other pictures my mom swears she has, I look forward to a greatly expanded Perkins story in the future...

Maybe with a lengthy dissertation on boothrotting?


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