Anchorage's Midtown Mall is aging well at year 55

Aunt Phil's Trunk

Have you ever wondered how the mall that sits at Northern Lights Boulevard and the New Seward Highway got its start? This Anchorage landmark opened its doors to the public for the first time 55 years ago. When shoppers streamed into The Mall, then Alaska's largest shopping center, on Jan. 31, 1968, they found a covered, weather-conditioned facility anchored by Sears Roebuck Company at one end and the newest Carr's Quality Food Center at the other.

The Mall was the brainchild of Lawrence J. "Larry" Carr. The grand structure was the fulfillment of a dream that he'd had since he sold peaches as a youngster in New Mexico.

Born in Albuquerque, Carr came to Alaska in 1947. The then 18-year-old got jobs working for the Alaska Railroad by day and Thrifty Market at night. He later worked for the H & D markets in Anchorage.

Carr became intrigued by food retailing early in life. He filled his toy wagon with peaches from the family tree and sold them around his neighborhood when he was just a little tyke. As he grew older, owning his own grocery store was always on his mind.

By the time he was 20, Carr had saved enough money to buy a deserted food store in a Quonset hut at 13th Avenue and Gambell Street. For two and a half years, the young grocer tried to turn the dilapidated building into a successful business.

"The walls were so thin and so easy to break through that it was burglarized 14 times," the great developer of quality supermarkets and artistic shopping centers told the Anchorage Daily Times in 1968. "Another time I went there in the middle of the night to find that the oil line had broken and the heater was off. Almost all the stock had frozen and was a complete loss. And then there was a Thanksgiving when the roof blew off ...."

His young bride, Wilma Moseley, worked shoulder to shoulder with him to build a permanent store at the same location in 1952. But a fire destroyed the building in February 1957. Undaunted, Carr made plans for a bigger store before the ashes had cooled.

Carr teamed up with wholesale grocer Barney Gottstein, president of J.B. Gottstein Company who'd started a new store, Foodland, in Fairbanks. They built a shopping center in Fairbanks in 1960 and opened Aurora Village in 1965.

They also bought the Oaken Keg Spirit shops at Aurora Village and at Foodland in Fairbanks. The same year, the entrepreneurs opened Carr's Quality Food Center in Kenai.

In 1966-68, the Carr-Gottstein partnership bought two Ben Franklin variety stores and introduced a third when they threw open the doors to The Mall.

And although The Mall is no longer the newest nor the largest mall in the state, it is still a welcome spot for Alaska's shoppers. Sears is long gone, and Safeway has purchased the much-loved Carrs grocery chain, but Anchorage shoppers still enjoy shopping in what we now call the Midtown Mall.

This column features tidbits found in Aunt Phil's Trunk, a five-book Alaska history series written by Laurel Downing Bill and her late aunt, Phyllis Downing Carlson. The books are available at bookstores and gift shops throughout Alaska, as well as online at