FARGO, ND—Representatives from the North Dakota Department of Commerce attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday for the new Strip Mall Of America, the state's largest shopping center to date.

A tiny section of the mall, which stretches from Eldridge to the outskirts of Fargo.

"This new mall brings together all the low- to mid-range franchise stores that America loves," Strip Mall Of America spokesman Henry Sloan said. "It's the largest strip mall in the country—in fact, it's the largest in the world. It's your one 90-linear-mile stop for vitamins, housewares, Christian books, picture frames, and discount eyeglasses."

The dull-gray cinderblock and tinted-glass structure stretches along Interstate 94 from Eldridge to a point seven miles west of Fargo. Occupying six different zip codes, it is capable of hosting more than 4,700 stores and boasts 240,000 parking spaces.

While the mall's focus is on smaller chain stores, it does feature three anchor stores: a Marshalls, a Gymboree, and an Aldi grocery store, located in Jamestown, Valley City, and Oriska, respectively.

"There's something for everyone here," Sloan said. "If you're looking for gift wrap and festive decorations, visit one of our eight Party City stores. Arts-and-crafts buffs can choose between Michael's and Ben Franklin, not to mention Jo-Ann Fabrics. I don't want to jump the gun, but we're probably going to have a Radio Shack, too."

According to Sloan, only 40 percent of the retail space is currently occupied, and a full 3 percent of the storefronts house liquidation stores and cellular-phone outlets.

"We've got 18 Big Lots, 13 Dollars General, 11 Dollar Trees, and three Family Dollars," Sloan said. "While there are still a few more 'For Rent' signs than we'd like to see, we're confident that the unclaimed spaces will fill up soon."

Sloan added: "After all, we're in a great location, with easy access from the interstate via exits 251 through 338. Additionally, we are an excellent facility, featuring a well-maintained sidewalk and several benches in front of the Lechter's in Tower City. We're talking about getting a few potted trees."

The stores in the mall will not be limited to retail outlets. Sloan said the mall will "take visitors on a culinary tour of the nation's finer fast-food eateries and theme restaurants."

"Who wouldn't want to come and get a taste of North Dakota?" Sloan asked. "After a long day of shopping, you can stop at the Shakey's Pizza all-you-can-eat buffet and recharge your batteries. Or, if you just want to satisfy your sweet tooth, stop in at the Auntie Anne's or one of our 48 TCBY outlets."

One business unlikely to rent a spot in the mall is TGIFridays, which is currently building 18 restaurants at points just across the four-lane interstate.

While the mall caters first and foremost to residents of North Dakota, mall officials said they hope it will also draw tourists from all over the country, much like the popular Mall Of America in Minnesota.

"Why not make a vacation of it?" Sloan asked. "Bring the entire family and spend the weekend at one of the region's many wonderful Super8 motels. South Dakota has stolen our thunder in the past, but if you stack up their Wall Drugs and Corn Palaces against our Funcos and Pier One Imports, I think it's obvious who's the best Dakota."

Added Sloan: "It's us."

Sloan noted one additional feature of the mall.

"If you have car trouble while you're taking advantage of the variety of shops, you're in luck," he said. "As long as you're shopping at the Strip Mall Of America, you're never more than 34 miles from a Pep Boys Auto Repair Center. That's a guarantee.

"And, while you're waiting for the mechanic to finish, you can pop next door to browse at one of the Waldenbooks or have a coffee at a Gloria Jean's," Sloan added.

The Department of Commerce estimates the mall will provide approximately 30,000 jobs in the coming year. While many North Dakotans said they are excited about the employment opportunities, some have voiced concern over the 90-mile barricade separating the regions to the north and south of the mall.

"True, it is unfortunate that people who need to travel from, say, Hastings to Valley City will now have to factor in an extra two hours for their commute," Sloan said. "On the plus side, drivers can break up their trips by stopping in at the Petco to get a great deal on a 20-pound bag of cat food—or swinging by the Kaybee Toys to pick up a present for the little ones!"