Making the rounds: Mall walkers stay active and warm during brutal winter

A pair of walkers makes the rounds at Rosedale.

Bridget Kranz photos Mall walkers Betty Elholm and Carletta Braun catch up over coffee at Har Mar Mall; Elholm has finished her laps for the day, while Braun is taking a quick break.

Morning light in the main atrium at Rosedale; a complete lap of both floors is the equivalent of 1.1 miles.

Walking partners chat while exercising at Har Mar — having just one main floor makes for easy access and an even path.


On a bitterly cold Sunday in March, 2-year old Olive woke up as she always does with a need for speed. 

Her father, Ben Bowman, now used to their routine, got up, got dressed and the pair set off for Rosedale Center. They’ve visited the mall almost every Sunday morning since January, as a way to let Olive run around indoors during an especially brutal winter.

“The space is open and there’s nothing for her to really damage or destroy,” jokes Bowman. “It’s a good place to let her get some energy out and have a change of scenery from home.”

On Sundays, Rosedale opens its doors at 8 a.m. for mall walkers. The main atrium is flooded with light, but there’s very little noise or movement apart from the steady groups of exercisers hugging the perimeter and the music playing softly over speakers. It’s peaceful and deceptively summery in the depths of a Minnesota winter. 

As Olive waddles along, sometimes falling on the soft carpet, Revolution Hall brews coffee and mall employees slowly trickle in. Sometimes, a fellow walker will catch Olive’s eye.

“She’ll get really quiet and shy,” says Bowman. “Then, usually once they’re out of earshot, she’ll start talking to them.”


30 years ar Har Mar

Down the street at Har Mar Mall, the majority of walkers come on weekdays. While there are many who come only during the winter, Har Mar also has a dedicated group of locals who have been walking there year-round for decades. 

Moving uniformly counterclockwise, walkers chat, listen to podcasts and check their FitBits. One woman even reads a book as she wanders past window displays.

A few are religious about hitting every corner, often touching door handles or walls to mark their progress. Others are more casual, skipping some of the smaller wings and breaking stride often to say hello to friends. 

Betty Elholm began walking at Har Mar more than 30 years ago, as a way to stay active after a car accident. 

“I just started walking to try to get my body back,” she says. “I only have sight in one eye and I don’t have depth perception, so I don’t see curbs and things. I stick to here!”

Her story is similar to that of many other regulars. A number have had health concerns that prompted them to move inside. One woman began coming after surgery as part of her physical therapy routine. For a while, she would push a shopping cart as she walked, to help herself stay balanced. 

In addition to being a place to heal and stay active, the smaller space at Har Mar has turned into an impromptu main street. Many regulars recognize each other and check in on a daily basis as they complete their laps. 

“I know everybody here, we all wave,” says Elholm. “And then there’s a group of us that have coffee afterwards.”


Indoor neighborhoods

One of Elholm’s favorite memories of the mall is when her husband used to come along and sit in Barnes & Noble. 

“He’d come with his walker, and he couldn’t walk too far,” says Elholm. “He’d go into Barnes & Noble, and they had a soft chair that they saved for him. It was so cool! Then when I got done walking, I’d go and get him and we’d sit with everyone and have coffee.”

In the early hours, both Har Mar and Rosedale have become microcosms of community: toddlers run on the carpet, walkers wave from across the way, check in on each other and hum softly to whatever’s on their headphones or in the air.

During a winter that’s been especially cold and inhospitable outside, coming into these warm, indoor neighborhoods for a morning walk — even year-round — has become a prized routine for many.


–Bridget Kranz can be reached at

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