Madison’s malls offer quirks and character

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

A community’s shopping destinations reveal a lot about a community’s character. Madison, the state’s second-largest city and the home to Wisconsin’s largest university, boasts stores that pack a lot of variety into a little bit of real estate.

Consider State Street, the mile-long pedestrian mall that connects the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to the Capitol. The many shops along State Street reflect the quirkiness of the city’s academic, political and hipster influences.

Monroe Street runs southwest from Camp Randall Stadium, threading several older west side neighborhoods. The stores and galleries offer more upscale fare, but all are colored with Madison character.

In Madison, even the shopping malls, often the bane of urban existence, put a unique spin or two on the retail experience. Several warrant a visit as you complete your holiday gift list this season.

Hilldale Shopping Center, 426 N. Midvale Blvd., on the city’s near west side, may be one of Madison’s most emblematic malls — thanks to the nature of its tenants and the history of its founding and development.

Originally part of the Hillfarms neighborhood development that enabled Madison to continue its 1960s-era westward expansion, Hilldale sits on land that was once part of the UW School of Agriculture. A 1961 legal tussle between shopping center developers and the UW Board of Regents reached the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices declined to hear the case. An agreement was reached and the shopping center finally opened on Oct. 25, 1962.

Fast forward 50-plus years to a new and vastly improved Hilldale, characterized by a bright new “street scene” shopping and dining experience to complement an adjoining enclosed mall. 

The space features cleverly designed parking structures and a row of private residence townhouses facing Midvale Boulevard, creating traffic and density issues significant enough to concern the mall’s residential neighbors.

Macy’s anchors Hilldale, occupying space formerly filled by Marshall Field’s and, originally, Gimbels. The upscale department store and its vast array of goods set the tone for the rest of the shopping community.

Sundance Cinemas 608, another anchor tenant that opened in 2007, was the first theater in Robert Redford’s Sundance Group to open in the United States. The six-screen cinema, named for the Madison area code, shows independent, foreign and first-run films with the feature of being able to reserve specific seats.

The smaller stores make Hilldale even more attractive.

Shopping for someone with a sweet tooth? Gigi’s Cupcakes offers creative and delicious baked goods. Specials through Nov. 29 include Apple Pie and Mama’s Butterscotch Bacon cupcakes.

Just down the “street,” DB Infusion Chocolates offers artisanal truffles. Our favorites include the Pomegranate-Malbec, made with pomegranate molasses, Malbec wine and rich dark chocolate. We also like Caribbean Fire, a mashup of Ecuadoran chocolate laced with chipotle peppers, nutmeg, allspice and jerk seasoning.

Upscale clothing is one of Hilldale’s hallmarks and there are few better places for men’s and women’s shoes and accessories than Cornblooms. Locally owned since the 1970s, the store offers one-stop shopping for footwear, handbags, jewelry, wallets, belts and novelty socks. Look for top brands, including Birkenstock, Frye, Dansko, Pikolinos, V Italia and Kanna.

Hilldale also is home to one of only two Anthropologie stores in Wisconsin. The company sells upscale clothing, shoes and home goods — and is a good place to start whether you’re looking for something boho-chic or suiting up for the next wedding.

If you really want to ramp things up, kate spade new york offers ultra chic clothing, shoes, handbags, housewares and gifts. One of only two kate spades in the state, the store’s motto is — “Buy what you love and you’ll never go wrong.” 

The shopping center features Madewell for great jeans — and everything that goes with them — and L’Occitane en Provence for skin and body care products.

On the far west side, commercial areas of Madison and Middleton blend seamlessly, offering a wealth of shopping options. High-end retail outlets tend to cluster at Greenway Station, an open-concept shopping mall at 1650 Deming Way in Middleton, where clothing, accessories and dining options dominate. But the shopping center is not without its economical stores, too.

Chico’s is a perennial favorite among women who want to look their best. The boutique’s artisan jackets and wrinkle-free Travellers collection have built a following.

A wide array of women’s clothing and accessories also can be found at J. Jill, Maurice’s and Soft Surroundings.

Nearby, Pendleton features enduring American style in its classic wool clothing and blankets. Featuring men’s and women’s fashions, the store offers goods woven in American mills for higher quality and that “made in America” cachet.

Athletes can get their game on at several Greenway stores. Total Hockey offers everything for the hockey and lacrosse players and fans in your life, including skate-sharpening and lacrosse stick-stringing services. 

Triathletes, runners and walkers will feel at home at Endurance House, which provides casual and serious athletes with shoes, gear and even a personalized movement profile that helps staff address a customer’s capabilities and needs.

Hunters and fly fishers can gear up at Orvis, home to the Distinctive Country Lifestyle line. Shoppers can find unique clothing and home furnishings while shopping for products for their dogs or even taking fly-fishing lessons.

Greenway Stations also offers Christopher & Banks and Marshalls for lower cost alternatives to chic designer togs and you can outfit your feet at DSW (aka Designer Shoe Warehouse) with the latest in discount fashion footwear.

Once you tire of shopping, you can top at Claddagh Irish Pub, Cold Stone Creamery or any other of Greenway Station’s many restaurants for a pick-me-up and chances to review your purchases.

Remember, if you buy what you love — even if it’s a pint of Guinness stout or two scoops of your favorite frozen confection mixed before your eyes on a frozen granite slab — you’ll never go wrong.