Jim Kowalski got his start in the grocery business decades ago working as a manager at the Red Owl grocery store across the street from the Southdale Center in Edina.

For his family, it’ll be a full-circle moment when the latest location in the namesake chain Kowalski built opens a location Thursday inside Southdale, the country’s oldest indoor mall.

The Kowalski’s Market signifies a major step in Southdale’s continued evolution — and as a leader in the progression of premier mixed-use shopping centers.

The project could foretell a new trend in how malls might use grocers to fill empty department store spaces and differentiate themselves as they expand the type of businesses operating in enclosed centers. The mall is expanding its luxury offerings and has a fitness center, coworking space and apartments on the grounds.

The grocery also is full-circle to the original vision of the mall, said Sarah Dorrian, Twin Cities marketing director for Simon Property Group, the mall’s owner.

“It’s bringing that live, work, play, dining experience,” she said.

Mary Anne Kowalski still remembers all the weekends her late husband Jim worked at Red Owl. The family, a decade after the passing of its patriarch, gets a kick out of opening a store so close to where he got his start.

“What’s meant to be is meant to be,” said Kris Kowalski Christiansen, chief executive of Kowalski’s and daughter of Jim and Mary Anne, as she gave a tour of the store last week. “This [Southdale opportunity] came up and it was, ‘Wow, that’s crazy.’ [My dad] would be so excited and so proud. And he would say we’re nuts.”

Kowalski’s, which already operates 10 stores and plans to open another in Ridgedale Center next year, had been looking to expand into Edina for a while, Kowalski Christiansen said.

Southdale and Kowalski’s were discussing the possibility of a grocery store taking over some of the empty Herberger’s building at the southwest corner of Southdale’s property when the pandemic hit. Talks halted but picked up again.

“It is really more about being in Edina ... and this was a location that was available in Edina and it happens to be attached to a mall,” she said. “So we were like, ‘Oh, bonus!’ We don’t know how that’s going to really impact traffic, but we are excited to find out.”

Features new to the chain at the 34,000-square-foot Southdale store: a “growing chamber” where customers can pick their own herbs, a smokehouse for seafood, a dry-aging cabinet where shoppers can reserve aged beef and a hand-scooped ice cream counter featuring flavors created by Crank and Dasher in Duluth.

Shoppers can access the store from inside the mall or the parking lot. Cafe seating is available along both entrances and inside the store. Kowalski’s also moved its training center and some of its offices to Southdale.

“It’s not necessarily that it’s upscale,” said Mary Anne Kowalski, as workers buzzed around stocking shelves Friday.

“It’s clean. It’s fresh. We promise you that we have visited every farm and every ranch. We’ve been to Brazil for our coffee. We’ve been to Canada to look at our water.”

A mix of uses was part of Austrian architect Victor Gruen’s original vision for the mall, which he saw as similar to a market square where people should gather.

The Kowalski’s joins the One Southdale Place apartment complex, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Life Time fitness club and multistory Restoration Hardware.

On Friday, as the Kowalski’s was getting set up, about 25 construction workers were completing projects nearby as the mall builds out its luxury wing. It has signed stores such as Gucci and Burberry for the project.

The wing is part of a $400 million renovation recently announced that also includes upgraded finishes to the mall such as new skylights. Seating is being added throughout the center, something many malls took away during the height of the pandemic.

“Now it’s inviting people to come and stay,” Dorrian said.

Southdale isn’t the only shopping center in the area to try new types of vendors.

Dick’s Sporting Goods will open later this year where the Herberger’s used to be. At the Maplewood Mall, the vacant Sears store is being eyed as a secondary location for the HmongTown Marketplace.

In Burnsville Center, the Enson Market and Ate Ate Ate food hall is taking the place of Gordmans.

Mini golf entertainment venue Puttshack is scheduled to open above Kowalski’s in September. Southdale promises more tenants to come.

“I think what you are seeing at Southdale you are going to see more and more of [at other malls] because department stores are closing,” said Lee Peterson, an executive vice president at Ohio-based retail strategy and insights firm WD Partners.

Consumers rank food halls, grocery stores and other food services high on their lists of what they would like to see replace empty department stores, based on the firm’s research, Peterson said.

Some open-air shopping centers in Ohio have added grocery stores to some success, but he said he still doesn’t think people will do their primary shopping for the week at a mall supermarket.

“If you go to the mall to go to a Gucci store would you then go there to pick up your groceries as well? Probably not,” he said.

However, a shopper might grab a few small items or pick up some prepared food for dinner, Peterson said. The Southdale Kowalski’s will have several options for grabbing a bite, including a burger bar and its Pezzo Chicagostyle pizzeria.

Kowalski’s grand opening is scheduled for Thursday.

Red Owl was one of Southtown’s original tenants in 1956, and moved in 1967 to the York Avenue location where Jim Kowalski worked.

A Cub now operates in that location.

Kowalski, who later worked for Red Owl as a district manager, eventually purchased the Red Owl store on Grand Avenue in St. Paul with Mary Anne in 1983. From there, they began their effort to open Kowalski’s Markets throughout the region.

“I never thought it would happen,” Kowalski Christiansen said, about moving so close to the old Edina Red Owl store. “It’s amazing that I’m right across the street.”

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495

On X: @nicolenorfleet