Shopping Big in The Netherlands

Shopping malls have provided communities with convenient shopping options and social gathering spaces for decades but have seen a decline in popularity across the United States. In Europe, however, they seem to continue to supply these things. The largest shopping mall in the Netherlands is testament to how popular shopping malls can be.

Main Entrance to Hoog Catharijne Mall with the Canal running underneath, 13th of April 2023. Author’s personal collection.

At the American Heritage Center, there is a digital collection that includes information about shopping malls from all across the world. This collection is the Stephen James Poll Collection of International Shopping Developments, 1960-2018 (collection #12711).

Stephen James Poll collected information about shopping centers from around the globe, including the largest shopping centers in The Netherlands: The Hoog Catharijne in Utrecht. In 2018 Poll donated his collection to the American Heritage Center and I discovered it when looking for connections to Utrecht, where I am studying abroad. The material covering the Hoog Catharijne within this collection is promotional material for the mall after a major renovation from 2017 to 2018.

The Hoog Catharijne Mall boasts some staggering statistics, it is more than 1,076,391 square feet with 180 shops and 26 million visitors each year. It is the most visited mall throughout the Netherlands and is in the top 10 of all Europe. This modern shopping center is found a short walk from Utrecht’s historic city center and steps from Utrecht Central Train station. Utrecht Central is the largest transit hub in the Netherlands and over 90 million people pass through it each year.

The mall sits between the old city center and Utrecht Central Station, making it a popular and convenient access point to both. Inside the mall there are plenty of options when it comes to shopping. There are large department stores, small boutiques, food stores and restaurants, clothing stores for all price ranges, and specialty stores that sell a wide variety of things.

Entrance across from the Utrecht Centraal Station, 13th of April 2023. Author’s personal collection.
Iconic ‘Bubble Cloud’ roof that stretches the distance between Hoog Catharijne and the Utrecht Central train station, 13th of April 2023. Author’s personal collection.

The popularity of bicycle riding in The Netherlands cannot be overstated. Thousands of people zip around the city on their bikes as they go to school, work, play, and, of course, shop. With all these bikes there must be a place to store them, and at the Hoog Catharijne, the solution is found underground in one of the largest bike parking centers.

Entrance to underground pike parking outside of The Mall, 13th of April 2023. Author’s personal collection.

The Utrecht Canal runs directly under the mall and can be accessed from inside the mall for a canal cruise. In what is called the “City Square” in the promotional material from the Poll collection, there are water features with windows that look down into the canal where people can watch the water and boats. The City Square is the main walkway through the mall and contains the majority of restaurants.

Canal cruise ship unloading underneath the mall, 13th of April 2023. Author’s personal collection.
“City Square,” 13th of April 2023. Author’s personal collection.

Walking around the mall I noticed how busy it was and how there were no empty shops. This was quite different compared to many of the malls I have been to in recent years across the United States. There seems to be a decline in the popularity of in-person shopping in the US, but here in Utrecht the mall continues to be a popular meeting point, social gathering space, and of course shopping hub.

Post contributed by AHC Archives Aide Grace Derby.


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