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Some said it couldn't be done.

Plop a huge hangar in the middle of the prairie five minutes from the airport, fill it with 400-plus stores, 45 eateries, nine nightclubs, 14 theaters and a few odd attractions, and they will come? Yeah, sure.

Well, it worked for Minnesota's Mall of America, which had nearly 40 million visitors last year and has confounded naysayers since opening two years ago.

Named the third-most-popular U.S. tourist destination by American Automobile Association, the mall has leased 87% of its 2.5 million square feet of retail space. It posted about $650 million in sales its first year.

Planet Hollywood, Lego Imagination Center and Knott's Camp Snoopy notwithstanding, this is no small feat for a mere shopping mall with an unremarkable $2 million-to-$3 million ad budget for agency Kauffman Stewart, Minneapolis, to use.

But then, Director of Marketing Maureen Hooley, 39, is no small worker, either. And she's not marketing a mere mall, she quickly points out.

"We're an attraction," says Ms. Hooley, who's revered for her tireless dedication and unabridged enthusiasm. She claims the mall's success is based on understanding what the consumer wants.

Like the elderly man from Iowa who loves celebrities. He stopped her after a wig fashion show featuring Eva Gabor, exclaiming, "This is the second time I've come here without my autograph book."

Ms. Hooley wants visitors to expect the unexpected. And even some success is unexpected: Last year's holiday promotion with Northwest Airlines drew 14,500 one-day travelers from 42 U.S. cities and sold out so quickly that local radio promotions had to be canceled.

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