Corinne Stefanson to close

Corinne Stefanson has sold fashion in The Classic for 47 years. It was one of the original stores in the Center Mall. (Photo/Nancy Hanson)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Forty-seven years ago, when the Center Mall was brand new and bustling, a Moorhead elementary teacher dived into a new mission – bringing fresh styles from the fashion houses of Fifth Avenue to her adopted home town of Moorhead.

It was a perfect match, both for local women with panache and a taste for the latest looks and for entrepreneur Corinne Stefanson. “The Classic has given me all the adventures and growth that I could have wanted,” the veteran stylista proclaims. “There’s never been a day I wasn’t glad to come in.”

But the time, she says, seems right to close her long-successful enterprise. She wants to do it herself, overseeing a final sale in coming weeks … or months. “I don’t know how long we’ll be here. It depends on how long it takes,” she explains. “I’ve never done this before. It’s another new adventure. It’s something I felt I should take care of myself, rather than leave it up to my daughters.”

Corinne traces her personal passion for fashion to an early knack for sewing her own clothes. She graduated from Moorhead State College with a degree in elementary education, teaching at Riverside, Park and Edison schools. After marrying her husband, Moorhead attorney Randy Stefanson, the couple and their growing family – daughters Susan, Lisa and Leslie – lived in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Flagstaff while he worked with the Minnesota Supreme Court and FBI.

Back in Moorhead, Randy handled legal matters for the then-blossoming Center Mall, the first mall in the country to offer its spaces to retailers as condominiums. That led to his purchase of one of the units along with four partners in 1973, when the mall debuted. A year later, he and Corinne bought their partners out, and The Classic was born.

“I had always enjoyed fashion a great deal,” she reflects. She set out to create a store that would offer medium- to upper-priced products, along with a selection of special gifts and accessories. Selecting every item on its racks and shelves took her to New York and Chicago five times each year.

“There have been so many changes in retail,” she reflects. “Keeping up has always, always been a challenge. Nothing stays still. This is a completely different world.” In her early days, she’d make appointments and visit the showrooms of Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and other fashion icons whose lines she bought: “Then it moved away from Seventh Avenue to hotels, and now places like the Javits Center, huge auditoriums full of hundreds of booths.”

She says she always bought by instinct, rather than by a cut-and-dried formula of the categories to fill. “I wanted clothing for all sizes and all ages,” she explains. “There isn’t anyone who couldn’t look well-put-together if they have the right guidance and someone who cares. No one has ever walked out of The Classic with something that doesn’t look good – unless they insisted.”

Retail has changed, an evolution that’s obvious to everyone. So, too, have the lives of women in this community over the course of Corinne’s career. “When I started The Classic, few women worked outside the home,” she says, looking back to 1974. What made it work for her, she says, was the support of husband Randy, their daughters and her brother Bert Kvamme, who she says “gave me support and did my accounting.”

She lauds those whom she has employed. “I couldn’t have done this without the many outstanding ladies and college students who have worked here over the years,” she says. Many are still in touch. Likewise, her customers have stayed loyal over the years. Even after moving away from Fargo-Moorhead, they often continue to visit or phone, frequently asking her to ship them special garments she has chosen for them.

Meanwhile, the Center Mall is in flux. Born as a stylish shopping destination, it has lost much of its luster as key retailers national retail corporations like Herberger’s, Christopher and Banks and many others have closed. Corinne points out that its empty spaces mirror the trend throughout the entire shopping mall industry: “It’s all over the country. These are changing times.”

In the meantime, she wants the community to remember that it is far from empty. “We have had – still have – so many outstanding, hard-working people in this mall,” she says. “People who come here to shop still get a lot more attention and appreciation.”

Today its ownership is in flux. The Roers Companies, designated to redevelop it, have purchased Goldmark’s ownership interest in the largest share of the building and is negotiating with individual condominium owners to acquire the rest. What will come next is a closely guarded secret.

But whatever comes next, she is confident that fashion, however the business changes, will remain an important part to women (men, too). She quotes a Minneapolis fashion critic, who maintains “when you look at fashion, it can tell you a lot about what’s happening in our world today.”

“How people are dressing today reflects how our world is changing,” she says. “We don’t follow rigid rules as we did in the past. Still, I think we will always feel better when we are confident of how we look.”

The Classic is currently open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed Sunday.

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