Concord Mills mall marks its 20th anniversary today. See how the area’s changed.

Concord Mills mall, off Exit 49 in Concord, opened Sept. 17, 1999, and has become one of the state’s biggest attractions.

The shopping center, the largest outlet mall in North Carolina, has over 200 stores, along with a 24-screen AMC/IMAX movie theater and a Sea-Life Aquarium.

When Concord Mills opened, there were no hotels at the exit, while the number of hotel rooms has reached 2,000 rooms today.

Here’s The Charlotte Observer’s coverage of the Sept. 17, 1999, opening day from former Observer staff writers Leslie Gross Klaff and Lore Postman:

College students Jessica Smith and Stephanie Bostian were on a mission when they marched into Concord Mills’ grand opening Friday: The two 20-year-olds had just four hours to cover 1.4 million square feet of stores.

When they walked through Entrance Six, though, the women stopped. They tilted their heads back, eyes widened - a Gap outlet to their left, dozens more stores on both sides, a concert in the food court, hallways milling with shoppers and store employees handing out promotions.

Smith, a native of Rome, N.Y., brought her hand up to her chest and uttered: “Oh, my God! . . . It’s . . . it’s big!”

“We’re going to get lost,” said Bostian of Salisbury, “because it’s a circle and it’s got all these numbers.”

Bostian was referring to the mall’s seven numbered “neighborhoods.” In just one hour, the Catawba College students tackled nine of the more than 170 stores open, first making the obligatory lap around each shop, then venturing farther in to scour the merchandise.

Other shoppers weren’t as quick to master Concord Mills, the second-largest mall in the Carolinas. Some got a little disoriented and just tuckered out trekking the mile-long loop.

At around 3 p.m., Gina Buck of Mount Holly rested on a bench. Surrounded by shopping bags on the hardwood floor, Buck wasn’t quite sure what part of the mall she was in.

“We got here at 11:30 a.m. and we haven’t got around yet,” Buck said. “We’re thinking it’s a round circle. Is it a circle?”

The crowds weren’t as large as shoppers expected. Some stores had no customers inside at some points.

Late in the afternoon, Mills officials said they expected more than 100,000 shoppers would come by 9:30 p.m., when stores closed. But two hours after stores opened, at 10:15 a.m., mall employees were still passing out bags set aside for the first 5,000 shoppers.

Shoppers did, however, face some long lines. Paula Lois Buchanan of Charlotte didn’t seem bothered that she was the 27th person in line at the food court’s Burger King.

“It’s kind of an adventure,” she said.

Lines were longest at restaurants, bank machines, the Carolina Panthers cheerleaders’ autograph stand and children’s stores.

Shoppers searched racks elbow to elbow at the Children’s Place Outlet. As Kim Gottberg of Mooresville left the store clutching $75 worth of purchases, Jacquetta Banks of Kannapolis eyed the shop critically.

“I’m not going in there. Too many people. I’ll be back later when this thins out,” she said.

Shoppers didn’t face too much trouble getting to the mall, but officials predicted roads will be much more clogged today.

Interstate 85 traffic flowed freely Friday morning and parking was relatively easy to find, if shoppers were willing to drive around a time or two.

Even out-of-towners Faye Weaver of Creedmoor, near Raleigh, and Frank and Katie Wooten from Pinnacle, near Winston-Salem, had a smooth arrival.

“We had to hunt around a little bit, but we were here (inside) in 10 minutes,” Weaver said.

Opening day wasn’t without problems, although most were minor. At Neighborhood Six, the intercom greeting that reminds shoppers where they parked wasn’t working. Golf America lost its power temporarily, the CD listening stations that wrapped around FYE For Your Entertainment weren’t working, and some of the letters were missing from a Group USA store sign.

Concord police officers stationed at the mall handled fewer than a dozen calls by Friday evening. Four shoppers and one employee were jailed on shoplifting charges, mostly in big stores such as Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, T.J. Maxx ‘N More, Burlington Coat Factory and Off 5th - Saks Fifth Avenue, said Sgt. J.D. Young.

The other pitfall of the day, said Police Chief Robert Cansler, was shoppers struggling to locate their cars in the 7,000-space parking lot. Officers, who now have a substation at the mall, had to drive a few shoppers around to find their cars.

“Are you sure this is your entrance?” one of the officers asked a lost shopper searching for her car.

“Oh, there’s more than one entrance?” she responded.

“Yes, ma’am, there’s seven,” the officer said.