Former shopping malls adapt to changing marketplace in Illinois

Once bustling malls in Illinois and across the nation are going bust as shoppers flock to online retailers and home delivery conglomerates. The numbers are sobering, with an estimated 2,500 malls across the country in 1980. Today, there are less than 700 and that could dwindle to 150 in 10 years. However, the most recent research shows foot traffic and sales at shopping malls has increased in the U.S. from 2019 to 2022. 

In Illinois, there are several shopping malls still thriving, many that have adapted to changing times and filled spaces in creative ways, some that have been fully repurposed, and also many that have been abandoned. There are abandoned malls still standing, and some that have been completely torn down. A number of malls that remain have lost anchor tenants and are just hanging on. The rise of outdoor outlet malls has also had an impact. 

Two former shopping mall locations in the Chicago area are being transformed into senior housing facilities. The senior living communities will be located at Fox Valley in Aurora and Hawthorn in Vernon Hills. Both facilities are expected to open in 2024, with Fox Valley including 212 units of age-restricted independent living and Hawthorn consisting of 162 units. 

Chicago’s Water Tower Place, often called the world’s original urban vertical shopping mall, could be headed for major changes. The Magnificent Mile mall, which opened in 1975, could have its upper floors of the eight-story mall redeveloped into offices for doctors and dentists or even apartments. Vacancy on North Michigan Avenue is near an all-time high thanks to online shopping and the COVID-19 pandemic, with Macy’s shutting down its sprawling department store at Water Tower Place in 2021. 

The Skokie Mall started a massive redevelopment plan in 2022. New stores and restaurants have moved in, while several anchor department stores have recently closed. The mall will soon be home to residences, health and wellness amenities, and an outdoor plaza. More detailed plans are expected to be unveiled in early 2024.

Sandburg Mall in Galesburg opened in 1975, with anchor stores Bergner’s, Sears, and JC Penney. The mall has been primarily vacant since September 2018, when Bergner’s and GNC left. However, there are plans in the works to revive the property, transforming it with a hotel and upscale restaurant. In addition, the interior wings of the mall could be transformed into apartments or a multi-family, independent living facility. The owner of the property is working with the city to potentially revive the area. 

The once 57-store Pekin Mall that included 3,000 parking spaces and opened in 1972 is a shell of its former self. The property is now known as East Court Village and includes a shopping center. Many of the original mall structures have been chopped down with various retail stores moving in, and some areas are abandoned and sit empty. All of the anchor stores, which included Bergner’s and JC Penney, have been closed for some time. 

The Illinois Centre Mall in Marion in Williamson County closed its doors for good in recent years, and it had been a community staple since 1976. The mall was once home to 100 stores, including anchor stores Macy’s, JC Penney, and Sears. The mall also had a food court and movie theater. The property was purchased two years ago and is being gutted and renovated into a retail and entertainment center called Oasis Motorsports, a retail and entertainment complex. 

Former shopping malls that have been completely shuttered include the Dixie Square Mall in the Chicago suburb of Harvey. Dixie Square opened in 1966 but closed permanently in 1978. It was used for a famous scene in ‘The Blues Brothers’ movie, then abandoned and neglected. After decades of proposals to redevelop the property never materialized, the demolition was finally completed in May 2012.  Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles closed for good in December 2017, and it remains abandoned and empty today. 

Shopping malls are not completely dead in Illinois, with the largest one remaining located northwest of Chicago in Schaumburg. The Woodfield Mall features 234 stores and seven restaurants and is one of the largest shopping malls in the U.S. Oakbrook Center in Oakbrook is the second-largest mall in the state. 

Recent reports suggest shopping mall traffic in the U.S. was up over 10 percent in 2022 as compared to 2019. The high turnover rate of stores appeals to Generation Z, or young consumers born between 1995 and 2010. Tenancy turnover means properties can stay on top of the latest trends and feature the most profitable retailers. Gen Z consumers are leading the charge in reviving the mall experience. These consumers may have researched products online, but they are eager to go into stores to learn more. Many luxury retailers are environmentally conscious, and that can be appealing to Gen Z. In addition, two-thirds of Gen Z consumers visit malls for social reasons, and not necessarily to find a specific product. This can lead to further exploration of dining, shopping, and entertainment options at shopping malls.