Retail N Illinois

My indoor mall's a ghost town. But at least there are gumballs

When I was a pre-teen, a fun afternoon meant hanging out at the local indoor mall. Where I lived, we had one within walking distance, the Evergreen Plaza in the Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park.

[caption id="attachment_4957" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Renderings for the new Randhurst Mall"] When I was a pre-teen, a fun afternoon meant hanging out at the local indoor mall. Where I lived, we had one within walking distance, the Evergreen Plaza in the Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park.

The mall was always packed -- often with my fellow pre-teens. I spent many quarters at the Aladinn's Castle arcade. I even bought my first Huey Lewis & the News album at the mall. (Don't judge me. Huey was cook back then. Remember Back to the Future?)

Today I live near the Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles, Ill. I'll often take my 3-year-old son here to play in the mall's center-court kids' area. There are always plenty of parents here, especially during the cold winter months.

But there aren't many shoppers.

In fact, the Charlestowne Mall is a ghost town. Last month, Sears announced it was shutting down its mall store. That was another major blow for the mall. Most of the mall's interior space is empty. The food court is half gone. In all the times I've been to the mall, I've probably spent a total of $10 in quarters at the gumball machines. (My 3-year-old likes Ike & Mikes.)

It's a sad fact: The indoor malls of my youth are increasingly struggling.

That's the case with Randhurst Mall in the Chicago suburb of Mt. Prospect, Ill., too. This mall used to be a busy place. But then Chicagoans changed their shopping habits. It, too, has become a ghost town.

But there's hope for Randhurst. Sarasota, Fla.-based Casto Lifestyle Properties is in the middle of revitalizing the 100-acre shopping mall. Construction crews will demolish the mall’s core two-level structure, leaving the surrounding anchor stores and converting a large basement – which was once used as a bomb shelter – into parking for the new center’s non-retail tenants.

Replacing the mall will be an open mixed-use center with both offices and a hotel located above new retail buildings.

A highlight of the project is a new AMC 18-screen cinema that will replace an older, outdated movie theater.

Brett Hutchens, president of Casto Lifestyle Properties, said that the mall was due for a renovation. Randhurst Mall was built in 1962, at a time in which suburban Chicago was a very different place.

“The growing road system in Chicago opened up other opportunities for competing malls. Woodfield Mall came in and simply dominated that area,” Hutchens said. “That mall simply became the go-to mall in the region. At the same time, the anchor stores at Randhurst became outdated. If you look at the evolution of retail, department store sizes have gone from 100,000 square feet to 120,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet. Randhurst Mall simply became obsolete.”

That's the fate of many indoor malls today. In fact, there's an entire Web site, DeadMalls.com, devoted to this trend.

Hopefully, though, most of these dying malls will get the Randhurst Mall treatment. These old shopping meccas can be saved. They just need a little bit of love.