Former mall's rebirth lags hopes of developer, city
By Tom Daykin
Like a secret portal to a lost world, the main
entrance to what used to be Northridge Mall is easily overlooked, flanked on either side by stores that have replaced
portions of the failed shopping center.
Posted March 4, 2005 (user submitted March 4, 2005)
Northridge was opened in 1973, three years after its
Greendale-based sister mall, Southridge. Both malls
sat at the ends of the main north-south drag that cut
through Milwaukee and its surrounding suburbs, 76th
St. They served as the main commercial hubs for their
respctive regions. North (and Southridge) were
developed and built in a partnership between the Kohl
family (The same ones who started both the now-defunct
Kohl's supermarket chain, and Kohl's Department
Stores), and Taubman Development out of Michigan.
Their nearest property, and one of their most
successful, is the huge Woodfield Mall the suburban
Chicago village of Schaumburg, IL.
The original anchors.
were Sears, JCPenney, Gimbles (until 1986, which
they went belly-up. The space was turned over to
Marshall Field's for a year or two, then to H.C.
Pranges (Wi-based department store) from 1988 until
1992, then Younkers (from Prange's bankcruptcy) from
there on until closing in 2000) and Boston Store,
which was the first tenant to locate at the mall, and
the last to leave the mall. They finally gave up in
March of 2003. Northridge was not meant to 'compete'
with their sister mall, Southridge, but rather, to
compliment it. Both malls shared fairly identical
floor plans, and tenant rosters through the 1970s and
1980s. That much I do know. The only difference was,
Kohl's did not lease inline space for their department
store at Nothridge. Instead, they gave said space
over to a 6-screen movie theatre. (United Artists I
believe, was the chain that ran it)
In early 1988, the Kohl family sold off their retail
assets. Nothridge and Southridge would never be owned
together again after this point, and eventually one
would live on, even thrive to see another day, and the
other would begin a downward slide that accelerated as
the years went on.
From 1990 until 1995, I visited the mall often, when
this 'slide' was still very slow. My initial visit in
October 1990 and a couple subsequent visits
thereafter, the mall 'looked' to be healthy...most of
the storefronts were filled in, save for a few slots
in the side hallways. Their remodel from 1988 was
still looking rather new...plenty of glass,
chrome-framed kiosks. I specifically remember their
food court, adorned with neon, skylights that let the
natural light flood the dining floor below, and the
title. "Skyridge Caf‚s".
By June of 1995, however, I counted up all the
storefronts that had decorative drywall fronting
them...half of the mall was vacant, and what was left
was a hodgepodge mix of mom-and-pop shops, most of
those catering to 'urban-wear' 'cheap jewelry' and the
like, and those national tenant names who's leases had
yet to come up for renewal.
Eventually when leases 'did' come up,
still-functioning chains quickly let their gates come
down and their lights go dark. Deb Shops, Hallmark
Cards, Radio Shack, Regis, Waldenbooks. One-by-one,
they pulled out, some of these names having been in
the mall since the day it opened. Then by early 2000,
Saks (Parent company of the Younkers and Boston Store
banners, which are run under the Carson Pirie Scott
division based in downtown Milwaukee, WI), announced
the closure of its North and Southridge stores.
Declining foot traffic, and overlap with the Boston
Store, mostly in merchandise, were the reasons cited,
as well as a cost-cutting measures when it came to
advertising. In other words, one less store logo
needing to be used, saved them money.
For the record, Younkers is now entirely out of
southern Wisconsin, but that's a story for another
It's too bad, because Northridge was a decent mall
during its heyday. Its bad location (a mile or so
from both I-43 and U.S. Hwy 41/45. Both heavily
traveled interstate highways, I may add), shifting
chain bankruptcy (the mall lost longtime tenants like
Merry Go Round, Mariannes, Thom Mc An, etc because of
this) and / or healthy chains having other, more
successful locations nearby, lead to the decline.
As you know by now, the mall's being redeveloped into
this project called "Granville Station", a mixed-use
residential/retail effort. In its first phase, the
former Sears has been demolished, and in its place, a
Menards (regional Upper Midwest home improvement
chain), and Pick 'n Save (Wisconsin-based supermarket.
largest chain in the state) are being erected. As for
the rest of the building, since getting to see the
project last July, the other three former anchors
still stand, as well as the empty shell of what was
once, a thriving suburban mall.
Christopher Branski's Commentary:
Posted March 4, 2005 (user submitted June 28, 2004)
Constructed in 1972, Northridge Mall is (or was) located at the intersection of 76th Street and Brown Deer Road on Milwaukee's Northwest Side. This 600,000 square foot box once contained two levels of stores, four anchoring department stores (Sears, Younkers, JC Penney, and Boston Store) and a 10 screen movie theater. Northridge was originally going to be the center of a planned community of 25,000 people, but as time passed people realized that the community was not at all well planned.
To understand the Northwest Side of Milwaukee, imagine a place where all the worst architects of the 50's, 60's, and 70's were exiled and allowed to go crazy. The results were predictable, and overbuilt apartment complexes began to take tenants without asking many questions. A former condominium complex a mile west on Brown Deer Road became little more than an open air drug market did little to enhance the reputation of Northridge amongst skittish suburbanites. And thus in the mid 1990's the slide of Northridge became a free fall.
As late as 1992, Northridge was the 3rd most popular mall in the Milwaukee market. Shortly thereafter, suburbanite Jesse Anderson brutally murdered his wife in the Northridge parking lot, blaming it on black gang members. Though the story went over with cops like a lead balloon (Anderson would later be killed in prison working along side Jeffery Dahmer) enough people thought it possible that they would fall victim to gangbangers.
Though perhaps an innocent victim of a bad reputation, Northridge was nonetheless poorly planned and hardly pleasing to the eye. When Younkers and Boston Store found themselves under the same corporate umbrella, the Younkers store shut its doors. And when JC Penney found itslef in financial trouble, that store too closed. Smaller stores followed suit, as did the Boston Store and Sears stores. With its perhaps undeserved reputation as a hang out for baddies, Northridge found itself unable to compete with malls in more affluent parts of Milwaukee County like Mayfair in Wauwatosa (which seems to have a new store every week). Even Downtown Milwaukee proved to be a formidable competitor with expensive condos moving in.
As of this writing, Northridge is being demolished and in its place will go a more traditional strip mall called Granville Crossing. Iy is if nothing else fascinating to think how that place faded so fast.
Jack Burton's Commentary:
Posted March 4, 2005 (user submitted May 2, 2004)
In the early 1970's there were 2 major malls built. One in Greenfield (southern MKE county) called Southridge and one on the north side called Northridge. Basically the same style, same developer, same stores.
Northridge thrived in the 70's, and having been born in 1973, remember that well. The 80's saw some decline as the ghetto started moving north and west over to that area. The early 90's saw a much bigger decline. Mid-sized chains started pulling out and local vendors tried to move in. Specialty stores such as "ethnic urban clothing" brought an increase in crime and gang activity. The 6 screen movie theater was also closed in the early 90's.
By the late 90's, the anchors (Younkers, Sears, JC Penney and Boston Store) all pulled out. The food court which once had 20 or so restaurants dropped to a lone McDonalds and painted drywall replaced everything - the restaurants, the anchors, and every store that was not yet closed. Absolutely eerie.
There was one store that remained open on the lower level, and that was Things Remembered, where I used to get lighters and other items engraved. There may have been a camera store remaining on the upper level. Even the McDonalds closed. What was once assessed at over $100 million just 10 years earlier was sold to a Chicagoland developer for $4 million.
MATC (Milwaukee Area Technical College) had a 'satellite location' there briefly. It too shut down. When I went there last year, everything was completely boarded up. A few months ago it was razed.
The mall is now gone, yet Best Buy, TMP Worldwide (monster.com), Toys R Us, Walmart and a few other big names still thrive around where the mall once was. And Southridge is now the biggest and most booming mall in the state.
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