Julissa Wyzukovicz's Commentary

Posted December 13, 2005 (user submitted)

The Brickyard mall was the place to be during the '80s. Serving the Chicago's Northwest side, the mall was accessible by several different bus routes, including the Fullerton Avenue bus that brought shoppers from as far east as the Lake Shore, and dropping them off at a terminal located right outside JC Penney.

My mom would take my two older brothers and me there every other Sunday after church. We'd eat a slice of pizza from Hot Pretzel, the only restaurant in what was then considered the food court. It was actually something of an open play space with several losts built into it, all upholstered in filthy green carpet. We'd get cherry Icees afterwards and slurp our way down the mall to Circus World where my brothers would each give up a dollar for a new Hot Wheels and I would get one of those big balloons with the giant rubberbands that you could bounce with one hand.

This was a tri-level mall. We used to come in through the Kmart on the ground level, which was kind of detached from the rest of the mall. There were a set of escalators that would take you up to the first level--the real mall--which was the entrance to Wards.

My worst memories of the place as a young kid come when I think about the mall at closing time. One by one, the doors to each store would close, and Mom would realize we were at the wrong end of the mall. She'd try to hustle three little kids back to Ward's, only to find a chain drop gate already in place and a fat, merciless security guard inside and snickering at all the people who were too late. So, Mom would have to take us out through one of the mall exits and navigate our way back to our car through a sea of parking lots on different decks.

The mall started to see a decline as soon as the early 90's. I remember there was a complete renovation, this time with a real food court. I think it was too late. The "better" stores--Merry Go Round, 579, Chess King--had seen their heyday and closed. The mall wasn't quick enough to replace them with more modern tenants like Express and Structure. It seemed like every other store was an athletic shoe store or mom & pop urban wear store. There were two Payless Shoes, two Wilson's leather, two GNC's, two Kaybee's. The mall just didn't make sense.

Then, in the very late '90s, it hit. within a very short time, JCPenney converted to an outlet center and Kmart closed in one of it's first rounds. The only other real anchor (there was also a Jewel supermarket) Ward's closed in 2000.

I still went to the mall to shop the Penney's outlet (great deals on homegoods!) and would sometimes venture into the half-vacant mall. I noticed they opened a very nice Victoria's Secret and really big, bright Record Town. It was way too late. By early 2003, any store left began its liquidation sale. I missed it all because I was too busy finishing school, and I'm kind of glad becasue it would have been very sad to see a dim neon sign over the Hot Pretzel.

There had been some talk in previous years of razing the whole place and building low-income housing, but the plan was violently rejected by the neighborhood of working-class Hispanic and Polish immigrants. Then, the idea of luxury condos also appeared, but I don't think they would have appreciated a bunch of yuppies moving in either.

I got married that year and moved out to the far western suburbs, and on one of my trips to the city to visit my parents, I took a detour past the old Brickyard. I found a Lowe's, Target, and brand new Jewel, along with an outdoor shopping center that reminded me of home in Elgin. It seemed uncharacteristic, this big-box complex facing a residential neighborhood. But people were shopping, filling up their carts with flats of annuals at the Lowe's. This was something the local residents could take pride in, unlike that big, brown-bricked sarcophagus that was once the great Brickyard Mall.

Michelle M's Commentary

Posted January 15, 2006 (user submitted)

I LOVE this site. It was inordinately great to hear about the Brickyard from people who remember things I forgot. I was just remembering how much of my teenage years were spent there.

I remember that the Burger King was weirdly under and behind the escalator near the Jewel's. I don't recall a way to get into the mall from BK.

In-between BK and the Jewels were several small enclosed stores with nothing in them that I remember. The stores weren't part of a traditional enclosed-mall style of building (with the stores on both sides, and substantial walking space in-between).

This part of the mall had stores on one side, glass windows to the outside on the other-where there would be those carts of junk. Say, those blown-glass figurines or Swatch knock offs; maybe some of those fiber-optic things where the little plastic feelers change colors--you put them on your TV back in the 80's. I remember that in the winter all those glass windows would leak heat-it used to get pretty cold over there.

The 76 Diversey bus would get us to the JC Penny side of the mall. I used to have the first-generation Walkman with tape player; and Journey's "Separate Ways" was all over the radio (1982-3).

The bus would drive uphill and drop people off right in front of the store. Which was good because it was a VERY big parking lot. It's also the OLNY time I have EVER seen a CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) bus drive onto private property--in 2,710 miles of paved roads in the city itself (not 'burbs) and lifetime citizenship.

It was SUCH a big lot that you could easily find space to do stupid teenager-stuff like sit on the hood of someone's '72 Buick and hang on with your fingers (at the windshield) and make circles around the parking lot. We never once got in trouble for it. I also seem to remember getting driving practice there (during business hours) in my first car, a 1981 maroon Cutlass 4-door. That would be the car with the odd waffle-style taillights. That would have been about 1988.

I didn't spend much time in Jewels, but I recall that the card section was parallel to the front wall (instead of cross-ways; like an intersect), and the first aisle from the door off the left of the store side which is a bit different.

Back to the JC Penny side: on the top floor was a t-shirt shop, where you could print your own t-shirts (left side), and next to that was Spencer Gifts, where all the kids congregated. They had crude buttons with sayings like, "Wanna get laid? Crawl up a chicken's ass and wait." and "Don't buy me a drink, just give me the money." The pins display was on the counter, which was u-shaped at the front of the store. Off to the right of the store was lots of junk jewelry in upright locked wall cases. In the back on the right side, they had a poster rack (Bon Jo vi in his big hair days was a hit, as was Michael Jackson in his "Thriller" phase, not to mention Whitesnake, and Motley Crue--all of which I used to completely cover my walls with)--there's still scotch-tape on my walls under the paint.

On the back wall they had felt blacklite posters for the stoners. I had a Swansong (Led Zeppelin's angel). They had tons of Zeppelin posters I bought there. I probably still have them. Then they had the wet bikini women posters. There were also calenders in the middle isles. I remember shirtless firefighters. If memory serves, the isles in the middle weren't parallel to any of the walls--they were angled. They were also very cramped-that store would get very crowded on Sat and Sun.

The back wall also had blacklites you could buy for the posters; I once bought a pink-and-green neon flamingo complete with neon palm tree there (or was that at The Century?) in a four-inch bulb. It worked fine with a small blacklite bulb, too.

Again, assuming my memory from years of pot-and-beer teenaged experimentation is accurate (sure it kills brain cells-but only the weak ones!), and that quitting all mind-and-mood-altering substances was a good one--that this information I put up here is correct.

Posters I have bought at The Brickyard: Jon Bon Jovi band (during "Slippery When Wet"). Michael Jackson: "Thriller" (back when he was just "eccentric"), "Wham!" (George Michael), Whitesnake's singer David Coverdale. Led Zep "Swansong," Led Zep collage photos, Jim Morrison. Note that most of this occurred when NO ONE had cable--there was a paid-type of service, and it was ONE channel, and it was called "On TV." MTV was so new they actually played music videos and there were no commercials.

On the left side when you came in was a ten-step up isle (or so) and there were Halloween costumes. Don't know what they did with that isle the other ten months of the year-we didn't go up there unless we were trying to get the attention of some boy.

Below that in these tiny isles were grown-up games, like they sell at Lover's Lane.

At the front door was an upright rack with snotty bumper stickers (right side), next to the locked-up fake gold. With sayings like, "If you don't like how I drive, stay off the sidewalk."

Above the adult games were shot glasses with sayings. The isles in that part were short, maybe four feet. It seemed that the store was set up so it would be hard to grab something and run off-there wasn't a straight line in the whole place--not that you could have run anyplace with as crowded as it always was.

In the U-shaped counter (with the open part facing the back) was more ever-so-valuable jewelry and the like. I once bought the first and only gold (this was real gold-they did have some real stuff in that wall unit, come to think of it) Fender Stratocaster I've ever seen.

On entrance wasn't part of a store end cap (things are coming to me as I write this.)--it was toward the middle. There seemed to be small coin-op lockers in the vestibule, set into the walls. If my geography is right, there was a hot-dog and burger place on the right, and a record store on the left. The sign was silver-grey stripe-like insets with red letters "Record-something," I think.

The weenie place had sort of a McD's color scheme--sort of bright and annoying. Yellow plastic booths (solid one-piece, not padded, with red around the edges). Three or four booths on the left wall; and two sets of three or four in the middle (placed together) and three or four on the right side.

You ordered your food at the back of the place on the left side, got your tray at the end of the line. There were glass plates so you could see the food prep area on the steel counter. This was before they used gloves to handle your food. Again, another hot-spot with the teenagers and people with kids. I think they had dark-red or maroon shiny brick walls, and maroon ceramic tile flooring (matte finish, not shiny). Yellow ceiling, and walls where the brick wasn't. The red walls went up about 5 and a half feet.

The record store always seemed inordinately large and didn't seem to do the biz that the other one did. Grey carpets.

Have to go now, but will submit more a bit later-as I said, I hope this was entertaining to read as it was to write; hope it triggered memories for all of you who remember Chicago's Brickyard, as your stories did for me. Anyone else who remembers this mall-I'd like to read what you have to say--we can trigger a lot that way, I bet. Stuff is coming back every minute...

Jayne's Commentary

Posted October 2, 2005 (user submitted)

In about 1978/79, The Brickyard on Chicago's Northwest side opened their ground level Phase One which consisted of Kmart and Jewel Osco Grand Bazaar, linked together by a small indoor strip of stores and a mall enclosed Burger King. The only stores I remember may have been a Troy card store, 16 Plus, an eye doctor, and a bank - nothing exciting. When Phase Two opened, it was an escalator ride up from Burger King to the North end of the mall that was anchored by Montgomery Ward. This was a classy store at the time, my cousin worked in the fine jewelry department and they did good business.

The second and third level (if you count Kmart and Jewel Osco as the ground level) was anchored by Ward's and also JC Penney's. It didn't have a food court at first, just scattered eateries, but I heard they later built a small one. The stores I remember the first few years were Book Market, Malings Shoes, County Seat, Gift Horse, Merry-Go-Round, Kinney Shoes (lots of shoe stores). I got my ears pierced at the Earring Tree. There was Claire's, Stuart's/Jean Nicole, Woman's World, Spencers, Things Remembered, etc. There was also the Whistlestop Hot Dogs with a mini train in the front.

Everyone who lived in the area was negative about this mall from the beginning. They said it was going to bring down the neighborhood, attract crime, etc. which over time it did. In the beginning it was a great mall, and we went there about once a week. But, for about the last 8 years of its existence, even though it was 10 minutes away we never went there because it became a hangout for gangbangers, bored teenagers, and crime. Most of the good stores closed and were replaced by mom and pop stores selling junk. The people inside were scary, and you'd read reports of purse snatchings/muggings in the parking lot.

Sad to say, but relieved in a way - the Brickyard Mall on Chicago's Northwest side is dead and buried. A Lowe's, Target and open air mall/lifestyle center has recently re-opened in its place. However, we still won't go there for the same reasons we stopped going to the Brickyard Mall. In my opinion, they should have built luxury condos instead.

Links - An article on the reconstruction of the mall.
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