Brandon Gorte's Commentary

Posted September 3, 2006 (user submitted April 2, 2006)

Hillcrest is a currently a typical strip center anchored by a grocery store in Crest Hill, Illinois. However, if you look a little deeper under the surface, you'll see that it has a much older and longer history.

In 1959, a new mall was being built along Larkin Avenue between Theodore Street and Plainfield Road (US-30) just north of Joliet. It was to be the first mall in Will County. The mall was to be an outdoor mall (en vogue at the time) and anchored by an 88,000SF Goldblatt's at the south end, and a two-level 50,000SF branch of a local department store, the Boston Store (no relation to the current one based in Milwaukee). The Boston Store was expanding to two branches, one in downtown at Jefferson & Ottawa, and one in Hillcrest. Goldblatt's was moving out of downtown to the mall. The mall would consist of five buildings. One at the back between Goldblatt's and the Boston Store, two in the front, one for the Boston Store, and one for Goldblatt's and other smaller shops around the store. All together, the mall was to have 250,000SF of retail space and cost $4.8 million.

On November 18, 1959, the mall was officially opened to the public. Governor William G. Stratton was there for the ribbon cutting at 10am for the new Boston Store. Goldblatt's opened early, on September 14, 1959 as the first store in the mall. The mall also included Jewel, Walgreen's, Richman Bros., SS Kresge, and about 30 other stores for 37 stores total. The mall was originally supposed to be part of Joliet, but at the same time the City of Crest Hill was being organized. Hillcrest became part of Crest Hill in the early 1960s when the city was incorporated (City Hall is only 1 block east).

Hillcrest proved popular through the 1960s and early 1970s until another mall was built in Joliet, along Jefferson Street -- Jefferson Square Mall (see the other entry for this dead mall). A two screen movie theater was opened in the mid-60s. The Boston Store closed its downtown branch in 1972, followed by Hillcrest in 1976-77. This became a Service Merchandise. Jewel left in the mid-1960s for a larger combo store (with an Osco Drug) across Theodore Street. However, the mall continued on.

In 1978, Louis Joliet Mall was built out at I-55 and US-30 (Plainfield Road). It was only as matter of time before something had to give at Hillcrest. In 1979, it was announced that the shopping center would be de-malled and turned into a strip center. The two buildings between Larkin and the main mall corridor would be torn down for more parking. A walk through between Service Merchandise and Walgreen's was filled in for more store space. This was the end of the mall, but not the end of Hillcrest.

In 1982, Goldblatt's closed, and the exterior shops around the building reorganized for a new Venture to open in 1984. At this time a row of shops was opened between Service Merchandise and Plainfield Road. The theaters closed in the mid-90s and converted into shops. Service Merchandise moved out of Hillcrest in 1986 to North Ridge Plaza (kitty-corner across Thoedore & Larkin). The space then became a Highland Electronics for a few years. A Discovery Zone then followed and vanished. Currently the Boston Store building is subdivided between 4-5 successful shops. Venture closed in 1998 to be replaced with Ames in 2000. Ames became Goldblatt's (again) in 2002. Goldblatt's return was not triumphant. They closed within six months. In 2005, the building was reorganized, eliminating the shops in the front (facing Larkin), and a grocer opened in the building. Currently, the store is a Food 4 Less (owned by Kroger). Let's hope it stays that way for a while. Anyway, Hillcrest could have been a truely dead mall, but a quick decision when Louis Joliet Mall opened may have saved the day (it's fully leased). Hillcrest also managed to outlive the other mall in town, Jefferson Square.

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