Brandon Gorte's Commentary:

Posted May 11, 2005 (user submitted)

Built in 1975 as the first enclosed mall in Joliet, Illinois, a city about 45 miles southwest of Chicago's Loop, Jefferson Square Mall boasted 65 stores, Walgreen's, Woolworth's, Wieboldt's, and Montgomery Ward. The mall was built such that the central court had four branches off it. The east branch led to Wieboldt's and Woolworth's. Woolworth's was off to the side, next to Wieboldt's on the east wing. The west branch led to Montgomery Ward, with Walgreen's off to the side here as well (both Walgreen's and Woolworth's were in the mainline of shops). Walgreen's even had its own exterior entrance to the parking lot. The north and south wings were just as long as the east and west wings, but lacked anchors at the ends. Instead, these were the only two entrances directly into the mall from outside. The south wing contained Cinema I II III (Genreal Cinemas) at the end. The central court was oriented such that the north and east wings branched off at the northeast end, and the south and west wings branched off at the southwest end. At the northeast end of the court was a bandshell with a water feature around it, and at the southwest end was a kiosk with four shops. Between was open space.

From when the mall was first built until Wieboldt's closed in 1987, the mall was busy. Jefferson Square was good competition for the slightly newer (and larger) mall a few miles away (Louis Joliet Mall). Many shops kept locations in both malls: Waldenbooks, Musicland, Printer's Ink, Circus World Toys, Foot Locker, etc. However, when Wieboldt's closed, some of these stores simply closed their Jefferson Square location. In 1991, to try to stem the slowly increasing vacancies, Menard's (a Midwestern home improvement chain) was brought in as an anchor to replace Wieboldt's. However, a few years later, Menard's closed their entrance to the mall, causing the death of the entire east wing.

By 1996, only about two dozen stores remained in the mall (a gangland shooting in the mall around 1990 didn't help matters). The mall was sold to a new owner who decided that it should have a woodland decor. The bandshell and kiosk were removed, the sunken seating areas were filled in, and some shops (Fannie May) were forcibly removed from the mall. The floor was retiled, and the mall repainted. A large fake tree was then placed in the central court (large enough to walk through!). However, it was in vain. The largest tennants attracted was the Secretary of State Driver's License Office in the south wing. The cinema became a second-run movie house, then closed, and the east wing was closed to customers once Woolworth's closed. After Montgomery Ward closed (one of the last to close), the mall was sold to Menard Properties (a part of Menard's).

Menard Properties decided to remove the tennants from the mall and move them to outlots around the mall. Then, they started tearing down the mall starting with Montgomery Ward. The objective is to build a new Menard's superstore with a new shopping center. As I write this, the new Menard's is almost complete, and most of the mall has been removed. Menard's currently uses the Wieboldt's store, the Woolworth's space, and the east court for their store.

David Stybr's Commentary:

Posted June 3, 2006 (user submitted)

Last week I got my Illinois drivers' license renewal notice, and even though it was months in advance, I added it to my list of chores for Saturday morning because I remembered that 4 years ago the Secretary of State [Illinois drivers go to the Secretary of State locations to renew their drivers licenses] and Menard's were among the few tenants in Jefferson Square. There weren't even any tumbleweeds blowing around back then. Last week it gave me a good excuse to check it out and buy some hardware supplies too. Sure enough, Jefferson Square has been demolished and it's now a thriving Menard's superstore. The Secretary of State now has its own building, as does an off-track betting facility. Some other commercial development is underway on the periphery too, if the earthmovers are any indication.

It's a shame to see Jefferson Square go, considering I visited it many many times in its heyday in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However it had long outlived its usefulness, and now at long last the area seems to be coming to life again. In retrospect, bringing in Menard's to revitalize the mall in 1991 had the opposite effect. Menard's has been so successful that they gradually swallowed the entire mall. It's another facet of the cycle of life, which has apparently happened to other malls too.

It's interesting how many other dead malls I've come across in my business travels, like the decrepit North Town Mall in Springfield, Missouri, which was next to a nice Holiday Inn where I stayed a few years ago. What a contrast.

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