Brian Clark's Commentary:

Posted March 31, 2005 (user submitted)

Machesney Park Mall opened in 1978. I was also there for the grand opening, I believe that they had someone playing Zorro (I was only 6 at the time). When it opened it had 4 department stores; JC Penney, Kohl's, Prange's, which was a more upscale regional chain based out of Wisconsin, and Prange Way which was a discount department store run by the same company and sold things such as hardware, clothing and electronics. The mall also contained many typical chain stores of the time (Gap, Chess King, Limited, Spencer Gifts, Circus World toys, etc.)

Sometime in the mid to late 80's, the major competing mall in the Rockford market (Cherryvale, a large 2 story mall) renovated and the Prange Way in Cherryvale closed. I can't remember exactly when, but the large Prange Way at Machesney Mall also closed. Several in the Wisconsin market remained open though, along with the Prange stores at Machesney and Cherryvale (the former Cherryvale Prange Way space became a food court, while Machesney's space remained abandoned). Eventually that space became the second PharMor store in the Rockford region, but it was very short lived (possibly due to Osco Drug having a very large space in the mall).

Again the space stood empty, until the (early 90's?) when a store called 7th Avenue Direct moved in. Now there were 4 anchor stores, but possibly due to the recession in the late 80's, as well as the renovation at Cherryvale (the larger, trendier mall), the vacancy rate had fallen inside of Machesney, and more local stores were opening inside. There were still some strong retailers (Gap, Limited,Waldenbooks), but the store facades were becoming dated as well. In addition, sometime in the mid to late 90's, JC Penney announced that it would be closing that location. The Village of Machesney Park convinced them to stay, and JC Penney converted that location to an outlet store. Younkers had taken over the Prange's chain at that point, and Bergner's eventually purchased both Younkers stores located in the Rockford area (both chains are now owned by Saks, Inc.) Their reasoning was wanting better locations, and Bergner's closed thier North Town Mall location after the purchase; that was the first truly dead mall in the area and was located in Rockford, but that's another story. Their strategy did work, as the store seems to do good business despite the current vacancies which the mall has.

Kohl's has since left the mall, opting instead for a new strip mall a few miles down. Their old location stands empty. At this point, the mall has a very dated appearance, and label scars can still be seen throughout the mall. The only chain stores I can think of are Foot Locker, Radio Shack and GNC.

In addition, the Cherryvale Mall just underwent another renovation in 2004, in which they added a fourth anchor store (JC Penney) to the other 3 standing anchors (Bergner's, Marshall Field's and Sears). Despite the renovation and the low vacancy rate which followed (I believe it to be 3% from 10%), it is painfully obvious that the vacancy rate is creeping back up at Cherryvale, and this certainly does not help the Machesney Park Mall.

Simon sold the mall to local developers within the last few years, but at this time I do not know of any long term plans for it. I go to the JC Penney outlet frequently, but do not go into the mall very often; I was inside the mall last year with friends to see the movie Catwoman. Both theaters were up and running, although there are plans to build a Showcase 14 over by the strip malls. This will probably cause the mall theaters to close. I also stopped in at Texas Grill for an appetizer (a very nice grill your own steak house located where Osco Drug had been). This is now closed, but I believe this happened due to tax issues and not from poor business.

I have several friends who have commented that this mall would make a great outlet mall, as the nearest one is in Huntley (close to Elgin), has no anchor stores, and is outdoors as well. I do not know the logistics of the situation (is it possible a more upscale store that anchors the mall such as Bergner's could sucessfully oppose this?) With new strip malls going up a mile away, it seems that the mall itself may be able to be revived. Time will tell.

Paul Gould's Addition:

Posted October 12, 2005 (user submitted)

First I wanted to correct the person about the Zorro appearance. It was actually the Lone Ranger........and it really was Clayton Moore. I was there opening day also.

Brenda Eisenbeisz's Commentary:

Posted March 25, 2005 (user submitted September 3, 2003)

Located on Highway 251 north of Rockford, IL, is the Machesney Park Mall. It used to be an airport decades ago, became the place for teens in the '80s, and has been dying ever since.

With 2 sets of movie theaters, an Osco, Kohls/Yonkers/Bergners, JCPenneys-(now an outlet store), Waldenbooks, a few good restuarants and tons of teen fashon stores, it was quite the hangout when I was younger.

Now the largest traffic seems to be for paintball, the hobby store or the 3-4 outlet type stores. We are down to one theater area, and the vending snack machines seem to make more money than the pizza and hot sub shops do. Scout troops have little competition to reserve the community room adjacent to the branch sherriff office.

Over the years, we have lost Foxmoor, That Boutique, Spencers, Waldenbooks, Things Remembered, Swiss Colony, Kohls, A&W, a corndog shop, and many, many others. PharMor passed through several years ago. Each time I go out to this mall, now as a parent of 2 preteens, I am astounded that yet another tenant is gone.

Plenty of empty space, I wish that it could either go back to full retail, or total Outlet/Thrift Shop mall. I would love to be able to go to the Salvation Army, Goodwill, local Homeless Shelter and Hospital resale shops all in the same parking lot, instead of driving all around town to bargain hunt!

If the property owners are going to have the location at a loss, why not help charitible organizations for the write-off by assisting them with the overhead! Private schools could also occupy the store fronts, gaining visability as well as income. We also have nearly 10% unemployment in this region, so paying a few folks minium wage to run a register or sweep may help more than the specific charity involved.

I am not certain who currently owns the property, I do recall that Simon had an interest in it in the past. If you could offer some suggestions to the Village of Machesney Park, I imagine that it would be appreciated.

Nancy Metcalf's Corrections:

Posted September 12, 2005 (user submitted)

I read with interest the comments on Machesney Park Mall. Fred Machesney, the previous owner of the airport that used to be located at the site was like a grandfather to me so I have considerable history of the mall.

The mall opened in 1978. I live directly north of the property and in it's heyday I remember police officers having to direct traffic through the intersections from Thanksgiving to New Years. I would walk to the mall instead of parking in the lot because there were very few empty spaces in the parking lot to be found. Now you find very few cars in the parking lot and lots of empty spaces.

The property was purchased from Fred Machesney by a company called JCP Realty and Melvin Simon and Associates back in I believe it was 1973 or possibly 1974. Melvin Simon and Associates, now known as Simon Properties Group sold the mall to a local development agency, Rubloff Development in December, 2003. When Rubloff purchased the property they did tell the Village administrators that they would be meeting with them to lay out what their plan for the mall would be. This meeting never happened.

Rubloff has been very mum about what they see as the future of the mall. Rubloff did an interview with a local reporter a while back and talked about turning a portion of the mall into office space. Office space and private schools is not what the Village needs in this mall. We need the retail since the Village relies so heavily on sales tax dollars to provide services for the residents.

An outlet mall would be ideal especially with the median income of the Village and the current state of the economy. Developers say that outlet malls are on their way out, however look at the success that the JC Penney Oulet store had had at this location. This is proof that outlet stores are indeed needed and utilized.

It breaks my heart to see the current state of the Machesney Park Mall because I know that a dead mall in our town is not what Fred Machesney had envisioned when he sold the property. He wanted it to be a center point of the community, something that the residents of this area could benefit from and be proud of.

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