Andrew's Commentary

Posted March 7, 2006 (user submitted)

In my youth (10-15 years ago), Randhurst Mall in Mount Prospect, IL was always a happening place. It was built in the 50s, and was the largest mall at the time it was built. When I was growing up, this 2-level mall had every major department store, a massive food court with new restaurants popping up all the time, and every specialty store you can think of. This was in the late 80s-mid 90s. Fast forward to the late 90s/early 00s, and it now has only one department store (Carson Pirie Scott). Circuit City, Kohl's, Old Navy, Montgomery Ward, JC Penney, and others have all come and gone. The only viable anchors are CostCo and Carson Pirie Scott, as well as a slew of outparcels including LaSalle Bank, Home Depot, Borders, Jewel, a popular cinema, and restaurants. And what's left of the interior mall is nothing but primarily services and small offices with only a handful of stores left, mostly gift shops. It's sad to see. A recent renovation added Bed Bath & Beyond and Steve & Barry's to the mall. Nonetheless, the interior of the mall is mostly dead. The combination of shifting demographics, downtown retail development, the Deer Park Town Center, power centers, and Woodfield Mall's dominance have all likely contributed to the mall's downfall.

Rich's Commentary

Posted March 29, 2006 (user submitted)

I have many memories of Randhurst Mall, having spent countless hours there while growing up in the 1980's and early 1990's. Built in 1962, it was once the largest enclosed shopping center in the Chicago area. The original layout consisted of three anchors which flanked a massive domed area. During the 1980's, these anchors were Carson Pirie Scott on the southeast side (original), Wieboldt's on the north side (original), and Montgomery Ward on the southwest side. The Ward's infact was originally a branch of the Fair department store at the time when the mall first opened, but Ward's reportedly took it over within a year or so later, and you could see evidence of their massive first floor expansion. Randhurst's mall area was built with only the first floor intended for retail space, but deliveries were conducted within a full basement level, complete with an entry ramp on the east side of the mall and a drive-around circle which was directly below the first floor domed area. Each of the three original anchors maintained retail space on this basement level, but none of them were connected for the general public. In addition, each of the original anchors had a full second level to themselves, but these also didn't initially connect. The mall area itself had a separate, low-rise second level which exclusively housed offices until the mid-1980's.

During the 1980's and into the 1990's, Randhurst had a respectable slate of national retail chains, including Foot Locker, Baskin, Lerner, the Limited, Radio Shack, Camelot Music (later Record Town), etc. It also held a location of Kroch's and Brentano's, which was a Chicago-area chain that had a better selection of books than your typical Walden Books (the chain shuttered in 1993). One weakness of the mall until the mid-1980's was its selection of eateries. I have fond memories of eating over at the Randee's hamburger and soft-serve eatery which was right next to Wieboldt's. However, there really weren't any other viable eateries within the mall until the Picnic Food Court opened in the mid-1980's. The food court was one of the first in the area, and it was opened up on the south side of the upper level (converted office space).

The food court still remains today, and it is the only area in the mall left with full occupancy by a fairly respectable roster of tenants, including McDonald's, Subway, and Sbarro's.

The mid to late 1980's and beyond marked a period of great expansion for Randhurst. The basement area within the delivery circle was opened up to general retail space, complete with an escalator (this area had a limited selection of retail stores before this, but they had to be accessed by a semi-hidden stairway of sorts). At the same time, a center court windowed elevator structure was also erected to connect the basement level with the second floor; this was also the first of its kind in the area. By 1987, two new department stores were added upon annexation of the first level - Main Street (later Kohl's) and Speiss. In 1988, Bergner's opened up in the old Wieboldt's location. By 1990, Carson's was bought by Bergner's, the Bergner's store was renamed Carson's, and JC Penney took over the old Carson's location (this was one of the last true full-line Penney's stores I ever saw erected, and they actually preserved most of the decor from the old Carson's). By Christmas of 1990, the entire second floor had been converted to retail space and all three original anchor spaces were finally connected on this floor.

Going into the 1990's, Randhurst in its prime housed a total of about 100 stores on all three levels. Even when significant vacancies came about, there still seemed to be respectable tenants available to pick up the slack. When Speiss closed its doors in 1993, the mall was able to get both Circuit City and Old Navy to take up its space. About that time, the center court basement level was mostly reconfigured to house a Filene's Basement; this closed within a couple years and the mall could not effectively fill this space until a dance studio was erected in 2004.

The 2000's, however, saw a massive decline and stagnation from which the mall never recovered. After the 2000 holiday season, the entire Montgomery Ward chain was liquidated, and Randhurst was no exception. I could go into a whole diatribe about the elimination of Ward's and its domino effect on the state of indoor malls, but that's for another day. What was ironic about their Randhurst location, was that they were about three-forths complete with a remodeling that also saw a new 'Wards' nameplate and a circular retail floor layout. I can remember as that store was being cleared out, the new lamp fixtures were still hanging out from above the escalators, only half-finished. The demise of Ward's proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back, as JC Penney chose to shutter their location in May of 2001. Neither the Ward's or Penney's vacancies ever saw the proper light of day again. Also slowly but surely, many of the other nationally-known occupants of the mall chose not to renew their leases. By 2004, Kohl's had closed up shop in favor of a new strip-mall location on the southern end of town. Circuit City and Old Navy soon followed, and the original mall structure was only left with Carson's as its sole anchor.

About this time, Randhurst was significantly redeveloped as a combination center which included a row of stores with outside-only entrances in addition to the remaining mall portion. The old Penney's and Kohl's were completely torn down, and a Costco was put in their place. The old Ward's was also halfway removed, and the remaining portion now stands as a two-level southwestern gateway to the mall. This gateway portion was supposed to house several upscale vendors, but the only occupant so far is a newly-relocated Applebee's. Within the mall, an entire block of stores was renovated as a Steve and Barry's (a classic depressed-mall space filler), which also includes a part of the former Old Navy. The remaining portion of the Speiss/Old Navy/Circuit City structure has since become a Bed Bath and Beyond. There is now a large amount of vacant space within the rest of the inside mall, with most most of remaining occupants being independently-owned shops, plus about half a dozen cellular phone retailers... As an example of the types of retailers now residing in the mall, envision the dollar store which came to occupy the old Radio Shack location, old fixtures intact - and you'll see what I mean.

Walking inside the mall today is a stark contrast to what I remember as a child. I feel that the way that the old Ward's and Penney's structures were truncated is especially cheap - take a look at the kids play area which resides in the downsized old-Penney's court, if you don't believe me.

Perhaps the strength of this mall now resides in its perimeter businesses. However, this was not always the case. First, the north end. The Jewel was always there, although it has since been nicely rebuilt. The old theaters next to the Jewel were since demolished, and a multiplex was put up across the way in their place. A Buffalo Wild Wings has since been added to spruce things up. The south end was somewhat depressed for many years, although both a Home Depot and Borders are now flourishing there. Before Home Depot, there was Ward's Auto, along with a neighboring structure which housed a Child World toy store and an adjoining furniture outlet. In later years, the Child World structure was used as a Wolff's flea market, before it was totally demolished. Lastly, there was an abandoned restaurant structure on the far southwest edge right by the water tower. For many years, they could not keep this space filled. However, the Egg Factory Restaurant has been housed there for a while, which may be an indicator that things have turned around for the better - if only on the outside.

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