Dude, where’s my mall?

By on January 15, 2009

by Keith Beebe

If a mall could be on life support, it’s likely the plug would’ve been pulled on the Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles years ago.

Once a Tri-Cities shopping mecca, Charlestowne has been reduced to little more than a subdued food court with a carousel, a few random stores, a Von Maur and a movie theater. Store spaces once occupied by chains such as Camelot Music, Pacific Sunwear and Babbages are now dark and gated off, and even recent additions like Hollister have already gone out of business due to poor sales.

Local residents really should not be surprised though, since this has happened in St. Charles before.

The original St. Charles Mall, once located on Route 38 and Randall Road, was an extremely popular mall in the 1980s, boasting a Radio Shack, Kmart, Joseph Speiss and a three-theater cinema. However, the mall began losing most of its business in the early ’90s to a new mall opening on the east side of town: Charlestowne. The St. Charles Mall managed to survive a few more years—mainly because Kmart and the movie theater still attracted customers—before going completely out of business in late-1995. The St. Charles mall was demolished in 2002.

And now Charlestowne appears to be destined for the same fate as its predecessor. Except this time, it’s Von Maur, not Kmart, helping to keep the mall in business. Even the exterior of the facility is looking rough these days: The stairs on the north side of the facility used to be clean, with a railing always freshly painted white. Now, they’re dirty and weathered.

It would be easy to blame Charlestowne’s decline on the opening of the Geneva Commons or the increasingly common practice of shopping from home via the Internet. However, other malls like Woodfield and Fox Valley seem to be doing just fine.

So how does a once functional galleria become a shopping graveyard?

“Retail has cycles just like any other business,” said Lia Osburn, Marketing Director for the Fox Valley Mall. “Malls that do not have a diverse retail mix and a superior shopping environment often struggle when shoppers have fewer dollars to spend.”

Diversity isn’t Charlestowne’s strong suit, as more than half of the building is unoccupied. And considering the current state of the economy, the mall’s future appears grim.

So, is it time to pull the plug on Charlestowne? Osburn is optimistic about the mall’s chances for survival.

“Malls can definitely resuscitate given the proper attention. The way in which this is done varies greatly depending upon the reason for the decline. Malls must differentiate themselves from other shopping options in the area in order to attract loyal shoppers,” she said.

Charlestowne’s main offices declined to comment when reached by the Elburn Herald.

For more info
For those interested in shopping trends or more information about the retail industry and its past and present, the website www.deadmalls.com provides a way for users to interact, share information on local shopping malls and their successes or failures.
According to the site’s “About and Contact Info” link, the site was created by Peter Blackbird and Brian Florence, and “is a non-for-profit endeavor designed to promote the history of the malls as well as their nature, whether thriving or declining, and the impact of time and competition on these establishments.”
The Charlestowne Mall is referenced through the “Dead Mall Features” link.

Photo: On a shopping day in December at Charlestowne Mall, the carousel is empty and here seem to be many stores that are empty or closed. Photo by John DiDonna