In January 2006 the Goodwin Williams Group of Chicago released a document outlining the current and future development environment in Villa Park, Illinois. In their findings, they noted Villa Park is a mature suburb 18 miles west of downtown Chicago, with a population of 22,000 and an income level near that of adjacent suburbs like Addison but lower than that of Elmhurst and Lombard. They also noted that Villa Park is the geographic center of the entire Chicagoland metropolitan area with easy access to several interstates, including I-355, I-294, I-88, and I-290. In addition, there are two major east-west commercial arteries which bring commuters and residents alike through Villa Park from outer suburbia/exurbia to the west, IL 38 and IL 64. Also, the study outlined there are two commercial centers to Villa Park, both along a former railroad which has been abandoned and removed. One of these centers lays claim to having the first enclosed mall in the world, opening in 1926 and connecting four shops. We’ll let our readers decide that one. The largest shopping center, however, is the North Park Mall along Route 64 on the northern edge of the village.
Like many smaller, enclosed neighborhood malls in Chicagoland, the 340,000 square-foot North Park Mall was never a regional draw like its nearby monster cousins Yorktown Center and Oakbrook Center, at 1 and 2 million square feet, respectively. Instead, it was a collection of local and national stores drawing predominantly from the collection of post-WWII suburbs in eastern DuPage County. In terms of size, North Park is similar to other former enclosed neighborhood malls in the area which have since bit the dust: St. Charles Mall in St. Charles, Washington Square Mall in Homewood, Meadows Town Mall in Rolling Meadows, Forest Park Mall in Forest Park, and numerous others. The one major difference between North Park Mall and these others is that North Park is still open for business and has been virtually unchanged by current retail trends of disenclosure and repurposing – for now, anyway.
We aren’t quite sure when North Park Mall originally opened, but that’s what our peanut gallery is for. We also aren’t quite sure of the original anchors, but we do know that at some point K-Mart flanked the west side and JCPenney flanked the east side. K-Mart closed by 2000, and JCPenney had to have closed by March 2001 because that’s when Ames opened a store there during their brief re-introduction folly into the Chicagoland area before their demise less than a year later. Ames announced it was leaving Chicago in November 2001 and all stores were liquidated by early 2002, including this one. Shortly thereafter, the former Ames there became a HOBO (Home Owners Bargain Outlet) location. In 2005, Staples opened on the west side of the mall, joining a box-sized flea market and a grocery store. There are also ancillary businesses such as Pet Supplies Plus, a women’s clothing outlet, a local sandwich shop, and a Chinese buffet, which have both interior access into the mall and exterior entrances facing North Ave/IL 64. These businesses seem to be holding up, but what about the interior portion of the mall itself?
The enclosed portion of North Park Mall connected the two east-west anchors and has a side hallway leading out to the main entrance facing North Avenue. There are currently very few, if any, remaining retailers who only have access into the mall and don’t have an exterior entrance as well and all of them are on the side hallway leading out to the main entrance. Once in the mall, there are many empty storefronts and kiosks, several of which feature spanish-only signage, for the derelict retail fan’s amusement. Although the enclosed portion of the mall remains open to walk through, both HOBO and the flea market are sealed off completely. On the day we visited in October 2006, the two security guards who were chatting in the middle of the empty mall had to wonder why we even went back there. During our first visit in 2000, the interior corridor had a few more stores and a nacho stand in the middle, but aside from that it has been virtually unchanged since.
North Park Mall’s decor is reminiscent of the 80s, which was probably when it was last partially remodeled: lots of neon strips along the ceiling in the side hallway and otherwise relatively spartan. It’s also notable how wide the main corridor’s hallway is. Wide enough, in fact, for a clustering of normal-sized stores to exist toward the HOBO end of the mall. Also interesting are how old the mall directories are, which still list JCPenney, K-Mart, and a slew of other long-since retired merchants.
Competition from regional mega-malls like Oakbrook Center, Yorktown Center, and even Woodfield Mall combined with the onslaught popularity of Big Box-anchored strip malls have put nails in the coffin for gems like North Park. It’s definitely one of the last of a dying breed, and its current condition proves this. How long will it be before it is flipped inside out or knocked down like many of Chicagoland’s other sMalls like it? Take a look at the photos featured here which were taken in October 2006, and leave some comments of your own. We’re specifically interested in the mall’s history. When did it open, what were the anchors, and when did it fall down the stairs and hit its head?