North Towne Mall was a hybrid enclosed-strip mall located at the corner of W. Riverside Blvd. and N Main St. on the north side of Rockford, Illinois. It opened in 1956 and at some point either a portion or the entire center was enclosed. Its main anchor was the Rockford-based department store Charles V. Weise and Company, which most people called Weise’s (pronounced why-zees). In 1982 Weise’s was bought out by Peoria-based Bergner’s and all the stores changed hands, including this one.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, when I was growing up just 30 minutes away from North Towne Mall. The small enclosed portion of North Towne at that point consisted of a portion that connected Bergner’s Department Store to the Kerasotes Theatres, and was parallel to W. Riverside Blvd. The rest of the center from the theatres all the way around the corner parallelling Main St. was a strip mall. Bergner’s closed in the early 1990s and moved across the river to Machesney Park Mall (which has seen better days itself). The empty Bergner’s was replaced during the late 1990s with local Gustafson’s Furniture, who did not renovate any of the inside space of the store whatsoever. It’s still open, and going in there is like going into a time warp. Imagine lots of dark woods, mirrors, various puke-colored carpeting, etc. I think they even left some of the fixtures up, and I know on some of the doors it still says “Employees only – P.A. Bergner & Co.” So that’s kind of cool.
Anyway, growing up 30 minutes away, we never once went to this mall as far as I can remember. We always went to either Machesney Park Mall across the river (which was very successful during the 1980s) or the much larger and ever-dominant two level CherryVale Mall on the southeast edge of town. I suppose that says something about what this mall had to offer. It never drew from a expansive radius and was more of a neighborhood center throughout its life. However, I do remember the TV commercials for North Towne Mall during the 80s and early 90s. The commercials marketed both North Towne and Colonial Village Mall, another small enclosed neighborhood mall in Rockford, in the same 30-second spot. We had occasionally gone to Colonial Village Mall to shop when I was little, because it had two anchors and more “destination” specialty shops, most of which were local. Colonial Village Mall was also decidedly more upmarket.
Since I saw the TV commercials for North Towne Mall and knew this mall was only half an hour away, I always wanted to see what it was like. We’d driven by a few times when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until I got my own car that I was able to go inside. When I finally went, it was almost too late. Gustafson’s, the local furniture store that had taken over the Bergner’s space, had spilled out into part of the enclosed portion of the mall. Alarmingly, not only were there no open stores in the enclosed portion, but there wasn’t a single one open. At the end with the theatres, there was this strange basement court that again contained no retail activity whatsoever. The theatres were accessible at the top of the basement court and were running discount movies. Past the theatres, the center regained consciousness as a somewhat successful strip mall that continued down a ways and then turned the corner to face N. Main St.
Considering none of the stores in the enclosed portion of the mall were open and the lights were off, it’s pretty much a no-brainer that it wouldn’t last long. But why did North Towne fail? Well, the simple answer is that it didn’t. It is still, and has always been successful as a decently large strip mall for the north Rockford area. However, the enclosed portion did fail, due mostly to the fact that it was not large enough to sustain itself as well as competition from the larger malls.
In Summer 2003 the small enclosed portion was demolished and, in line stores were put in its place. So now North Towne Mall is, in its entirety, a strip mall. However, both the Kerasotes Theatres and Gustafson’s Furniture remain open, as well as the stores in the strip portion. I took the pictures below in May 2002. Notice the poor lighting inside the enclosed part of the mall because all of the lights were off. It was actually much darker than these pictures suggest, because the camera compensated for the lack of light and exaggerated the light that was there from the exits and skylights. If anyone knows anything further about the history of this mall, feel free to leave comments or email me – it would be greatly appreciated.
Also, check out the mall’s rather rudimentary website.