As mentioned previously in our North Park Mall posting, the Chicagoland area was spotted with small, enclosed neighborhood malls built during the late 1970s and early 1980s during a trend in this type of retailing. In around 1979 or 1980, St. Charles Mall opened on the west side of St. Charles near the intersection of IL 38 and Randall Road, about 40 miles west of downtown Chicago. Anchored by now-defunct Joseph Speiss & Company, an Elgin-based department store which went out of business entirely in 1996, and K-Mart, St. Charles Mall also had a main enclosed hallway of stores connecting the two anchors and shorter side hallways leading out to the main entrances along IL 38.
1991 ushered in the death blow for St. Charles Mall, as a much larger mall opened across town on the east side of St. Charles. Charlestowne Mall, anchored by JCPenney, Marshalls, Carson Pirie Scott, and Kohls, quickly became the dominant mall for suburban and exurban areas in the Fox River Valley in western DuPage and eastern Kane counties and beyond. With two levels and one million square feet, Charlestowne debuted outside of St. Charles Mall’s league and immediately drew shoppers away from it. At the same time, Joseph Spiess declared bankruptcy in 1991, unable to compete with the more modern and popular emerging chains by then; the entire chain folded in 1996. By 1995, St. Charles Mall gave up and shuttered completely, yielding to the emerging presence of Charlestowne Mall and the box retail/strip mall boom along Randall Road to the north and south of it.
By 2000, we discovered St. Charles Mall randomly while exploring the Chicago area and were surprised it had been abandoned for 5 years despite the fact it was in the middle of the most prime emerging retail strip in the western suburbs. Today, Randall Road is a major retail strip and thoroughfare all the way from Crystal Lake in the north to North Aurora in the south, with many millions of square feet of strip malls and big box, including 3 trendy ‘lifestyle’ centers. Nearly all of this strip is less than 10 years old, and much if it is even newer. The blighted St. Charles Mall shell was an eyesore amid this booming success and finally it met the wrecking ball in 2002. Today, the site of St. Charles Mall is an empty field despite promises of turning it into an auto mall.
In a rather funny twist of irony, one of these ‘lifestyle’ centers, Geneva Commons, opened practically across the street from the site of St. Charles Mall in 2003. Featuring stores such as Anthropologie, J. Jill, Williams-Sonoma and Crate & Barrel, which typically locate in enclosed super-regional malls, Geneva Commons is an uncreative, aesthetic failure of a place. The stores are organized mostly in a linear pattern – like a strip mall – and fronted by a giant parking lot, with a cluster of smaller service-oriented merchants and chain restaurants near the main entrance. The rear of the center behind the strip mall is completely disused, and it is entirely unfriendly to pedestrians who would want to walk around. But why would they, considering there is no communal focus or public gathering space whatsoever. Developers, there’s nothing new about this type of suburban development. The only difference between it and the 1950s-era strip malls are the names of the stores. Stop trying to rebrand the decades-old concept of the strip mall into anything more than it is – a boring row of stores and a giant parking lot. Since its debut in 2003, Geneva Commons has been stealing thunder from enclosed malls like Charlestowne, and possibly even other malls like Stratford Square and Fox Valley Center which are further afield.
I took these pictures in July 2001, after about 6 years of the mall being abandoned. Since the mall was only open for about 15 years and successful for only about 10, I’d guess all the decor is original. I wish I would’ve gone in the door that was open for whatever reason and gotten more interior pics. Also check out the old Spiess logo visible at the rear of the mall; it’s the only one I’ve ever seen. In addition, go see the demolition pictures posted by Mike Mustard in 2002.
The following 3 images are vintage photos taken by John Gallo in the early 1980s, probably not long after the mall opened.