Stratford Square Mall is a large, super-regional center serving west and northwest-suburban Chicagoland. Located in the village of Bloomingdale, the mall is about 30 miles from downtown Chicago. With 5 anchor slots and 1.3 million square feet of leasable space, Stratford Square is one of the larger malls in the Chicago region; however, the mall has faced recent struggles as it adapts to the economic downturn and general decline of large, enclosed malls nationwide.
Opened on March 9, 1981, Stratford Square Mall was the end result of a planning strategy from one of suburban Chicago’s oldest settlements. Bloomingdale, which was located on maps as far back as the 1840s, is so old that the origin of its name is a mystery. The early settlers were German farmers, and Church services were held in German in the village as late as the 1960s.
Here’san ad from Stratford’s opening, from the Bloomingdale library:
Things changed dramatically for Bloomingdale and northern DuPage County in the 1970s. The building boom around Chicagoland was in full swing, and Bloomingdale sat directly in the path of growth moving westward. As the original German pioneers established the small village core of Bloomingdale some 100 years earlier, suburban pioneers fleeing the city of Chicago began to move westward in the 1960s and 1970s. The core of the old village was very small, and located along Lake Street (U.S. Highway 20) at Bloomingdale Road. Suburban Chicago began to envelop the small village, and the residential suburbs of Glendale Heights, Roselle, Addison, and Carol Stream sprang up around it.
By the late 1970s, Bloomingdale wished to capitalize on all this growth and make itself a regional hub for suburban-style retail. The center of this hub was to be a super-regional mall, located on the west side of the village at the intersection of Gary Avenue and Schick Road, just north of Army Trail Road. In building Stratford Square, developers sought to fill in this retail hole in the western suburbs, between the malls in Lombard and Aurora to the south, Oakbrook and the city of Chicago to the east, and Woodfield to the north.
Stratford Square opened to instant success, and became the anchor it was intended to be for a massive retail corridor on the west side of Bloomingdale. After Stratford Square opened, many big box-anchored strip malls opened in the coming years to complement the mall, mostly along Army Trail Road and Gary Avenue.
Here’s a photo taken of Stratford Square in all its glory, not long after it opened, also from the Bloomingdale library website. This is center court. Note the columns and high ceilings, which are still present today. Sadly, the trees and stepped fountains are not:
Unfortunately, though, this retail synergy between the mall and its retail environs peaked sometime in the 1990s. Beginning in the 2000s, Stratford Square and its retail corridor began to slide, punctuated by the departure of original anchor Wards in early 2001. The slide was precipitated by competition, access, and national trends, and during the balance of the 2000s Stratford Square developed more vacancies and began a slide toward obsolescence.
Let’s explore the impetus for Stratford Square’s decline, beginning in the 1990s with the arrival of fiercer competition and moving towards changing trends in retailing in the 2000s, with a separate focus on Stratford’s locational analysis.
First, Woodfield Mall completed an overhaul and expansion in 1996, adding many new stores and a new two-level wing. Following this expansion, Woodfield’s market dominance has continued to today. Woodfield’s dominance can also be attributed to a centralized location in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, located near the intersection of Interstates 90 and 290.
In contrast, Stratford Square’s location is slightly maligned. Like some other struggling Chicago-area super-regional malls (Randhurst, Charlestowne) Stratford Square is not located directly on any expressway or interstate highway. The closest major routes to Stratford Square are U.S. 20, a slow surface road with many lights, located a couple miles away, and I-355, a major north-south thoroughfare through Chicago’s western suburbs, located about 4 miles to the east.
Also, national trends beginning in the 90s and 2000s rallied against super-regional malls, especially those that aren’t the top of their game like Woodfield, Oakbrook, Old Orchard, Orland Mall, and Fox Valley Center. During the seemingly unending growth during the same period, too, many new strip malls and Lifestyle centers were constructed in the region, causing an overbuilding of convenience and leaving many of the older centers in and around the Stratford area to develop vacancies.
All of these processes created a perfect storm for decline at Stratford. Basically, Stratford has become a regional center in the husk of a super-regional mall. While parts of the mall are still successful and contain many popular national stores, other areas of the mall contain vacancies and many lower rent local and temporary stores. This is especially true of the Burlington Coat Factory/Carson’s wing of the mall, though it’s also visible in the Marshall Field’s wing. The center of the mall, which houses a popular food court, new mega-theater, and access to anchors Sears and Kohl’s, seems to be faring better.
Many anchor changes and additions have taken place since Stratford Square opened 30 years ago. Wards was replaced in 2001 by Burlington Coat Factory, while another original anchor, Wieboldt’s, departed Stratford Square in 1987 but was quickly replaced by JCPenney. Also, Sears was added as the sixth anchor to Stratford Square in 1990, and during the 1980s a Main Street store was added to the mall, which became Kohl’s in 1989. Original anchors Marshall Field’s and Carson Pirie Scott have remained, though Marshall Field’s became Macy’s in 2006. A Steve and Barry’s also operated at the mall from about 2006 until 2009, until that chain folded as well.
Stratford Square was most recently sold in 2005 to Feldman Properties, who immediately embarked on repositioning the aging center. They bought the mall for just over $93 million, and at the time the mall’s occupancy rate was 90%.
In 2006, Feldman purchased the mall’s JCPenney anchor for $46 per square foot, leasing it to JCPenney. The mall was renovated, and the existing 4-screen movie theater was quadrupled in size to a mega-sized all digital 16-screen experience, featuring a cappucino bar, marble flooring, and stadium seating. The theater opened July 4, 2007.
In addition to the theater, Feldman hoped to transform some of the exterior entrances into clusters of popular restaurants, much like The District on France, a strategically-positioned cluster of destinational restaurants at Southdale Center in suburban Minneapolis.
Unfortunately, though, the envisioned clustering never fully materialized; however, several restaurants have opened, like Orchid (Asian), Ballydoyle (Irish Pub), and Red Robin (Burgers).
Also rather unfortunate is the economic downturn of 2007 and beyond, which robbed Feldman of access to capital and put it in some real trouble. In 2008, Feldman attempted to dump Stratford Square, as well as several other malls in their portfolio, to a company called Inland American. In early 2009, however, the deal fell through, and Feldman ultimately kept Stratford Square as well as a mall in Ohio, until it was put into receivership. Today, Feldman still owns Stratford Square as the only property in its portfolio.
Feldman also operates an outdated leasing website for Stratford Square, including a slide show featuring the completed movie theater and some of the proposed changes; however, many of the touted “high-profile” tenants have since left the mall under Feldman’s tenure, including Abercrombie and Fitch, Forever 21, Gap, Disney, and American Eagle.
One slide in their presentation (fast forward a few slides, it’s a Flash page) does strike a chord with potential viability, though. It outlines the hub and spoke structure of Stratford compared with its environs, outlining the incomes, population, and traffic counts in the area. It also labels all of the strip malls and big box anchors along Gary Avenue and Army Trail Road near the mall. Strikingly, the household income in the area is around $100,000, and the 5-mile radius population is 263,000. At 5 miles, these residents are far closer to Stratford Square than any other retail center, so the center should be able to easily capture these residents and thrive as a regional mall. The only problem with this is that Stratford is built to be a super-regional center, and draw shoppers from 10+ miles. While the 10 mile radius population is over 850,000, many of these residents are closer to Woodfield, Yorktown, Geneva Commons, and other options.
A possible solution, when the economy allows for it, would be to complete Feldman’s idea of creating destinational restaurants, and possibly adding more entertainment venues. I know the Ballydoyle here has popular musical acts and is open late, sometimes even featuring American Idol alum Gina Glocksen.
We’ve visited Stratford Square several times over the years, and have also noted the slow decline in popular national brands. And while this mall is far from defeat, we’re a bit saddened at the lack of focus for its renaissance. While it’s true that Stratford isn’t that close to expressway/interstate access, it is the center of a densely populated, relatively wealthy suburban region. A little TLC can go a long way in these cases, and once the economy perks up I fully expect Stratford to rise from the retail ashes. Hopefully Feldman, or whoever owns it at that point, can find more capital to perk the place up, and diversify its offerings to get people in the door. I have every confidence that it’s possible.
I captured these photos of Stratford Square Mall in Fall 2010, except for the three older ones I took from the Bloomingdale library’s site. Feel free to leave your own comments and thoughts on the mall.