Effingham, Illinois is located at the intersection of two Interstates (70 and 57), in the east central region of the state, about 3.5 hours south of Chicago. With a population slightly over 12,000, Effingham’s economy is currently rooted in its presence at these crossroads. As such, the town bills itself as the “Crossroads of Opportunity”.
Effingham is home to a famous cross of another kind, too. A 198-foot cross was erected along I-57/70 by The Effingham Cross Foundation in 2001, promoting “the values of faith and family”, along with a ten commandments display. The cross is billed as one of the largest in the world, and is also Effingham’s biggest tourist attraction.
Effingham has also been a pop culture topic of ridicule, immortalized by the Ben Folds song “Effington”, which was inspired by a drive through Effingham, and by a parody on the nationally syndicated Bob and Tom radio show. These references probably bring a lot of effing ire to local residents.
Because of its location at an interstate crossroads, Effingham has a plethora of retail, hotel and fast food options for a city of its size. Another reason for a relative abundance of offerings is Effingham’s distance from larger cities. The nearest major city, St. Louis, is 100 miles away, and the nearest major mall is in Terre Haute, Indiana, over 60 miles away.
Effingham’s retail exists in several clusters. The area surrounding Exit 160 from the interstates is the largest and newest area, and offers big box stores like Big K, Menards, Super Wal-Mart, and Kohls, with additional strip malls like Crossroads Plaza.
Downtown Effingham, located a couple miles off the interstates, offers around 25 local shops and services in an intimate, typical midwestern small-town atmosphere.
The third cluster of retail in Effingham is located along US 45/Banker Street to the south of downtown. This area is the least convenient to the interstates, and is not as successful as the strip around Exit 160. It serves locals in and around Effingham, and has also seen the most turnover and vacancy in the area. This cluster is anchored by a small enclosed mall, Village Square Mall.
In 1971, local developer Gene Mayhood bought 30 acres of farmland on the south edge of town with the intention of building a regional shopping center. According to a 2008 article in the Effingham paper, a livestock sale barn was used as the base structure for retail outlets G.C. Murphy and Eisner’s, which were the first stores to open in the development in 1972. Really? Did this really happen?
The article then goes on to state that “The opening of 26 other stores led Mayhood to purchase another 50 acres.” Was this part of, or prior to, the construction of the existing mall structure?
JCPenney, the mall’s south anchor, opened in 1977, and an adjacent building, the Lincoln Land Center, was operated as an amusement park through the 1980s before it was converted into an office/retail center.
Throughout the years, Village Square Mall has had some rocky spells and is currently at a visible low point when compared to the past. It currently lacks even a simple website, but this site operated by Effingham’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has a blurb that lists it as “ultra-modern and growing” – hmm…what the eff, Effingham? Seriously?
Anchor stores Stage and Rural King, a regional farm and home goods supply box store, have left the mall, and it is in dire need of a renovation. Village Square received a renovation in 1994 under a new ownership, and it’s time for another update. In recent years, apparel chain stores Glik’s and Deb have also departed, as well as other stores. There have only been minor updates to the mall in recent years, including a new cursive logo to replace the western block font and a mural near the main entrance with the same new logo displayed.
Several factors have worked against Village Square Mall’s success. First, Village Square is not easily accessible to the interstates – the retail district by Exit 160 is booming due to the accessibility and visibility the interstates provide. Second, the mall was, for years, poorly managed by non-local ownership interests who bought and sold the property frequently and didn’t seem that committed to the investment.
While the first item, proximity to interstates, cannot be fixed, proactive management of the mall could possibly bring it up to par. In 2008, the mall was again sold to a New York-based investor, Mike Kohan, who cited experience managing distressed properties and turning them around. We hope that’s true, and I’m sure the residents of Effingham do as well, so they don’t have to drive an hour or more for a mall.
We visited Village Square Mall in May 2001, and again in April 2010. The differences between the visits indicate a stark downhill spiral that we hope turns around real effing soon.