This is it. In addition to being the largest mall in the Chicagoland area and one of the largest malls in the world, Woodfield Mall is the focal point of Chicago’s expansive northwest suburbs and has been an impetus for growth in the region since it opened 35 years ago in 1971. It is the number one tourist destination not only in the Chicago region but in all of Illinois. People regularly come from neighboring states to shop at Woodfield and the retail cloud surrounding it, including dozens of popular chain restaurants, big box stores, and most notably the first Ikea store in the midwest which opened in 1998. Woodfield is also the largest mall we’ve featured here on labelscar.com.
Woodfield Mall was initially a joint project undertaken by two of Chicago’s major department stores: Sears and Marshall Field’s. As such, its name comes from former Sears chairman Robert Wood and Marshall Field and Company founder Marshall Field. To commemorate this undertaking, Woodfield opened in 1971 with huge fanfare. Vincent Price entertained while Carol Lawrence sang. (Oh, to have been there…) Debuting with only 28 stores (with another 28 opening a month after the grand opening), Woodfield quickly expanded to 189 stores and 1.9 million square feet of retail space by 1973, making it the largest mall in the United States at the time. The 1973 expansion brought department store chain Lord and Taylor and a new wing, complementing Sears and Marshall Field’s. In 1991, Woodfield added 23 more stores and in 1996 Woodfield expanded again with Nordstrom, an expanded Lord and Taylor, and 50 new specialty stores.
The continuing expansion at Woodfield made for spurious growth in Schaumburg and the surrounding suburbs of Hoffman Estates, Itasca, Rolling Meadows, and beyond. Far beyond, in fact. One could argue that the placing of Woodfield cemented the economic viability of the northwest suburbs and established a growth pattern far beyond that of the economically downtrodden south suburbs or other areas. The Village of Schaumburg itself grew 400 percent between 1970 and 2000. In the 1990s, Motorola built its headquarters across I-90 from the mall. Also in the 1990s, Sears left its Sears Tower in downtown Chicago to build their headquarters on a sprawling 200-acre campus in Hoffman Estates, a few miles west of Woodfield Mall. They are still there today, and in October 2006 an 11,000-seat multi-purpose family entertainment venue called Sears Centre will debut with a Duran Duran concert.
The ‘Ordinary World’ surrounding Woodfield also contains multiple office towers of 20 stories, and a 650,000 square-foot development called The Streets of Woodfield which is situated directly adjacent to Woodfield Mall (to the south) with frontage along I-290. Streets is an outdoor lifestyle center intended to mimic upscale urban streetfront shops, and it has had major success. It opened in the early 2000s and replaced a very glassy, failed two-level enclosed shopping center called One Schaumburg Place, which existed for only a short time between 1990-2000 and was anchored by Montgomery Ward. It also had the only food court ever to grace Schaumburg, because Woodfield surprisingly hasn’t built one yet. Streets of Woodfield is flanked by major stores Carson Pirie Scott, a Chicago department store chain, Dick’s Sporting Goods, which was formerly Galyan’s since the days of One Schaumburg Place, and there are also a Lowes Theatres and a GameWorks which are very popular. In addition, numerous restaurants like Shaw’s Crab House and many popular national chains such as Starbucks and Jamba Juice flank the remaining spaces at Streets of Woodfield.
Woodfield has also affected retail development in a far reaching area. The downfall of Randhurst Mall, located about 15 minutes away in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, is mainly due to the continued expansion and domination of Woodfield. Other centers in the west and northwest suburbs also may have never reached their true potential due to Woodfield. Charlestowne, Stratford Square, and Spring Hill Malls are all within a close distance of Woodfield and all have experienced periods of problems of which I would argue Woodfield played a role.
Today, Woodfield is as popular as ever. In addition to the title of largest tourism draw in Illinois, Woodfield is also currently the fifth largest mall in the country in terms of leasable retail space. There are around 300 stores at Woodfield, including 5 very large anchor stores. Sears is 416,000 square feet, making it the largest Sears in the world, Macy’s (formerly Marshall Field’s until September 2006) is 315,000 square-feet, JCPenney is 300,000 square feet, Nordstrom is 214,000 square feet, and Lord and Taylor is only (facetious alert) 124,000 square feet. The average anchor size at most malls is about 100,000 square feet, so these anchors are big boys (or girls, depending on how you gender-assign mall anchors).
The current design of Woodfield is modern and the decor is decidedly Taubman. If you don’t know what that means, all Taubman malls share basically the same decor. It’s pretty sterile, with grooved white slats everywhere. They even have a standard plasterboard plate with etched squares for dead or ‘coming-soon’ stores. If you know what I’m talking about, great. If not, go to one of their malls sometime, they all pretty much mirror each other. Woodfield’s layout is basically a T, with a jog in the wing connecting Lord and Taylor to Nordstrom (the 1996 addition). Most of the mall is two levels with a neat exception near center court where a third level sprouts. One of the more interesting design features is at the grand center court when all the levels connect via long, high catwalks and stairways to one another. All the images were taken September 2006, right before the final conversion of Marshall Field’s to Macy’s. In some of the photos you can see the temporary Marshall Field’s signage in banners over the actual Macy’s signage that was prematurely placed. In addition, here’s Woodfield from space (thanks, Google Maps). If you scroll down (south) a little you can also see the Streets of Woodfield development. For reference, I-290 is on the right of the image.
What’s in the future for the Woodfield area? In my opinion, with a regard for upkeep it will have continued growth. In addition to Sears Centre, Sears is currently leasing many outparcels of its megasite to interested retail or office uses. In a 2005 article in the Chicago Sun-Times, outdoor destination store Cabela’s was named as being interested in opening on the site. This continued growth combined with a history of dominance will certainly cement Woodfield’s near future of continued success. But what do you think? Leave your comments about anything from the cool fish tanks full of exotic species near center court to your experiences in the mall, past and present.