CenterPoint MarketPlace; Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Anchored by two department stores, JCPenney and Green Bay-based ShopKo, with space for a third anchor, CenterPoint Mall opened with space for 60 smaller stores under one enclosed roof. The 220,000 square foot mall was never very successful, despite ample parking in the middle of downtown and only a few blocks from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, a campus with over 10,000 students. The mall never filled to capacity, nor attracted the quality of stores present in larger regional malls such as Wausau Center, located just 30 minutes north of Stevens Point in Wausau.

Well, hey.  Remember me?  It’s been a while, I know.  But I’m back, with a new story.

Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is a city of 26,000 located in the center of the state.  Its major exports are college graduates from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, one of 13 public four-year Universities in the state, and beer from Point Brewery, which I’m partial to.  A decent-sized paper mill and a few Insurance companies round out the economy here, among other businesses and services.

And, of course, the Stevens Point area once had a mall.  Heck, there were even two in the area.  Now they have none.  Zero. Zilch. Nada. The big goose egg.

The Stevens Point area’s first mall was located in suburban Plover, a smaller city located just south of Stevens Point, and it opened in 1984.  I missed seeing this one, but the interweb seems to indicate it was very small and later became part of Rainbow Falls Water Park, which itself ultimately closed in the early 2000s.  The mall was apparently demolished in 2003.  It also seemed to have two names: Manufacturers Outlet Mall and Plover Mall.  Anyone know anything about it?  Any photos?  All I could find were some back issues of a local paper with a few advertisements mentioning stores in the mall.

Even before Plover Mall (or whatever it was called) appeared on the scene, a national mall developer (sources indicate Melvin Simon and Associates) had been interested in building a large-scale mall on the edge of Stevens Point, located near the interchange of US 10 and US 51 (later I-39).  This proposal, introduced several years earlier in the late 1970s, was continually blocked by locals and ultimately lost steam as the years progressed.   A few years later, a different developer came up with a different proposal – to build a regional mall in the middle of downtown Stevens Point.  Several blocks of downtown Stevens Point would need to be razed for this development, but the developer marketed this under the careful guise of “urban renewal” because downtown Stevens Point was flagging, as were many cities’ downtowns nationwide.  This proposal won the backing of locals because it meant their downtown, which had lost its luster in recent years, would once again be the vibrant, retail-dominant center they had known in the early and mid 20th century.  Groundbreaking for this downtown mall, named CenterPoint Mall, took place in September 1984, and the mall’s grand opening took place in October 1985.

Anchored by two department stores, JCPenney and Green Bay-based ShopKo, with space for a third anchor, CenterPoint Mall opened with space for 60 smaller stores under one enclosed roof.  The 220,000 square foot mall was never very successful, despite ample parking in the middle of downtown and only a few blocks from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, a campus with over 10,000 students.  The mall never filled to capacity, nor attracted the quality of stores present in larger regional malls such as Wausau Center, located just 30 minutes north of Stevens Point in Wausau.

Its decor was pretty standard for the mid-80s, with terrazzo-tiled floors, wood and brick layered storefronts, lengthy skylights, and many plants and trees poking out from sidewalk-style grates as well as from blocky wooden planters.  At night, the mall really lit up with marquee-style rows of lighting along the skylights, giving its interior a dramatic, lively appearance.  I sort of liked it, even though it was more than half dead for most of its existence.  The layout of the mall was a simple dumbbell with a somewhat narrow main walkway.  Pretty standard stuff for a city this size.

CenterPoint Mall was part of a larger trend and planning convention for urban renewal in cities across the country.  The logic for the convention came from the fact that suburban-style malls had been enjoying incredible success in suburbs and the peripheries of cities, at the expense of downtowns, which had been the vibrant focal point of cities since their inception.  Stores were rapidly leaving downtowns for these malls nationwide, and downtowns across the country were becoming outmoded derelict ghost towns.  Beginning in the 1960s, and through at least the mid-1980s, developers had success convincing cities to tear up their aging, decrepit downtowns to put in typical regional malls.  Many of these, especially in smaller cities, even had the same large, free parking lots shoppers enjoyed in the suburbs.  Cities were quick to give up space to these developments, unfortunately tearing down many historic landmarks in the process.  Ah, the prospect of progress, to make something old new again.

Examples of developments like these took place in Rochester, NY (Midtown Plaza), Salem, OR (Salem Center), White Plains, NY (several malls), Santa Maria, CA (Town Center), Milwaukee, WI (Grand Avenue Mall), Columbus, OH (City Center), and some even closer to Stevens Point in Oshkosh (Park Plaza Mall), Appleton (Avenue Mall), Wisconsin Rapids (Rapids Mall), and Wausau (Wausau Center).  The list obviously goes on, and there are many more examples nationwide. The majority of these developments have struggled through the 1990s into the present, and many have been repurposed, are struggling, or have scaled back considerably.  Interestingly, Wausau Center is an exception, having enjoyed success and helping to create a more vibrant downtown in the process.

The dire implications of many of these developments result from improper positioning, pitting suburban interests against downtown constraints.  The suburban model of retail cannot easily be superimposed on its predecessor (and arguably, its replacement as of late), the downtown.  First, by the time many downtowns were repurposed to house traditional enclosed malls, there was already a sort of competition on the periphery of these cities.  In Stevens Point’s case, several suburban-style retail clusters had already popped up on the north, east, and south sides of the city.  The synergy of collective business, strip malls, and big box stores in these clusters helped them thrive, whereas there was no extra room downtown for these types of stores.  While the mall had free parking, the rest of downtown was still constrained by on-street parking, and by tearing up several blocks of downtown to put in the mall there was even less of a reason to shop at the more traditional streetfront downtown stores.

This leads to the next point – ripping up a downtown grid to put in a huge mall is simply poor planning style.  Several through-streets were truncated at the mall, creating a loss of flow through downtown.  Areas directly north of the mall were suddenly completely cut off from downtown by the several block long development.

As the years went on, Pointers chose to shop at the businesses in the peripheral retail districts, or in nearby Wausau or Appleton rather than their own mall.  As such, the mall was never fully occupied.  More importantly, it was thus never able to attract the kind of destination stores to get people in the doors.  There was never an American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret, Pottery Barn, or the like.

In the late 1990s, a small apparel-oriented department store, Stage, opened as CenterPoint Mall’s third anchor, on the north-facing side in the center.  Unfortunately, Stage was short-lived, and closed after only two years, in 2000.  In 2003, Dunham’s Sports opened in this space, but they too only lasted a few years, moving to the US 10 strip on the east side for a bigger store.

Not long after, the mall began its long, slow spiral into oblivion.  A visit in 2010 yielded a total of five stores open.  In May of that year, JCPenney decided to call it quits and close their store, putting 39 folks out of work.  That same year, the Central Wisconsin Children’s Museum departed as well.  You know your mall is dead when a museum leaves…

Meanwhile, the mall had been in foreclosure, and the remaining handful of tenants began to trickle out.  In May 2011, the city of Stevens Point declared the mall blighted and condemned it.  This outraged Valley Bank of Iowa, who owned the mall in receivership, and they unsuccessfully sued the city to win back the mall.  The city then scored a $750,000 federal block grant to redevelop the mall, and in March 2012, the doors to the mall were permanently closed to the public.  ShopKo is the only store to remain, as its building is technically owned and operated as a separate entity.

I happened to stop by CenterPoint Mall one hot day in June 2012, and took the second set of photos that day.  I was actually unaware the mall was closed to the public, as ShopKo was open and the entrance next to ShopKo was propped open with some activity.  A maintenance man was doing something near the entrance, and a couple girls walked into the mall ahead of me, so I thought nothing of the fact that I shouldn’t have been there.  This changed, however, when I saw that the many fig trees planted in the mall’s main walkway had lost most of their leaves onto the floor, creating a crunchy carpet of green and brown.  I was able to walk the entire length of the mall unquestioned, as the two girls who walked in ahead of me went into a dead store that appeared to be some makeshift community center or charity or something.  They hung out in the store talking and giggling, and I walked the length of the mall full of dead trees.  It was a strange, eerie moment.  I actually only discovered the mall was supposed to be shut when I got to the other end and saw notices on another set of entry doors that said the mall was permanently closed that March.  Whoops.

In all, it was a satisfying but bittersweet visit.  I got a chance to say goodbye to a mall I’d visited several times, and one I was always perplexed by.  Demolition of CenterPoint Marketplace began in August 2012, and today most of the mall is history.  Mid-State Technical College will move into a former portion of the mall in 2013, and ShopKo is open for business as usual.  Third Street was extended through part of the former mall as it had been before the mall opened, almost exactly 27 years ago.  What’s old is now new again, and as downtowns across the nation are experiencing a resurgence, Americans want denser, more urban developments and the organic well-designed community gathering space of a traditional downtown.

Elsewhere on the web:


Photos from March 2001:

Photos from June 2012:

Hilldale Shopping Center; Madison, Wisconsin

Opened in 1962 on what was then the western edge of Madison, Hilldale Shopping Center has had a unique and intriguing history. Hilldale was one of the first major shopping centers in town, and it’s also one of the closest malls to where I live. The thing about Hilldale is that it falls under the radar – it’s not a traditional mall in any sense of the word, and never really was. Through the decades Hilldale has undergone some major changes and has continued to reinvent itself by eschewing shopping center norms, and, reflective of its status as an institution in this weird city I live in, remains as viable as ever.

Known primarily for being the state capital as well as home to the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison is the second largest city in the state and a burgeoning little metropolis of over 500,000 people.  A leading research university and one of the top-tier public institutions of higher learning, UW-Madison has infused the city with a progressively laid-back culture and a wealth of diversity.  They even gave me a degree!  Both the University, the industry it spawns, and state government offices have kept Madison a highly educated, tightly knit, self-aware cosmopolitan city which is often referred to as ’85 square miles surrounded by reality’.

Opened in 1962 on what was then the western edge of Madison, Hilldale Shopping Center has had a unique and intriguing history.  Hilldale was one of the first major shopping centers in town, and it’s also one of the closest malls to where I live.  The thing about Hilldale is that it falls under the radar – it’s not a traditional mall in any sense of the word, and never really was.  Through the decades Hilldale has undergone some major changes and has continued to reinvent itself by eschewing shopping center norms, and, reflective of its status as an institution in this weird city I live in, remains as viable as ever.

Before construction, the land where Hilldale sits was – surprise! – a farm.  It was called Hill Farms, and was owned by the University’s School of Agriculture.  In the early 1950s, as Madison expanded, its edge of development rapidly reached Hill Farms, gobbling up farmland left and right all around it.  The neighborhoods being built on the near west side of Madison were mostly residential and nicer than average – today as then, this part of Madison is home to older yet tasteful and expensive homes, housing many professors, doctors, and other professionals.

Not wanting to stand in the way of progress, and looking to make a tidy profit in the process, the University decided to develop Hill Farms into a cute little 1950s planned suburb.  The focal point of this new development was to be Madison’s first large-scale shopping center, located on 33 acres of land at the corner of Midvale Boulevard and University Avenue, which was then US Highways 12 and 14.  In addition, housing, offices and other townsy facets were to be thrown in the mix, with the ideal of a totally self-contained community a goal.  Using their lawyer, the University determined the best way to go about this was to create a dummy corporation, Kelab Inc., to deal with the mall and other buildings constructed in the development.  The dummy corporation would serve as a bridge between the mall and the University, collecting the mall’s rent and passing it along.

This undertaking apparently inspired controversy, and it wasn’t long before Hilldale was wrangled into the first of several legal struggles in its history, which occurred years before the center even opened.  It pitted the Hill Farms developer, the University, against other developers who felt that the University – a hand of state government – shouldn’t be in the business of profiteering.  After years in courts, the U.S. Supreme Court made the final refusal for appeals, ruling in favor of the University, and the project finally continued on its merry way.  Meanwhile, Westgate Mall opened just a few miles away in 1960, stealing Hilldale’s thunder for first shopping center in Madison.

Once the legal issues were resolved, Hilldale finally broke ground in 1961 and opened October 25, 1962.  It was anchored by Milwaukee-based Schuster’s department store, which was flanked on both sides by a row of stores.   However, about the same time Hilldale opened Schuster’s was purchased by a Milwaukee/New York-based store of a more familiar name, Gimbels, and was renamed Gimbels-Schusters before finally just becoming Gimbels.  Other Madison originals such as Yost-Kessenich’s and Wolff Kubly also located here, as did Walgreens and an A&P supermarket.

Here’s an early aerial shot of Hilldale, looking northwest (courtesy of Malls of America):


In 1968-1969, Hilldale renovated and expanded, fully enclosing the mall.  In 1971, Gimbels doubled the size of its store here, at the same time it opened another large store in Madison’s East Towne Mall.  In 1975, A&P left Madison and the supermarket became a Milwaukee-based Sentry Foods, an affiliation it would hold until 2010 when it dropped the affiliation, becoming Metcalfe’s Market.

In 1985, Hilldale embarked on yet another renovation and expansion, updating the 1960s mall to a more modern upscale/subdued 80s look.  The next year, in 1986, Gimbels closed all its stores.  Normally, losing the only retail anchor would give a mall owner a bad case of the heebie jeebies, but luckily Hilldale was spared much grief when Chicago-based Marshall Field’s stepped in and purchased most of the former Gimbels locations in Wisconsin.  The purchase turned out to be a great fit – both for Field’s and for Hilldale – as the affiliation lasted until Marshall Field’s was eaten by Macy’s in 2006. (RIP MF, we still miss you…)

Following the Gimbels purchase, Marshall Field’s did some restructuring a few years later, and some adjustments were made to keep the brand both upscale and profitable. In 1988, Field’s scaled back their Wisconsin presence, giving several Milwaukee-area stores to Green Bay-based Prange’s, because the upscale Marshall Field’s felt those locations were a better fit for a mid-level store like Prange’s.  After all, Gimbels was more of a mid-level store itself.  Field’s, however, was pleased with sales at Hilldale and kept that store running – as well as two others in Milwaukee.  It was a better fit for Hilldale’s demographic, too, as the neighborhoods on the near west side of Madison are some of the most affluent in the area.

During the 1990s, Hilldale soldiered along, all the while holding its own against larger, more traditional competitors East and West Towne.  In 1997, Hilldale renovated again, carpeting the floor and giving it a spruced up 90s look.

In 2000, Chicago commercial real estate developer Joseph Freed literally showed up one day in front of Marshall Field’s and approached the mall’s manager, Tom McCann, and asked him to lunch.  Over lunch, Freed told McCann of his intentions to purchase the mall.  McCann told Freed the mall was not for sale, that the University was happy with it, and instead invited Freed to apply to be the Hilldale’s management company instead.  He did, but the management contract ended up going to Corrigan Properties instead, and the two parted ways for the time being; however, this meeting ignited a spark for the chain of events that would bring Hilldale into the present.

The next few years proved to be pivotal for Hilldale, as it rode the roller coaster from the brink of downturn to the precipice of reinvestment.  In 2004, the vacancy rate at long-venerable Hilldale started to rise, as fortunes of small enclosed malls like it fell nationwide.  Competition as well as changing consumer preferences away from local boutiques to national chains added to Hilldale’s woes.  The center wasn’t in dire straits yet, though, and proactive local management combined with several very interested private parties helped Hilldale innovate and reposition.

In February 2004, the University decided to sell Hilldale to the highest bidder, which turned out to be Joseph Freed.  His unwavering commitment to the site’s procurement was apparent, as his company was the only one willing to pay Hilldale’s full asking price.

Freed and Associates immediately took Hilldale to task, and proposed the biggest expansion and renovation in the center’s history.  Phase I of the project commenced right away.  It involved removing the front parking lot and adding 75,000 square feet of streetscape shopping directly in front of the 347,000 square foot existing enclosed mall, paralleling it.  To replace the parking, two large parking structures were built behind the streetscape shops, and a row of 40 townhouses were constructed behind that, facing Midvale Boulevard.

Phase I was completed in 2007.  However, the outdoor streetscape portion of the mall is still not fully leased as of 2010, due to the economy and the fact that Joseph Freed has apparently become insolvent – more on this in a little bit.   Regardless, the development has been mostly considered a success and definitely saved Hilldale from becoming history.

A major addition to the mall occurred with the early 2007 opening of Sundance 608, a multi-screen theater/cafe/bar complex and the first location of the Sundance branded conceptualized by Robert Redford.  The bar space above the theater is actually pretty cool, and features nooks with comfy seating and windows into the movie theater.  You can grab drinks and look down into the theater and actually watch the movies, just don’t expect to hear them without actually paying for a ticket – no sound is piped in to the bar.  The theater is a significant improvement over the mediocre Upstairs Downstairs restaurant which flanked the south end of the mall from 1985 to 2005.

The outdoor portion of the mall is split into north and south sections, which are themselves split by the main entry from Midvale Boulevard.  The space in between the outdoor part of the mall and the enclosed mall is a two-way street with vehicular traffic, and perpendicular parking stalls exist in front of all the outside stores.  The south section is more fully tenanted than the north, which has several vacancies.  The north section currently contains Pasqual’s, a local New Mexican food chain, Anthropologie, L’Occitane en Provence, and Title Nine, a women’s athletic clothing retailer.  The south section contains more tenants, including North Face, David Bacco chocolates, Sushi Muramoto, Fair Indigo – a fair trade family clothier, FlatTop Grill, Cafe Porta Alba, a US Cellular store, a salon, and the third location of The Great Dane Brewpub.  The northeast corner of the property also has chain steakhouse Fleming’s.

Regarding the interior portion of Hilldale, all of it was retained in the renovation with minor tweaks.  The south end funnels patrons into the Sundance theater rather than the exit that was there before, and the University Book Store there also renovated and expanded, adding a basement level.  Longtime local tenants Wolff Kubly and The Chocolate Shoppe were ousted during renovations, which was an example of Freed’s lack of understanding in what makes Hilldale uniquely Madison – the local stores.  A Ben and Jerry’s was brought in to replace the Chocolate Shoppe space, but in true karmic retribution it failed within a year.  Some even resent the chain-ification of Hilldale, not wanting it to turn into the generic Towne malls or samey strip malls on the far west side.

Like the exterior open air streetscape, the interior portion of the mall has also struggled with its share of vacancies, but by no means is it troubled or dead. Many local retailers like Wehrmann’s Travel Shop, Morgan’s Shoes, Jan Byce’s, Therese Zache Designs, Playthings toy store and Ulla Eyewear coexist with regional retailers like Fannie May Candies, Buddy Squirrel and national chains like Pendleton, Bath and Body Works, and Christopher and Banks.  In recent years, a small food court popped up on the west side of the mall near the west entrance.  At its height it had Quizno’s, Hong Kong Wok, and Rocky Rococo, but currently only Quizno’s remains – Hong Kong Wok moved to a different part of the mall and Rocky Rococo closed.  I have no idea what the long term plans are for this space, but it seemed to be a popular lunch spot and viable in spite of the myriad of food options in this area.

The design of the mall’s interior is based on the main hallway, which runs from north to south from Metcalfe’s Market, past the front of the department store anchor, terminating at the theater.  A small side hallway passes to the north of the department store, connecting the main hallway to the back of the mall, where a small food court exists.  In addition, a small basement level housing a Ballet school, Madison Academy of Music, Hilldale Barber, Edward’s Salon, a Coin and Stamp shop, and management offices.  The basement level has its own dedicated entrance to the north parking lot, via a long stairway, and has been at the mall as long as I can remember.

During the middle of renovation, Hilldale’s center court was remodeled with a large, swooping, modern glass facade, which welcomes shoppers as a focal point from the main entrance off Midvale Boulevard.  This facade was fitted with a gigantic Marshall Fields sign, which was only up for a few weeks (or less?) before Marshall Fields fell to Macy’s in September 2006.  Whoops.

Following the completion of Hilldale’s renovation and expansion, Phase II of the project began in 2007.  This project involved the demolition of a large office building, movie theater and Chinese restaurant to the west of the mall.  Originally, this site was to become a Whole Foods Market, a condominium tower, and a hotel.  Sentry, who also operates an upscale grocery store anchoring the north end of the mall, rightfully threw a fit about the proposed Whole Foods.  What mall has two grocery stores?  Who thought this was a good idea?  However, the project has been delayed due to the economy, and as of early Spring 2010 is still a gaping hole in the ground – but at least now it’s a gaping hole with a solid plan.  Whole Foods pulled out in October 2008, citing the economic downturn, and after hunting for tenants, Freed announced they had landed what will become the Madison area’s fifth Target store in Summer 2009.

Target sailed through the permitting process, which is a rarity for businesses who attempt to deal with the city of Madison.  This should tell you how bad they wanted something here – even notoriously NIMBY local residents did not emit a peep of dissent or concern with Target’s plans during meetings.  Target plans to break ground sometime in Spring/Summer 2010, with a Spring or Summer 2011 opening.  Meanwhile, plans for the residential components of Phase II turned to dust, and I haven’t seen mention of the hotel anywhere lately.  Hotel, what hotel?

Most recently, Hilldale has again become subject to legal wrangling as its owner, Freed, apparently ran out of money.  In late 2009, Freed stopped making payments on its loan for a major project in downtown Chicago, which has since been placed into receivership.  Then, in February 2010, Freed stopped making payments on Hilldale.   However, Hilldale was not placed into receivership because a Circuit Judge decided that it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the $175 million redevelopment to change landlords at this late stage of the game.  In addition, Freed skipped out on the obligation to pay their taxes, owing almost a million dollars to the city.  Unless Freed comes up with a lot of cash soon and emerges from their problems, look for a new owner eventually.  I have trepidation for new ownership though, because it could mean bad management from a remote owner.  Even with the slow pace and all of Freed’s troubles, their persistent commitment to Hilldale is at least a sign that they might really care.

Hilldale’s reinvigoration represents a good infill investment in a great location which had been underutilized for years.  It’s really too bad the economy is in the toilet, making the process of expansion a lot longer and more arduous than it would have been in more prosperous times.  I wonder how many of the current vacancies are really due to complete lack of interest, or Freed’s inability to market the appropriately market the center due to their own financial problems.  At any rate, progress has been made, albeit slowly, giving Hilldale the framework to succeed in the future.  Hilldale remains true to Madison as an institution of local and national retailers, with an unusual emphasis on local, because that’s what has endeared Madisonians here for almost five decades.

Photos from August 2006:

Photos from March 2010:

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center); Beloit, Wisconsin

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI

Located in south central Wisconsin along the Illinois state line, Beloit is a hearty, working class city of almost 40,000 residents, with a historic past.  Located approximately 15 miles south of Janesville, the county seat of Rock County, and 15 miles north of Rockford, Illinois, Beloit has long been known for its roots in manufacturing and for its small-yet-exceptional liberal arts school, Beloit College.  However, changing fortunes in the manufacturing industry have outsourced most of these jobs overseas or elsewhere, and Beloit has struggled in recent years to find a foothold in the modern economy – or what’s left of it.

Beloit’s retail scene, which existed downtown for many decades, began to be influenced by competition, taking shape in the form of a shift from downtowns to large-scale, regional suburban shopping centers beginning in the mid-20th century.  In 1966, Beloit beat its neighbor to the north – Janesville – to the punch and opened the first of these regional shopping centers in Rock County.

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) Kohl's in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) west entrance in Beloit, WI

Beloit Plaza, a 400,000 square-foot center, was strategically located just north of downtown Beloit on top of a large bluff overlooking the Rock River.  Anchored by three major department stores, Charles V. Weise (a Rockford based department store), JCPenney, and Sears – along with three minor anchors, Walgreens, Woolworths, and Kohl’s (a Wisconsin-based grocery chain, developed in tandem with but not the same as the famous department store chain), Beloit Plaza instantly became a popular regional draw. 

At first, accessibility and competition were not problems for Beloit Plaza.  Located along busy U.S. Highway 51 in the heart of Beloit, the popular, new outdoor mall enjoyed easy access from Janesville, Rockford, and other cities in its large trade area.  However, about the same time Beloit Plaza opened in the middle of Beloit during the 1960s, the interstate highway system was being constructed across the country with Interstate 90 passing the outskirts of Beloit on its east side.  The opening of the Interstate past Beloit began to change development patterns throughout not only Beloit, but its neighboring cities as well, creating an era of intense competition that, combined with the local economy, eventually led to the demise of Beloit Plaza.

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WIIn the early 1970s, large enclosed malls in Janesville, Madison, and Rockford were constructed, giving the outdoor Beloit Plaza not only competition, but makng it somewhat outmoded in terms of design and functionality.  Enclosed malls are not only climate controlled, providing the same quality and level of access year round, but the enclosures traditionally bring people together and give them a sense of place and community not often found at outdoor centers.  These enclosed malls were also muh bigger than Beloit Plaza, and although Beloit Plaza continued to succeed, it was no longer the super-regional draw it once was.  Plus, every one of the newer nearby enclosed malls was closer to Interstate 90, whereas Beloit Plaza was not.  Not only could Beloit residents quickly get to better malls in Janesville and Rockford, but residents of Janesville and Rockford no longer needed to go to Beloit Plaza, as most of these stores were duplicated in the newer enclosed malls.

The 1980s brought both infamy and resurgence to Beloit Plaza.  On February 2, 1981, two people were murdered at the Beloit Plaza Radio Shack store, and the mall gained a reputation as unsafe.  About the same time, manufacturing jobs began leaving Beloit in droves.  Meanwhile, nearby Janesville’s economy thrived as manufacturing jobs were added there, driving the regional economy.  As a result, Janesville’s population continued to grow while Beloit’s remained stagnant, and Janesville’s retail strip – including its mall – grew along Milton Avenue (Highway 26) between downtown Janesville and Interstate 90.

Likely citing nearby competition, its unsavory location, and the recent high-profile murders, Beloit Plaza owners decided to renovate and enclose the 16-year-old center in 1982.  The center retained its wide corridor; however, the 16-foot ceilings were low and the mall always seemed dark inside, even during the middle of the day.  Beloit Plaza’s name was also changed to Beloit Mall, and the two-level Weise’s store was renamed Bergner’s during a nameplate consolidation in the P.A. Bergner company.

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) Elder Beerman in Beloit, WIThroughout the rest of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, the renovation and enclosure appeared to work.  Beloit Mall held its own against fierce competition from Rockford and Janesville malls, retaining all of its anchors and many in-line stores as well; however, the first casualty came in 1991 when P.A. Bergner declared bankruptcy.  As a result of its reorganization, Bergner declared the Beloit Mall store a liability and shut it in 1992.   

With one large anchor vacant and a crumbling economy facing Beloit, the city stepped in and attempted to intervene before the mall fell further down the rungs on the ladder of insolvency.  Under an agreement with Canada-based Dorchester Corporation, the city pumped $4.5 million into the mall in order to keep it open; in return, the city gained ownership of nearly half the mall, and the city’s investment was to be repaid over time by taxes and loan repayments – this never happened, but as part of the deal the former Bergner’s was quickly retenanted by Ohio-based Elder Beerman in 1993 – Wisconsin’s first.  Elder Beerman chose to demolish the smaller footprint 2-level Bergners and build out into the mall’s east parking lot, disrupting traffic flow around the mall.

Despite the addition of Elder Beerman and a complete roster of anchors and junior anchors at Beloit Mall, more trouble began brewing as Beloit’s economy fell flat and more stores in the mall closed.  The next casualty to Beloit Mall was the closure of the Kohl’s grocery store, which happened around 1993-1994.  The building was never retenanted and its swoopy arched facade still sits to the side of the north mall entrance, complete with barbed wire placed along the top of the arches to prevent adventurous souls from climbing on its roof.  Also about the same time, Woolworths closed its large Beloit Mall junior anchor store citing poor sales and a dowturn for the company in general.

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WIIn 1996, the most ominous news came for the Beloit Mall, as the owners of the Janesville Mall were seeking ways to ameliorate the large number of vacancies there, and began talking to Sears.  The owners of the Janesville Mall offered Sears the opportunity to build a giant 2-level store at its center court entrance, as well as financial incentives and an auto center on an outlot parcel, all in a city with economic growth on the busiest retail strip in the county.  Also, by this point Janesville was almost twice the size of Beloit, which stopped growing in the 1960s.  Meanwhile, the Beloit Mall Sears was aging, small, and in a city with little to no economic growth.  It wasn’t long before Sears made the obvious decision, and announced it was “moving” from Beloit Mall to Janesville Mall.  Despite a passionate letter writing campaign on behalf of Beloit residents to keep the Beloit Mall store open, it closed in Fall 1997 just in time for the brand new store at Janesville Mall to open.

The closing of Sears at Beloit Mall caused a mass exodus of the remaining stores there, which once again alerted municipal officials trying to stave off blight.  Local billionaire Ken Hendricks formed a Real Estate group and purchased Dorchester’s interest in the mall, and for the first time in its history Beloit Mall was entirely locally owned by Hendricks and the city.  Unfortunately, it was far too late for the failing venture, and more bad things kept happening.  In 1997, JCPenney was robbed at gunpoint, and – possibly not coincidentally – JCPenney announced they were leaving and the store was shuttered in 1998.

Also in 1998, realizing the lost potential of Beloit Mall, developers rushed to give Beloit residents some retail options and opened one of the first Wal-Mart Supercenters in the state near the interchange between Interstate 90 and WI 81 on Beloit’s east side.  In the decade since the mall failed, this retail district has become its de-facto replacement, attracting many national chain restaurants and retailers in strip malls, as well as new Staples and Menards locations.  Just like Janesville and everywhere else, it seems that even Beloit eventually succumbed to development patterns favoring the Interstate. 

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) Elder Beerman in Beloit, WI  Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI

Once JCPenney left in 1998, only two major stores were left – Elder Beerman and Walgreens – and a small handful of mostly mom and pop stores took up a few spaces in the mostly vacant mall.  That same year, Hendricks formed another group and paid off the city, owning the entire mall after that.  But, it was far, far too late to consider anything but a total redevelopment, as two more stores in the Beloit Mall – Walgreens and Radio Shack – closed in 2000.  After they closed, Elder Beerman sealed their entrance to the mall.  Following a series of Hispanic-oriented flea markets in 2000 and 2001, Beloit Mall was sealed except for the Elder Beerman anchor which continues to operate (as of 2009) at the back of the mall.

In the years since the Beloit Mall’s closure, numerous ideas have been floated for the blighted mall.  Early on, some of these plans ranged from another go at commercial development, housing, and even a Native American casino, but none of these came to fruition.  In 2004, Hendricks bought the entire property from his retail partners with the idea of giving it back to Beloit for municipal/community offices as well as possible retail and other uses.  The Beloit 2020 plan, enacted by the city, has embraced Hendricks’ plan and several county and community offices have already relocated into former store spaces in the mall. 

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WIIn 2007, Hendricks and his development group renamed the mall for the second time – to Eclipse Center, named after the former Eclipse Windmill Company, which was located on a part of the current mall’s property.  The new Center opened a banquet facility capable of seating 1000 that same year, a school, and plans were also finalized to relocate the City of Beloit’s Public Library to the site.  Also, new signage was put up for the first time indicating the mall’s new name on the main Highway 51 pylon as well as other entrances.  In 2008, construction began on the new library, which will be an architecturally pleasing new building located on the site of the former JCPenney. 

Unfortunately, although Hendricks successfully rehabilitated many buildings in Beloit and was an ardent supporter of its economy, he will not be able to oversee the full redevelopment of Eclipse Center as he passed away as the result of an accident at his home in December 2007.  

Also in 2007, a new shopping center – Oakfield Crossing – was proposed in South Beloit, Illinois, just south of the state line near the interchange of Interstate 90 and IL 75.  This center would certainly serve Beloit and the northern Winnebago County, Illinois communities of Rockton and Roscoe, and would feature two anchors and a strip of stores in between them.  As of late 2007, Target had signed on to be one of the anchors, and Bergner’s was to be the second; however, the project was put on hold in mid-2008 because Target had changed its building design.  If a Bergner’s would open here, I suspect the Elder Beerman would probably leave Eclipse Center.   

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WIWe visited Eclipse Center in January 2009 and took some of the pictures featured here.  The only retail on the site today is the holdover department store Elder Beerman, which is still shockingly still in operation and ironically now owned by the Bon Ton Corporation, who also owns Bergner’s.  Also, parts of the mall are actually becoming accessible again as more offices and services locate here.  As of January 2009, the north entrance was open and most of the mall was accessible.  However, the entrance is technically only open to access the offices located just beyond the entrance, and signs and tape indicate not to go farther into the mall or alarms will go off and the police will come immediately.  Yikes.  In addition, it is not known how the library will interact with the mall space once it is complete, nor is it known why the signage for the mall’s center court, advertising where ‘people connect’ exists, as these doors were locked!

Personally, I have many fond memories of Beloit Mall from the late 1980s and early 1990s – its enclosed heyday.  Our family often took shopping trips to the mall for both variety’s sake and also because Beloit Mall had Sears when Janesville didn’t.  Even though Janesville Mall was technically 10 years older than Beloit Mall (at least by dates of enclosure), I always felt Beloit mall was older and not as nice.  I remember the anchor stores seemed ancient, which makes sense now because they were much older than the mall.  I also remember Fannie May Candies, Mr. G’s Soup-er-Sandwiches – I didn’t get this pun until I was an adult; I thought the sign was indicating indecisiveness or a stutter – Woolworths, Walgreens – both had old-fashioned lunch counters – and several smaller 80s-style glass kiosks were shoved up against the wall at Sears near the north end.

We’ll keep an eye out for updates to this story.  It would be great if most of the mall could be opened up for re-use and benefit the community at the same time.  Feel free to leave your own comments and experiences with Beloit Plaza, Beloit Mall, or Eclipse Center. 

March 2001:

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) former Kohls in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) north entrance in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) Elder Beerman in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) Walgreens in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) toward JCPenney in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) Woolworths in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) Woolworths in Beloit, WI

January 2009:

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) Sears in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) Sears in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) inside former Sears in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) north entrance in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) west entrance in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) former Woolworths in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) new library in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) new library in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) Kohl's in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) Elder Beerman in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI

Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) Elder Beerman in Beloit, WI Beloit Mall (Eclipse Center) Elder Beerman in Beloit, WI


Janesville Mall; Janesville, Wisconsin

Janesville Mall pylon in Janesville, WI

Janesville, Wisconsin is a small city of some 60,000 people located in the south-central region of the state, about 15 minutes north of the Illinois state line, and the county seat of Rock County.  It’s also my hometown, for better or worse.

Founded in 1835 by a wandering pioneer who apparently enjoyed naming towns after himself, Janesville got its big break in 1919 when General Motors came to town, establishing a long-term presence of relatively high-paying blue collar jobs which the city has relied upon for decades of economic prosperity.  Even throughout the latter portion of the 20th century and into the 21st century, Janesville has grown tremendously in spite of other corporation towns which went bust as the corporations left.  Janesville’s neighbor to the south, Beloit, was one of these towns and has had a rockier road than Janesville, as manufacturing facilities left and right closed down leaving abandoned shells in their wake.  During the middle of the 20th century, Beloit and Janesville were the same size and had roughly the same economic prosperity; but, as Beloit’s fortunes went away while Janesville had continued corporate investment by General Motors, peaking in the 1970s, Beloit’s growth stagnated while Janesville has more than doubled in size and as a result has become the dominant commercial center in the county.  For now, that is.

Janesville Mall Boston Store in Janesville, WIThe retail scene in Janesville and Beloit has always been heavily influenced by competition from neighboring larger cities, even Beloit, and this was further reinforced with the addition of the interstate highway system during the 1960s onward.  Both Madison and Rockford are about 30 miles from Janesville, and are both easily accessible via interstate.  Being larger cities, both Madison and Rockford offer shopping malls and strip areas with more variety in store selection than Janesville.  Even Beloit was a formidable retail competitor from the 1960s into the early 90s, as the Beloit Mall was considered to be on-par or even better than the Janesville Mall until it skidded downhill to failure in the late 1990s.  In addition, even more shopping possibilities exist considering both Milwaukee and Chicago are less than a two-hours drive away.  As such, Janesville’s retail offerings have often been called slim for a city of its size; comparable cities in their own markets such as Wausau and LaCrosse have always had more significant retail offerings than Janesville.  All of the above notwithstanding, Janesville’s primary retail market still reaches about 200,000 people; but, it wasn’t until the late 1990s before they didn’t have to drive long distances to shop. 

For decades, the dominant retail area in Janesville was downtown.  Like many other small manufacturing cities, downtown provided everything necessary for consumers, housing major chains like Kresge, Woolworth’s, JCPenney, and Sears, along with local department stores like Bostwick’s and small old-fashioned specialty stores of every kind.  During the 1960s and 1970s, though, a new trend began sweeping across the country.  As Janesville grew by leaps and bounds during the height of the manufacturing boom at General Motors, housing developments were constructed at an alarming pace in order to keep up with demand.  Suddenly, downtown was too distant and less convenient to this new growth, and didn’t offer the variety of larger stores such as supermarkets and discount boxes which were popping up all over. 

Janesville Mall in Janesville, WIMost of this new growth occurred disproportionately to the north and east of downtown, near the interstate (90) which was constructed around Janesville in the early 1960s, connecting Seattle to Boston.  The first major, modern style box store to come to Janesville was K-Mart, which opened at the corner of US 14 and Hwy 26, in 1967.  At the time, this location was far from the edge of town, but it was also pivotal: it was near an access point to the recently completed I-90.  Developers quickly realized the growth pattern of the city was moving in this direction, and as the 1970s progressed several more stores located to the Hwy 26/US 14 corridor in between what was then the edge of town and the interstate. 

Janesville already had two ‘modern’ styled shopping centers which opened in the 1950s: Sunnyside Shopping Center on W. Court St/Hwy 11, and Creston Park Mall, located on Hwy 26 on what was then the edge of town.  However, these small regional centers were being outmoded nationwide by large malls with huge department store anchors and many more stores, often in a climate-controlled environment functioning dually as retail center and community meeting place.  

Following the lead of K-Mart, Creston Park Mall, recent residential growth, and the development of the interstate, local developer Roger Benjamin sought to build a strip mall featuring midwestern discount chain Welles in 1970 somewhere in northeast Janesville.  His search brought him to the Milton Ave/Hwy 26 corridor between downtown Janesville and I-90, and his decision to locate there became the catalyst for Milton Ave/Hwy 26 to become the region’s major retail strip.  He selected a parcel next to a site where Montgomery Ward was already building a store and the two ventures combined, deciding to build an enclosed mall between the two proposed anchors instead of a strip mall.  Around the same time, Rockford-based department store Charles V. Weise signed on to be the middle anchor, and construction began on the $10 million mall in 1971.    

Janesville Mall Kohls in Janesville, WI Janesville Mall south entrance in Janesville, WI

During construction, however, a big problem arose.  The parent company of Welles, the slated north anchor, abruptly went out of business in early 1973, leaving the mall high and dry only months before its slated opening.  As a result, developers first approached Sears, who already operated a store in downtown Janesville, as well as one in nearby Beloit.  Sears declined, citing success in both locations, so developers then approached JCPenney, who also operated a very small store in downtown Janesville.  JCPenney realized the opportunity and accepted the offer, taking the north anchor, and Janesville Mall opened on schedule in September 1973.

The rest of the 1970s and 1980s proved to be enormously successful for Janesville Mall and its environs.  During that time, the Milton Ave/Hwy 26/Hwy 14 strip filled in with numerous fast food outlets, strip malls, restaurants and boxes as the city’s population swelled by many thousands.  The large mound of dirt behind the mall, created from digging the mall’s basement, became the city’s most popular sledding hill.  A large strip mall called Janesville Plaza opened directly across from the mall, and big box retailers ShopKo (1980), Farm and Fleet, Menards (1984), Copps Department Store and Wal-Mart (1989) all opened in the general vicinity.     

Janesville Mall Diamond Center in Janesville, WIAnchor changes at Janesville Mall began in the mid-1980s, when Peoria-based Bergner’s acquired and rebranded the Weise’s division, first to Bergner-Weise and then finally Bergner’s around 1985.  Also, about the same time, Montgomery Ward shut their Janesville Mall location in a round of nationwide closures, and Milwaukee-based Kohl’s, then a very small chain of department stores in southern Wisconsin, opened to fill the vacancy in one of their earliest major expansion moves.  In addition, Janesville’s downtown riverfront Sears closed in 1986, setting the stage for a much-needed revival for Janesville Mall a decade later.

The change in anchors from Montgomery Ward to Kohls and from Weise’s to Bergner’s also became the catalyst for a much-needed mallwide renovation in 1986.  The early 1970s look was removed during a top-to-bottom revamp, replacing the mall’s flooring, removing all the fountains, and adding new benches and even live fig trees.

Following the renovation, the early 90s began a tumultuous decade for Janesville Mall, beginning and ending in success with a dip of uncertainty in the middle.  The 90s debuted with the reuse of the vacant Montgomery Ward Auto Center, opening as a Blockbuster Video in 1990 during that chain’s meteoric rise.  I remember seeing their grand opening spotlights for many nights from my house several blocks away.  In addition, an anchor shift occurred in 1992 when Bergner’s was rebranded Boston Store, in an effort to consolidate all of P.A. Bergner’s Wisconsin brands under one nameplate (They also owned Carson Pirie Scott, and are today all regional nameplates owned by Bon-Ton Inc.).  The store was also remodeled during the rebranding.  Meanwhile, retail elsewhere in Janesville continued to thrive during the early 1990s, as a new Target and Toys ‘R’ Us opened in 1992 along with a large strip mall adjacent to ShopKo.    

Janesville Mall directory in Janesville, WIThe early to mid 90s also began a shift not unique to Janesville Mall but also seen in many malls across the country, trending away from local chains and favoring national chain retailers.  In fact, the main problem at Janesville Mall during the 1990s was the lag time between the local chains’ exit and the national chains’ entrance.  There was a gap of no fewer than several years when the mall was alarmingly vacant and trouble seemed imminent.  Local stores like That Boutique (women’s clothing), Baxter’s Menswear, J. Rundell’s, Hal’s, Saxer’s Sporting Goods, Bostwick’s, Mother’s Ice Cream and others disappeared, but there were relatively few national chains opening to replace them.  Mall mainstay Thrift Drug, owned by JCPenney, closed in the mid 90s as well, around the same time that nameplate was retired in favor of Penney’s other brand, Eckerd drug.  A few exceptions were clothing retailers Clothestime, Merry Go Round, and County Seat, which opened during this period, but for the most part stores either remained vacant or were a revolving door of failed ventures like the short-lived Cinnabon, which appeared in 1993-94, only to close almost immediately to be replaced by a local Pizza-by-the-slice joint which was equally short-lived.  I recall visiting the mall frequently during this period (1992-1995) and noting many vacancies until about 1995-96, when things slowly, and then dramatically, shifted back to a period of success for Janesville Mall, which has lasted until the present.

After a period of low turnover and high vacancies, fortunes began to change at Janesville Mall with the arrival of a few very popular national chains.  In 1995 and 1996, Software Etc. (now GameStop), Wilson’s Leather, Bath and Body Works, Finish Line and GNC arrived and got the ball rolling on a trend to attract chains which heretofore would have required a visit to either Madison’s or Rockford’s malls, a trip local residents were resigned to make given the meager local offerings.

Janesville Mall Boston Store in Janesville, WIThe biggest boon to the late 90s resurgence of Janesville Mall was the addition of a two-level, 110,000 square-foot Sears as the fourth anchor store, which opened in late 1997 amid a mild controversy pitting Janesville and Beloit as rivals.  The opening of Sears came about in 1996 as the Beloit Mall, some 15 miles south of Janesville, was experiencing difficulties of its own, due to a less wealthy economic base, smaller and less modern-feeling mall structure, and weird location in between heavy industrial buildings and small, older single family homes.  However, the Sears in Beloit was one of the only businesses in the mall doing well, and had room for growth in its cramped location.  It was then when Janesville Mall developers approached Sears and asked them to jump ship and leave Beloit Mall to open a brand new store at the Janesville Mall.  So, despite a fierce letter-writing and petition campaign to keep the store in Beloit, Sears did leave Beloit and moved 15 miles north to a bigger, brand new store in a mall with better potential on the county’s best retail strip. 

As soon as Sears opened, national chains that previously avoided Janesville suddenly clamored to open at the mall, and stores like American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret, Gymboree, and The Buckle soon followed suit.  In 1998, Kohl’s renovated and expanded its store for the first time since it opened in the mid 1980s, annexing the Blockbuster Video/former Montgomery Ward Auto Center and several adjacent in-line stores in the mall.  The entrance to Kohl’s was also moved to the corner of its store where it is more visible and accessible from the parking lot.  It was rumored Kohl’s threatened to leave the mall and build a standalone store elsewhere in Janesville if the conditions for its expansion were not met.  Blockbuster moved to a new standalone building in the mall’s parking lot, becoming the first and only parcel in the mall’s outlot.  The mall was also minorly renovated during this time, removing what little character it had by taking away all the fig trees and revamping the center court area’s stage to a flat, tiled surface in order to fit a sea of kiosks in.  Today, the entire mall corridor is one kiosk after another with almost no space in between them.  Suddenly Janesville Mall became viable again due in large part to the reinvestment by Sears, making it the county’s top retail destination after a few sketchy years.   

Janesville Mall JCPenney in Janesville, WI Janesville Mall Gap in Janesville, WI

1998 also saw the opening of the largest shopping center in Janesville since the mall debuted in 1973, introducing many national chain box retailers to town.  Called Pine Tree Plaza, this 400,000 square foot behemoth box center and strip mall, complete with outlots, redefined shopping in Janesville and for the first time a shopping trip out of town wasn’t as necessary.  Included in Pine Tree Plaza’s debut were Wisconsin’s first Home Depot as well as Movies 10, Gander Mountain, TJMaxx, Staples, Shoe Carnival (closed and replaced by Famous Footwear in 2004), Old Navy, Petco and Michaels, with space for several small in-line stores and restaurants and outlots as well.  As a result of the movie theatre opening, the small, dirty 3-screen cinemas in the Janesville Mall closed and was replaced by a Chuck E. Cheese franchise.  Pine Tree Plaza and its outlots have grown even more popular since, with the addition of Starbucks, IHOP, Best Buy, Cold Stone Creamery and Pier One Imports.    

The new millenium ushered in continued growth and prosperity for Janesville Mall, as more national chains appeared and the mall reached capacity for the first time since the 1980s.  It was considered to be big news for the mall when Gap opened a 10,000 square-foot location in 2000, followed by stores like Aeropostale, Vanity, Pac Sun, and CJ Banks. 

Janesville Mall Food Court in Janesville, WIA semblance of a food court even appeared at Janesville Mall in the early 2000s, taking shape with a Sbarro, McSnack (an experimental limited-menu McDonalds which has since closed), Panda Express, Orange Julius, and recent-addition Kobe Japanese.  Many people, especially kids growing up in Janesville, noted the absence of a food court as another reason to mock and ridicule the mall’s lack of ‘legitimacy’ – and now the mall officially recognizes this area as a food court, even though it’s really just a concentration of food stalls along the main concourse near the Kohl’s end, with tables and chairs set out.  Prior to the food court, the mall’s meager food options were long-time tenant Diamond Dave’s, a decent sit-down Mexican restaurant, a cookie place (now closed), Hot Sam (also closed), Karmelkorn/Corn Crib (recently closed), Cream City Cafe inside Boston Store (closed), Mother’s Ice Cream (now Panda Express), A&W Hot Dogs and More (now Orange Julius), and long, long ago there was a restaurant inside Montgomery Ward which is obviously closed.  In addition, for many years a full-sized regular food court was rumored for the vacant space in between Sears/The Buckle and the former cinemas, but this never came to fruition and since then the space has been occupied by Chuck E. Cheese.  It should also be noted that a Regis Salon and a nail place are both in/near the “food court” area, which is at least moderately offensive to the olfactory.  

Today, the 600,000 square-foot Janesville Mall continues to thrive and attract popular mid-tier national chain offerings; most recently, Limited’s Justice brand as well as a Journeys have opened in the mall.  The mall is limited moreso by space than by interested chains, which was not the case 15 years ago.  Furthermore, most of the recent closings are due to corporate restructuring rather than sales at this specific location, such as the closure of both Sam Goody and Suncoast Video in 2006.  In fact, the mall may have even become too big for its britches as many of the smaller, local retailers and service-oriented things appear to have opted to relocate outside the mall due to ever-increasing rents.   

Janesville Mall Kohls in Janesville, WIIn addition, retail in and around Janesville continues to grow and change.  The most recent changes have been the addition of a new Mega Menards, a new Super Wal-Mart, and a brand new Sam’s Club, all of which opened in 2007 and 2008.  Replacing the old Wal-Mart was to be a Borders, Hobby Lobby, and Dollar Tree, but unfortunately Borders backed out and it’s currently Hobby Lobby, Dollar Tree, and a temporary Halloween Express store.  Kind of sad, but nonetheless not shocking in the least.  It is yet to be announced what will replace the old Menards, which has an excellent location yet less-than-stellar, squirrely access to the major arterials.  Another problem I’ve seen along the Milton Ave/Hwy 26 strip in Janesville recently are the numerous “instant cash” quick-loan places, which appear to be present in Janesville moreso than I’ve seen anywhere else on earth.  Awesome. 

The Janesville Mall will continue to be a viable place as long as the local economy can support it, which actually wasn’t in question until very recently, when it was announced the lifeblood of Janesville, General Motors, was closing the factory it had operated for almost 90 years sometime before 2010.  So, I guess we’ll watch what happens.

The pictures featured here were taken in March 2001 and July 2008.  Not much really changed between these years, but they’re there anyway.  As always, feel free to leave your comments and your own experiences with Janesville Mall here.  And, most importantly, this is the mall I grew up going to the most, so I’d love to have some vintage pictures. Even pre-2000 pictures would be great.  Feel free to contact me directly at any time if you want to send me stuff.

March 2001

Janesville Mall in Janesville, WI Janesville Mall in Janesville, WI janesville-mall-14.JPG

Janesville Mall in Janesville, WI Janesville Mall in Janesville, WI Janesville Mall Sears in Janesville, WI

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Janesville Mall in Janesville, WI   Janesville Mall in Janesville, WI Janesville Mall in Janesville, WI

July 2008

Janesville Mall Blockbuster in Janesville, WI Janesville Mall Sears in Janesville, WI Janesville Mall in Janesville, WI

Janesville Mall Boston Store in Janesville, WI Janesville Mall Kohls in Janesville, WI Janesville Mall in Janesville, WI

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Janesville Mall Diamond Dave's in Janesville, WI Janesville Mall in Janesville, WI Janesville Mall in Janesville, WI

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Janesville Mall in Janesville, WI Janesville Mall Boston Store in Janesville, WI

Port Plaza Mall/Washington Commons; Green Bay, Wisconsin

Port Plaza Mall Washington Commons in Green Bay, WI

With a population of just over 100,000 residents, Green Bay is Wisconsin’s third largest city and the largest of the string of cities collectively called the Fox Cities in the northeastern part of the state.  Interestingly, Green Bay is one of the oldest continuously settled places in the United States, having been established as a French trading post in 1634.  Today, however, Green Bay is known primarily for its homegrown football team and economy of paper mills and other manufacturing industries.  However, the economy is far from robust, and the city is one of a few in Wisconsin losing population in recent years due to manufacturing cutbacks and negative job growth as many of the city’s historic industries invest elsewhere in cheaper labor and materials.  However, the Green Bay metropolitan area has grown by about 6 percent since 2000.

Green Bay’s retail scene has evolved quite a bit since its early days as a trading post nearly 400 years ago.  Unlike southern Wisconsin, Green Bay and the Fox Cities got on the super-regional mall-building train relatively late.  One of the first large-scale regional developments was planned to simultaneously reinvigorate downtown Green Bay from its loss of retailers to suburban strips in the 1970s, and also to give the area a super-regional multi-anchor mall.  Port Plaza Mall opened ceremoniously in 1977 featuring anchor stores H.C. Prange, which predated the mall by 50 years, and JCPenney, as well as about 100 smaller stores under one roof in the middle of downtown Green Bay.  Four years later in 1981 Boston Store opened as well as a small food court. 

 Port Plaza Mall Washington Commons in Green Bay, WI Port Plaza Mall Washington Commons in Green Bay, WI

The 1980s were mostly kind to Port Plaza Mall, as it retained immense popularity despite other competition being constructed nearby.  Most notably were the large malls Bay Park Square in Ashwaubenon, a suburb of Green Bay, and Fox River Mall, located in Appleton about 30 minutes away.  Both Bay Park Square and Fox River Mall opened as large-scale regional developments and were an immediate threat to Port Plaza’s customer base, opening in 1980 and 1984, respectively.  Fox River Mall, being both the most centrally located center for all of northeastern Wisconsin as well as being located in one of the most economically prosperous areas, has enjoyed the most success to date.  It has attracted a sea of boxes and category killers to surround it, and is a retail destination for all of northern Wisconsin and upper Michigan.  As an immediate response to this competition, Port Plaza Mall embarked upon a large scale renovation in 1988

As the 1990s began, Port Plaza still held its own and remained a destinational offering anchoring downtown Green Bay.  In 1992, anchor store Prange’s became Younkers as the former chain was purchased by the latter, but didn’t really affect much.  More numerous changes were afoot by the end of the decade, as problems emerged at Port Plaza Mall.  It seemed as though shoppers were no longer willing to go downtown and deal with parking, and much preferred shopping at Bay Park Square, which was renovated about this time, or to travel to Appleton for all the offerings there. 

Port Plaza Mall Washington Commons in Green Bay, WIIn 2000, the Boston Store closed and so did numerous other national chain retailers, signaling a red flag for the mall’s prosperity and the beginning of a downward spiral.  In 2001 and 2002, the mall was sold and a few attempts were made to return it to glory.  First, the mall was renamed to Washington Commons, to reflect the new owners’ plans to integrate ‘other’ uses into the mall, like offices.  McDonald’s and Osco also jumped ship about this time, and the food court was moved to near center court while the old food court was demolished so Washington Street could be reconnected through the mall as it was before the mall opened.  In 2004, another blow came to the mall as Younkers closed, relocating to a vacant spot at Bay Park Square.  In 2005, the Green Bay Childrens Museum left the mall, and all the while more and more stores left like Bath and Body Works.  2005 also saw the last anchor tenant, JCPenney, leave the mall in October, leaving the mall with only a handful of stores. 

In February 2006, following numerous failed attempts to repurpose at least some of the mall into office space or anything useful, owners decided to kick the remaining tenants out and close the mall permanently.  They sort of had to do this, because the mall was being foreclosed upon by the bank it was financed with, and the electricity would be shut off after February and it’s mighty cold in Wisconsin about this time.  Anyway, the mall closed, but not before yours truly paid it a visit on the last day it was open.  These pictures were taken February 26, 2006. 

In Summer 2007, the Pranges/Younkers building was demolished to make way for new developments at the mall, which could include a small lifestyle/retail portion and trendy condos or something; you know the drill by now.  Take a look at the pictures and feel free to leave us your own comments and experiences at Port Plaza Mall/Washington Commons in Green Bay. 

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Port Plaza Mall Washington Commons in Green Bay, WI Port Plaza Mall Washington Commons in Green Bay, WI


Grand Avenue Mall; Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee River in Milwaukee, WI

Located in the middle of downtown Milwaukee, the Grand Avenue Mall opened in August 1982.  Part of a larger civic revitalization effort, the mall premiered downtown during a time when retail (and nearly everything else) had moved out to the ‘burbs and downtown Milwaukee was left to the 9-to-5ers and the bums.  A nationwide problem not unique to Milwaukee, the loss of downtowns across America led city planners to develop resurgence programs, and many plans offered up enclosed malls.  I suppose they figured what was working well in the suburbs at the time might work in the downtowns and save them.

The plan worked.  For a while, at least.  Many who had abandoned downtown to shop in the suburbs returned to this large, glassy, modern two-level structure.  Occupying two city blocks on two levels with a third level food court at center court, Grand Avenue Mall skywalks over a street on the second level and is split into discontiguous pieces by the street on the first level.  The 1980s and early 1990s saw the mall at near 100 percent capacity, with upmarket local stores as well as chains such as Laura Ashley and Banana Republic. 

Milwaukee River in Milwaukee, WI Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee, WI

However, you can’t reinvent the wheel, especially in the midst of dramatically changing demographics.  As soon as the mall opened, Milwaukee’s manufacturing economy began to erode, with unemployment jumping high as more and more factories left town for cheaper labor elsewhere.  As a result, crime in the city spiked at unprecedented highs during the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the murder rate doubling in the eight years between 1982 and 1990. 

Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee, WIWhile few of these murders occurred in the heart of downtown, where the mall is located, many were too close for comfort in the poorer neighborhoods adjacent to downtown to the west and north.  As a result of these changing demographics, shoppers jumped ship and instead chose to plug their money into malls closer to where they lived, like Bayshore, Southridge, and Mayfair.  Vacancies skyrocketed at Grand Avenue in the mid- to late- 1990s.  Longtime east anchor Marshall Fields, which was previously a Gimbels flagship, decided to leave in 1997 after years of declining sales.  This sent the mall further into a downward spiral, and many stores in the eastern section of the mall (Plankinton Arcade) closed as a result.  The western section of the mall, with the large third-level food court and Boston Store anchor, fared slightly better but also eventually faltered.

By 2002 the mall was on life support.  The few stores remaning were mostly athletic and urbanwear chains, and the food court remained viable due to the large number of office workers nearby.  However, a huge breath of life came in the form of a remodel and repositioning.   The mall’s dated, early-1980s look was replaced with a more modern facade inside, and the main entrance on Wisconsin Avenue was given a facelift as well.  Management leveraged this remodeling to attract new stores, citing the recent growth of residential space downtown.  Extensive development in the third ward, downtown, and lower east side would provide a significant local retail base to give Grand Avenue viability again.  Also, crime in the city scaled back dramatically to pre-1980s figures, and job loss in the region was slowed.   

Grand Avenue Mall TJMaxx in Milwaukee, WIBut, instead of reinventing the wheel and trying to re-establish a top-tier superregional mall downtown to compete with Mayfair, Bayshore, and Brookfield Square, management sought to instead establish a different niche for Grand Avenue.  The first step in this transformation was to rename the center from Grand Avenue Mall to The Shops of Grand Avenue.  In-line small store space was scaled down dramatically in the eastern section of the mall by replacing all of the stores on the first level and the hallway with two box stores, Linens ‘n Things and TJ Maxx.  The result is kind of interesting, design-wise.  One can look down from the second level of the mall directly into the stores, as little was done to change the old configuration other than removing the small stores’ walls.  Old Navy was also brought into the mall, replacing another large section of vacant in-line space.  Also, the vacant Marshall Fields was redeveloped into a Borders and Residence Inn and renamed ASQ Center.  Although not technically part of The Shops of Grand Avenue, ASQ Center is connected to it by the same skywalk which connected Marshall Fields. 

Today, The Shops of Grand Avenue is chugging along all right.  By no means is the center as successful as it was during the 1980s, but neither is that the current owner’s intention.  Instead, the mall functions to serve the needs of the retail base which supports it, the newer neighborhoods downtown, and the 80,000 office workers which funnel in and out of the city center daily.   The store roster speaks to this, and the food court is still as busy as it ever was.  If management continues to woo more tenants in, it could really work out.  The design features of the mall, and the way it’s hemmed in with hundred-year-old buildings, is rather unique and pleasing to the eye.

At any rate, Grand Avenue is currently the last enclosed shopping mall in the city of Milwaukee.  As of ten years ago there were three others: Southgate, Capitol Court, and Northridge, but each met its own fate largely due to the same demographic problems which felled Grand Avenue.  We took the pictures featured here in April 2007. 

Grand Avenue Mall Borders in Milwaukee, WI Milwaukee, WI Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee, WI

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Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee, WI



Cherry Point Mall; Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin


With nearly 10,000 residents, Sturgeon Bay is the county seat and gateway to the popular Door County tourism region of northeastern Wisconsin.  Since the advent of the automobile, tourists have flocked from Milwaukee, Chicago, and other midwestern cities to Door County for a beautiful, relaxing vacation.  For those who don’t know, Door County is Wisconsin’s “thumb” – a long peninsula of hilly land with Green Bay on one side and Lake Michigan on the other.     

The Cherry Point Mall is a small, enclosed two-anchor L-shaped center which we like to refer to as a “sMall” here at  Because it’s pretty small, right?  It’s very typical of an “up-north” mall, common throughout more sparsely populated areas of northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and also very similar to many small enclosed malls in relatively isolated cities across rural America in general. 

Cherry Point Mall in Sturgeon Bay, WIAnyway, the mall is decently old; I’d guess it opened around 1980.  It opened anchored by a Schultz’s Family Store location which was acquired in 1989 by Prange Way, a discount department store based in Sheboygan.  Prange Way closed in 1997 with the foreclosure of the entire chain, and was eventually replaced by Dunhams Sports which is still open today.  The other anchor, which was a Family Dollar from 2002-2006, was very recently replaced with Dollar Tree in June 2007.

The decor of the small L-shaped Cherry Point Mall is relatively dated.  The entire mall is carpeted with a beige berber, and many of the stores inside have wooden facades.  Also of interest were the hanging banners from the ceiling with the mall’s name and logo, a throwback to the past and a commonplace in these little up-north sMalls.  In addition, the store roster is typical of rural sMalls as well, with a much higher prevalence of local retailers rather than national chains, with the exception of the anchors.  Also typical of an up-north sMall are the placement of the ubiquitous Hallmark and the numerous craft stores; one here is named Country Bumpkin, I think that’s all we need to say?

The pictures featured with this post were taken in July 2001.  Leave us some comments and let us know how the mall has changed in the past six years, or any other information you have – such as, when the mall opened and what the Family Dollar/Dollar Tree anchor has been over time.

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Cherry Point Mall in Sturgeon Bay, WI

Southgate Mall; Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Southgate Shopping Center, later Southgate Mall, was the first significant post-World War II suburban-style shopping center in the Milwaukee area. In 1949, local brewery supplier (how very Milwaukee) Kurtis Froedtert laid the framework for Southgate and three other major suburban-style shopping centers in the area, during a period of this kind of retail development nationwide. Southgate Shopping Center was the first of these planned centers which would rim the city; the others were Westgate (later Mayfair) and Northgate (Bayshore?).

Southgate Mall in Milwaukee, WILocated on what was then the far south fringe of the city of Milwaukee, Southgate was not randomly placed but rather strategically situated. On one side of Southgate were the older, ethnic neighborhoods which created Milwaukee to the north and east, and on the other were vast expanses of immense suburban growth to the south and west. Also, Southgate was placed directly on Highway 41 (27th Street), which was then the major thoroughfare from Chicago on up to Green Bay and all points in between before freeways took over.

When Southgate opened in 1951, it was essentially an anchorless strip mall, with 20 stores under the same canopied roof. Yet, because this type of development was so innovative, people flocked from all over southeastern Wisconsin to Southgate. In 1954, Southgate finally got an anchor in Milwaukee-based Gimbel’s department store. Krambo’s grocery store opened on the opposite end of the center a year later in 1955, and the center retained its immense popularity. But of course this probably comes as no shock, considering there was no other competition like it anywhere in the area. Very soon, though, this would change as other similar shopping centers opened around the city during the 1950s – Bayshore in 1954, Capitol Court in 1956, and Mayfair in 1958. These centers didn’t quite steal Southgate’s thunder, but rather were peers who held their own in the respective regions of the city they covered. Southgate reigned as the dominant south side shopping center until 1970, when a monster appeared to change Southgate’s fortune forever.

Southgate Mall Pill & Puff in Milwaukee, WISouthridge Mall opened a few miles to the south and west of Southgate in suburban Greendale in 1970. A self-contained shopping environment, Southridge outclassed Southgate in nearly every way. For one, it was gigantic in comparison. Almost ten times larger than Southgate at that point, Southridge featured 5 anchors on two enclosed levels, and to this day is one of the largest malls in the state. Also, Southridge was closer to the growing, suburban-middle class population in the suburbs.

As shoppers flocked to Southridge, Southgate decided it had no other choice but to renovate (Yes, I just personified a mall here). In 1971, Southgate aggressively repositioned itself through an expansion which doubled the size of the mall and enclosed it, giving it some leverage on Southridge’s success. Southgate soldiered on through the 70s and 80s as an ancillary enclosed mall of about 500,000 feet, including anchor stores. In 1986 the main anchor was swapped as one heritage Milwaukee store replaced another, when Gimbels closed and its space was immediately taken by Boston Store.

However, any measure of success ended in 1994 when two of the largest stores occupying 40 percent of the mall closed, Boston Store and Woolworths. From then on the mall slowly deteriorated into a shell of its former self, with more and more vacancies as time went on. In 1995, Media Play and Trak Auto were to split the anchor space and help revive the mall but it never came to fruition. Then, in 1998, Southgate Mall’s ownership changed hands and the new owners announced that most of the mall would be demolished for a Wal-Mart store.

Southgate Mall Wal-Mart in Milwaukee, WIAnd so it was. During the Summer of 1999, most of the structure was demolished and a huge standalone Wal-Mart was put in its place in 2000. Walgreens relocated to a different side of the property and the Marcus Cinemas remained, as well as a small outdoor portion of the old mall which ironically was part of the original 1950s Southgate. This is pretty much how it is today.

As I never got to see Southgate apart from driving by, all our photos came from contributor John Gallo. The Gimbels and interior shots were taken in 1986 or prior, the Boston Store shot was taken sometime between 1986 and 1993, and the others are a more recent depiction of how the site looks today (post-1999). If you have any more pictures of the “old” Southgate, in any of its incarnations, feel free to send them in and we’ll post them.

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Southgate Mall Marcus Cinema in Milwaukee, WI Southgate Mall Walgreens in Milwaukee, WI Southgate Mall in Milwaukee, WI

Edgewater Mall (Edgelake Plaza); Manitowoc / Two Rivers, Wisconsin

Edgelake Plaza Younkers former Prange's in Manitowoc, WI

Manitowoc, Wisconsin is a small port city in east-central Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan. With a population of 34,000 and micropolitan area (with Two Rivers and the rest of the county) of just over 50,000, Manitowoc is hardly a large place. Most of its roots are in manufacturing, shipping and agriculture, and thus growth in the region has slowed in recent decades as the economy shifts from that of building things to one of building knowledge. That said, Manitowoc still maintains a retail presence, but it is important to consider that it has always been on a local scale. Being about 30 minutes from both Green Bay and Sheboygan, and less than an hour from Appleton where ample retail offerings exist, Manitowoc has never been the center of super-regional (or even regional) retail activity. Instead, the offerings in Manitowoc and Two Rivers have been just enough to sustain local shoppers, including two enclosed malls right next to each other: Edgelake Plaza, at 210,000 square feet, and Lakeview Centre.

From time to time, we feature guest bloggers here who have their own stories to share. The following entry comes to us from Matt A. (a.k.a. Matt from WI from the comments board on this site) as he tells the story of the newer of two adjacent malls between Manitowoc and Two Rivers, Wisconsin:


My home state of Wisconsin, like many other Upper Midwestern states, was dotted with small community malls of this ilk during the days of the enclosed mall building boom in the late 1960s-1980s. While the cities of Manitowoc and Two Rivers already shared the Mid-Cities Mall, which opened in 1968 and boasted a Wards, Penney’s, and over 20 other shops, most of those shops were the local / regional flavor, save for a large Woolworth, A&P and Osco Drug. Edgewater took up the slack when it opened directly across the street in 1979, bringing with it another 20 stores, most of them featuring a heavy regional / national presence. It was originally anchored on the west end by a Prange’s (now Younkers) and Prange Way flanked the eastern end, with in-line space in between. The newer more modern mall even took away some of Mid-Cities’ stores.I’m not sure as to how ‘successful’ Edgewater Mall was back in its first years of life (’79-’89), but I’d imagine it did well enough when it was 100% occupied, when Wal-Mart wasn’t ‘the place’ people shopped (it was Prange Way or K-mart back then), and the local economy was still in halfway decent shape -but more on that in a moment. At least four reasons account for why this mall died: 

1 – A new interstate, I-43, opened in 1981 and finally gave Manitowoc and Two Rivers a major highway link to the major cities of Green Bay and Milwaukee, taking away consumer dollars that otherwise would have been spent locally.

2 – Location. The Mall, while located just off the lakefront on the northeast side of town, is not near the main commercial hub of Manitowoc. The southwest side of Manitowoc is the new retail strip for the area, with big box such as K-mart, ShopKo, and several strip malls that opened starting in the 1970s. While old Highway 42 (Memorial Drive) is / was the main link between Manitowoc (and points south including Milwaukee) and the Door County region, once I-43 was built (shortly after the Edgewater Mall opened), all the thru-traffic going past the mall was sucked away, and with it, the retail heart of the city swung around to the southwest at the intersection of I-43 and U.S. 151. Mid-Cities Mall, renamed Lakeview Centre in the late 1980s, already a dying mall by then, didn’t help either. That building was an eyesore already by 1979 when Edgewater opened, the bottom falling out when Wards, Woolworths and Osco all pulled out and left gaping vacancies that would never be refilled. I believe this had some crossover effect on Edgelake Plaza, especially in the past 10-15 years.

3 – Tenancy. Prange’s switching to Younkers wasn’t such an issue. Hanging onto national tenants was always a problem for small malls of under 300,000 sq ft, or so it seemed. At its peak, Edgewater had names like Id Boutique, Kinney Shoes, Kindy Optical, Regis, Deb, Brooks Fashions, an arcade, several food counters, and various other major stores, at least 20 in all. Bankruptcies and the big blow came in 1996 when Prange Way went bankrupt and shuttered their Edgewater location along with the rest of the 22-store chain of regional discount stores.

4 – Local Economy: During the World War era, Manitowoc flourished due to its shipbuilding industry. There was also the Mirro Company, and several other major manufacturers within the city providing an economic base. When all of this was outsourced starting in the late 1970s and continuing still to this day..well, you can guess what happens over time. No money to spend = retailers struggle and eventually go out of business. Such was the case here.

I’ve attatched two sets of imagery. The outdoor ones I snapped in 2004. The interior shots I took last year. You can really tell this is a 1970s mall. The outside was given a paintjob in 2002, but you can still tell when it was built by the plain boxy look of the building, and the typical vertical-slotted cinderblock details. Inside, the dark terra-cotta flooring, the low tiled ceilings, the fluorescent light fixtures instead of mecury-vapor bulbs (energy crisis in the late 1970s prompted the use of fluorescent lighting), lots of planters and wood-tone benches, and those treated-wood-style storefronts that chains like Brooks, Id, and Regis used back in 1979…very dated and a dead giveaway as to the era this mall opened. The mall only consists of one wide concourse stretching between Younkers and the vacant Prange Way, and a short hallway going to the mall’s lone rear entrance. Two entryways take up the front.

When I visited last year to take the interior pics, all that was left was a tanning studio, a NASCAR paraphernalia store, a nail salon, an eyecare/opticians office, and a Sears Authorized Dealer store that only sells Sears’ hardlines (Craftsman and Kenmore stuff).

I’m not sure how much longer this mall will last, considering there’s not much left. However it seems to still be in operational mode, because when I was there, the floors were getting buffed as you can see in the pics (they’re unusually shiny and look new), and several old storefronts were being repainted, leading me to believe maybe the new owners / management have intentions to lease space. In the end, it’s a dying, yet decently maintained little mall. Trust me, I have seen worse in the upkeep department when it comes to these smaller malls.

With most malls like this in Wisconsin having been either reconfigured into strip malls, or torn down outright, it was a nice find that Edgelake Plaza has been open long enough for me to capture an example of
what we were seeing during the mall boom in the 1970s and is today disappearing in favor of big boxes and
super-mega malls. These were not ‘regional’ malls in the sense of the term, they were community malls
(though they did serve the rural areas within the county as well), and it is quite a shame to see many of them going the way of 8-track tapes and VHS movies. They hold a certain aura and charm that the huge behemoth malls just can’t capture. It sure would be nice to see Edgelake Plaza be fully occupied again someday and thriving once again.


Edgelake Plaza (2001) in Manitowoc, WI

Thanks, Matt. We appreciate the submission. If you have any other comments, feel free to add to the discussion. The pictures featured with this article were taken by me in 2001 and by Matt A. in 2004 and 2006.

Oh, and by the way…Matt submitted an article on Wikipedia about Edgelake Plaza, and their content selectors flagged it for deletion today for not being notable enough. We here at labelscar feel it’s rather ridiculous (not to mention incredibly subjective) to try to decide which malls have notability and which do not, especially considering no precedent has been set for determining shopping center notability. Is a shopping center notable because it has a certain number of stores, or attracts an affluent customer base? What about its sheer size? Maybe it’s just notable for the people who live in the area and shop there regularly.

Whoever thinks that shopping centers, even this one, aren’t notable should thoughtfully reconsider. While Wikipedia is not the yellow pages, shopping malls are an important piece of our collective history and culture. Whether you like them or dislike them notwithstanding, they have proven themselves functionally and have a continued following. In addition, they function more than just systems of utilitarian commerce. In fact, many people do find them interesting as reflections of their own style of architecture, their varied retail presence, relative locations in our cities, and even their varying physical conditions. I would argue that in general, shopping mall articles belong in a reference encyclopedia if, for nothing else, to provide an index of these important historical agents of our collective history, our pieces of Americana. We must continue to be very careful in filtering content so that we don’t become an irrelevant collective source of information.

We don’t usually use the blog to further a specific agenda such as this, but we feel marginalized by those who essentially don’t understand the appreciation and legitimacy of retail places, and who view them as thin and not unique. To us, nearly all retail places are unique in some interesting way, and the claim of a reference encyclopedia asserting it does not wish to index every shopping center is as absurd as saying “We also no longer wish to list every city; some are just not that notable.” So, if you could go to the page and voice your concerns, that would be great. End rant for now…

July 2001

Edgelake Plaza with Lakeview Centre in the foreground in Manitowoc, WI Edgelake Plaza in Manitowoc, WI Edgelake Plaza Younkers in Manitowoc, WI

Edgelake Plaza in Manitowoc, WI Edgelake Plaza former On Cue in Manitowoc, WI


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Edgelake Plaza in Manitowoc, WI


Edgelake Plaza Prange Way Labelscar in Manitowoc, WI Edgelake Plaza former Prange Way in Manitowoc, WI Edgelake Plaza in Manitowoc, WI

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Edgelake Plaza former Sam Goody in Manitowoc, WI Edgelake Plaza in Manitowoc, WI Edgelake Plaza in Manitowoc, WI

Edgelake Plaza in Manitowoc, WI Edgelake Plaza in Manitowoc, WI Edgelake Plaza in Manitowoc, WI

East Towne Mall; Madison, Wisconsin

East Towne Mall main entrance in Madison, WI

Located in the south-central part of the state, Madison is not only Wisconsin’s second largest city, but the state capital, home to the high-ranking University of Wisconsin at Madison, and historically is known as a progressive hotbed of political activity.  With a population of over 200,000, metropolitan Madison has a population of over 500,000, including most of Dane County (which is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island).  The city is located on an isthmus between two beautiful lakes (with several more in the area) and is aesthetically gorgeous, especially during summer months.  In addition, over the years Madison has claimed numerous awards and ranks attesting to its livability, intellectual capacity, and beauty, such as #1 city in America, healthiest city for men, one of five emerging spots for Biotech in the world, and rather surprisingly, most romantic city in the country.  I agree completely, but I also live here so I’m pretty biased. 

East Towne Mall JCPenney in Madison, WIEast Towne Mall opened in former farm fields along East Washington Avenue (Highway 151) near Interstate 90/94 in 1971, a year after West Towne Mall, its twin across town.  East Towne was originally anchored by Sears, JCPenney, H.C. Prange & Company (a mid-tier department store chain based out of Sheboygan), Prange Way (Prange’s discount store chain), and Gimbels (a Milwaukee-based chain).  East Towne Mall was developed by Cleveland-based Richard Jacobs, but now it is owned and managed by CBL Properties

As the years passed, East Towne found itself the centerpiece of an explosive area of rapid retail growth, drawing the traditional shopping base away from downtown Madison which is five miles away.  Condos, strip malls, chain hotels, fast food and chain restaurants, and big box all exploded onto what once were pastoral farm fields in the far-reaches of Madison, enveloping them with buildings as far as the eye could see.  Today, the sprawl has extended far beyond East Towne and even the Interstate, and blurs into Sun Prairie, Cottage Grove, and DeForest to the north and east.

East Towne Mall in Madison, WIEast Towne has always enjoyed success, but in varying degrees.  From the 70s on through the 1980s the mall enjoyed a great deal of success.  In 1986, the Gimbels became a Boston Store location after Gimbels went belly up.  In 1992, another anchor shift occurred, as Pranges became Younkers (an Iowa-based chain) following the demise of Pranges. 

Through the 1990s and into the 00s, East Towne stagnated significantly, not attracting many emerging, popular stores and simultaneously losing some it already had.  The reasons for this stagnation are do to demographics and the competition resulting.  West Towne Mall, almost 20 miles away, has long been considered the best mall in Madison, always drawing the best mall retailers.  Abercrombie & Fitch, Williams-Sonoma, H&M, Godiva, and J Crew and other top-tier mall retailers have chosen West Towne to showcase their only store in Madison. 

But why is this?

Madison has always been a very economically (and racially) segregated city.  The east side, where East Towne is, has always been the more industrial, working-class side of town.  The west side, which is larger, has always been collectively wealthier, stemming historically from university professors and faculty choosing to build their nice homes on the near west side.  Even today, many businesses who only have one store in Madison have chosen to locate only on the west side, even though many chains (including big box) have duplicate east and west locations.  In 2003, Madison’s first lifestyle center, Greenway Station, opened on the west side (in Middleton), featuring many popular top-tier offerings not found on the east side.  I grew up about half an hour from East Towne but we rarely visited. West Towne was always so dominant during my childhood despite East Towne actually being closer.   

East Towne Mall in Madison, WI 

As the 00s began, East Towne found itself stagnating and had earned a reputation of being Madison’s second-class mall to West Towne.  Unwilling to let East Towne go further downhill, CBL decided a major overhaul of both Madison malls was in order in 2003.  At both malls, the Younkers locations closed and Boston Store moved into their respective spaces, as Saks consolidated their southern Wisconsin stores into one banner.  This paved the way for a major remodel of both malls as the former Boston Store locations were razed for the construction of Dick’s Sporting Goods locations as well as additional mall space.  For East Towne, it meant the addendum of a fifth, but short, short side wing ending at the Dick’s anchor (the old Boston Store anchor used to face the mallway directly), and also the expansion ofEast Towne Mall directory in Madison, WI the adjacent Dunham’s Sporting Goods space, replacing it with Gordman’s (a discount department store chain based in Omaha).  In addition to the expansion, the entire mall was remodeled with new flooring and signage and a new Steve and Barry’s was tacked onto the back of the mall near where the old theatres were.  The food court was also renovated losing its “Tastes of the Towne” name, and a Barnes and Noble was added adjacent to it at the same time.  All of the renovations were complete by Fall 2003.  This latest renovation has very solidly repositioned East Towne as a top-tier mall without question, once again able to compete with West Towne in the market. 

The pictures featured here were taken November 2006, with the exception of the first image which was provided by EMJ Corporation.  If you have any comments or experiences related to the mall feel free to share them.  In addition, if you have any photos (especially vintage) of East Towne feel free to contribute them as well. 

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East Towne Mall main entrance in Madison, WI