“We haven’t heard a hammer yet.”
That comment from The Limited manager Sarah Suchor basically sums up the renovation status of Charlestowne Mall. While hopes remain high for the struggling shopping venue that lost several more tenants within the last few months, mall Marketing Director Jeffrey Renkert said plans are still on track.
“It’s going to happen,” Renkert said. “These things take a lot of time. Permits still have not been issued. That means they’re still planning and in preliminary stages.”
Renkert is referring to the ice skating rink and sushi buffet, both of which were announced last fall and were scheduled to open this spring.
“An ice rink isn’t just a mom and pop store that’s going to open in an empty space,” he said.
Still, with just a 20 percent occupancy rate, the mall remains painfully devoid of retailers. Sarah Mortenson of West Chicago brought her 5-year-old to play in a play area located across from a Gymboree before heading for the Wild Fun Mini Golf Center.
“We’ll shop, but there’s not too many (stores) here but the big ones,” Mortenson said. “It’s hard to walk through here and see them all empty.”
She said they ride the carousel often and go to the movie theater, but with only a Chinese Gourmet, Miyaki Japan and Famous Philly’s remaining as choices in the food court, they would most likely eat elsewhere.
The three remaining anchor stores—Kohl’s, Carson Pirie Scott and Von Maur—still regulary attract customers and provide a boost for the remaining stores located near them.
Suchor said business has been going pretty well for The Limited, located just outside of Kohl’s and Carson's. She attributed their healthy holiday season to customers loyal to the brand and being the only Limited store in the area. She remains optimistic for the mall.
“The customers we get coming in here say there’s no reason that this mall can’t be supported by the people who live here,” Suchor said. “St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia, South Elgin, Bartlett; there’s no reason we shouldn’t do well.”
She said if the ice rink does become a reality, she’s not sure it would bring more customers into her store.
“It wouldn’t help very much,” Suchor said. “It would bring birthday parties and more kids. I might get more traffic, but not serious shoppers.”
On the other side of the mall, continues to see robust business and appears to be reaping the benefits of sequels and re-releases. Last fall, the hallways outside the theater were jammed with fans dressed as prestidigitators and wizards for the overnight showings of the Harry Potter movies. There was similar interest in the final episode of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. The Star Wars films are being released in 3D—Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace is currently playing at the theatre—and will likely continue to attract ardent moviegoers.
Matsi Singer, who works for Nickels and Dimes, maintaining a merchandise kiosk just outside the movie theater, said he believes the mall is “dying out.”
“It is a terrible mall,” he said. “This movie theater is the only thing going for it. When it’s snowing or when the kids are in school, there’s nothing going on.”
He also expressed some concerns about mall security, pointing to damage done to the kiosk.
“Security is never around,” he said. “They should be walking around all the time.”
Renkert said there are two officers on duty whenever the mall is open. He said one walks around the center and the other monitors television cameras that are placed all over the mall.
For now, Renkert said he is busy trying to keep the shopping center “in front of people.” He said it has served as a venue for a variety of community activities such as pinewood derbies with local Cub Scouts. He said most shopping centers have a marketing fund that is built into tenants’ leases.
“Every dollar spent is by the owners,” he said. “I have to be really frugal. But it’s warm and it’s clean. It’s not necessarily to attract customers, primarily to keep the center in the minds of the public.”
He said a group of investors that purchased the mall two years ago also invested in a similar mall in California and turned it around. But that was before the current economic climate took over.
Renkert said he’s confident that if a national tenant moves in, a lot more will follow.
Sperry Van Ness is the mall’s real estate broker, and Managing Director Neil Johnson said that while there have been extensions on some of the current leases, the new vacancies have put the mall in a major planning mode.
“We’re really having to shift into a planning mode,” Johnson said. “It’s going to take a major effort to bring [the mall] back. Right now there are no specific updates, but there are lots of things still in the planning and approval stages.
“We continue to be optimistic and work with ownership for solutions.”