Circling the dozen or so clothing racks consolidated into one area of what once was the women’s department of Carson Pirie Scott at the North Riverside Park Mall, bargain hunters quickly shuffle through merchandise priced at $7 an item. A short time later, the store’s loudspeaker announces a price cut to just $5 per item.
There’s not a whole lot to choose from. Outside this small hive of activity, the rest of the cavernous two-story department store is eerily desolate, populated only with empty merchandise display tables and barren glass cases that once constituted the perfume and cosmetics department.
By the end of Aug. 29, Carson’s will be gone forever. In North Riverside the department store was one of the mall’s three original anchors, in business for more than 40 years in the 160,000-square-foot location.
Of the two remaining anchors – J.C. Penney and Sears – it would have been hard to imagine Carson’s being the first to liquidate.
“It’s certainly a sad day for us,” said Harvey Ahitow, general manager of North Riverside Park Mall, which is owned by the Feil Organization.
It’s not the only retailer about to shut down at the mall. Liquidation sales are also taking place in the ground-floor space next door to Carson’s, at Fallas, whose parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Aug. 6.
National Stores Inc. at that time announced it would be closing 74 of its 344 stores, with the Fallas location at North Riverside on the list. It’s unclear when Fallas will close its doors, said Ahitow.
“I’m not sure if they’ll hang on until the end of the year or not,” he said.
But, Ahitow isn’t mourning the loss of Fallas, a discount clothing and accessories retailer that opened at the mall in May 2015.
The mall had been in negotiations to take back part of the Fallas space even before the bankruptcy filing, Ahitow said. The mall has signed letters of intent with three prospective tenants to take over the Fallas space and the two smaller retail spaces to the south, between Fallas and Penney’s. In all, the three spaces comprise about 40,000 square feet of retail space.
“I’m very optimistic this space will be much better than what Fallas offered the shopping center,” Ahitow said. “I expect this to get done by the end of next year, if not sooner.”
As for the Carson’s space, Ahitow said he was confident that the entire two-story anchor space would be revitalized in the coming years. The Feil Organization, however, does not own the anchor space, which complicates the matter somewhat.
The anchor space was owned by Carson Pirie Scott’s parent company The Bon Ton Stores. It is now owned by New Jersey-based Wilson Associates.
Ahitow said The Feil Organization is in talks with Wilson Associates “about a number of things, including replacement tenants.”
“We actually envision that entire box being re-leased with a new façade on the outside,” Ahitow said. “It may take five years before it all happens, but the real estate the shopping center is sitting on is [valuable]. It will take some time to see what the current owner or we decide what to do.”
Ahitow said the Feil Organization and Classic Cinemas continue to work on a plan to expand the movie theaters at North Riverside Park Mall, and buildout continues on Round One, the family entertainment complex slated to open in half of the former Sears lower level by late 2018.
Meanwhile, Seritage Growth Properties, the owner of the two-story anchor occupied by Sears on the top floor and Round One on the ground floor, continues to market the remaining ground-floor commercial spaces.
Ahitow said there’s a fully executed lease to bring an Amita Health primary care clinic to 10,000 square feet of the former Sears lower level, leaving about 30,000 more of that space to fill.
“We are extremely happy that Seritage is there and doing their thing,” Ahitow said. “The shopping center is going to be much better off at the end of the day with Seritage re-leasing that space.”