If you’re one of North Riverside’s legacy retailers it’s been a rough go of late. J.C. Penney, Jewel-Osco and Sears – all of whom heard the siren song of the village’s commercial property tax rates and business-friendly demeanor and escaped from a then-deteriorating Cermak Plaza in Berwyn – are either on their way out of town or in serious danger of folding.

That’s disappointing news, certainly, but as the Cermak Plaza itself has illustrated in recent years, sometimes you need to reinvent yourself. What was once a tired, unappealing strip of shops has gained new life and the Cermak Plaza is once again a destination – just try navigating the parking lot.

Now it’s the North Riverside shopping centers, developed in the 1960s and 1970s in the Harlem-Cermak area that are showing their age and obsolescence.

Those shopping centers are now in something of a transitional period and face a new reality of a weakening retail sector facing extra pressure from a pandemic that is driving even more customers to shop online.

The shopping center of old is on its way out, and the village of North Riverside and other towns that depend on sales, amusement and food-and-beverage taxes is in the midst of some serious self-examination.

The good news is that the Harlem-Cermak corridor is going to remain a hub of activity and traffic, bringing in people from all over. That remains attractive to retailers like Binny’s and Hobby Lobby and to amusement centers like Urban Air and Round One, which quickly filled important commercial vacancies as weaker traditional retailers exited.

North Riverside officials are in the midst of a major overhaul of its zoning code and land use plan as part of a strategic planning process that began last year. It’ll take some months yet for that process to be completed – and the pandemic isn’t helping in that respect – but it’s crucial work for a town that has to reinvent itself as a destination in a post-big box retail world.

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