Nick Archer's Commentary

Posted March 24, 2007 (user submitted)

Brementown Mall opened in 1973 on the southwest corner of 159th Street and Oak Park Avenue in Tinley Park. It derived its name from the township (Bremen) and was a salute to the German Americans who originally settled the area. It was a very small 2-anchor mall (really only an anchor-and-a half.) Even though there were spaces for thirty specialty stores it was never fully occupied and its fortunes only sank as time went on.

The building was situated on an east-west orientation with the main entrance facing north on 159th street. There was also an auxiliary mall entrance next to Dominick's. It was anchored by Gately's Peoples Store on the west end and Dominick's Finer Foods and the Essaness Bremen 1 & 2 Theaters on the east. It was a sub-regional mall built to serve the solidly middle-class area of Tinley Park, Oak Forest, Orland Park and even Crestwood, Frankfort, and Westhaven (later to become Orland Hills). At that time, the southwest suburbs were experiencing explosive growth. That was one advantage that Brementown Mall had. Another was that it was first. It opened several months before the larger, regional Lincoln Mall and three years before Orland Square. So for a very brief time it thrived but for the rest of its life it struggled.

There were two big parking lots, one on the north side off 159th Street and the other on the south side behind the building. In an outlot directly at the corner of 159th Street and Oak Park was a Golden Bear restaurant, a family-style place similar to Denny's. Later, Brown's Chicken built an outlet nearby. To the west of the mall was the original site of the Brementown Theater and west of that, at the corner of 159th and Harlem was a K Mart dating from the sixties.

The main anchor was Gately's Peoples Store, a south side department store with its main store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago's Roseland neighborhood. The main store in the city was most remembered for its donut machine where customers could watch donuts being fried, like Krispy Kreme. The new suburban store did not have a donut machine but it did have all the amenities of department store, including a restaurant and a beauty shop. It was a two-level store with men's, women's and children's clothing, shoes and jewelry on the main level and housewares, furniture and linens on the second. Gately's was also one of the few stores in the area that carried Scout uniforms. I was unable to find the exact date that the main Gately's closed, but I am sure it closed by 1980.

While Gately's anchored the west end of the mall, the east end of the mall was anchored by Dominick's Finer Foods, Walgreen's and the Brementown 1 and 2 Theaters, originally operated by Essaness. The Dominick's had an unusual entrance to the mall. Dominick's closed the store sometime in the mid-80's. After that it became a flea market and also sat vacant for long periods of time.

Inside the mall screamed 1973. It was decorated in dark earth tones. The floor was brown brick and the ceiling was brown as well. Rectangular lighted signs hung from the ceiling in front of each store perpendicular to the storefront. Empty storefronts had groovy abstract "artwork" instead of a company logo. Walgreens took up a big chunk of the north side of the mall. It also had its own outside entrance. Some of the other tenants included Waldenbooks, Hallmark and Kinney Shoes. There was a large, popular arcade across from the theaters on the east side. (It was called Just for Fun or #1 Fun -- it probably changed names.) There was a store that sold vacuums and sewing machines on the south side of the mall next to Gately's. Small local stores such as one selling Catholic religious goods came and went. Later, a Gertie's/Lindy's (Gertie's Ice Cream/Lindy's Chili – another South Side institution) opened in the north corridor near the theaters and arcade. They had tables and chairs set up in the mall itself, like an outdoor café. It would be the closest Brementown would ever come to having a food court. There were probably other restaurants inside the mall but I don't recall.

The mall management tried to promote sales. They hosted traveling carnivals in the north parking lot during the summer and even hosted Circus Vargas at least once. Inside they held craft, art and antique shows. They tried to fill empty spaces. One empty storefront on the east end became a community room that hosted meetings like sewing groups and Weight Watchers. Gately's advertised heavily in newspapers. And despite the interior being hopelessly dated, it was clean and well maintained. Unlike most other dying and dead malls, they at least tried to keep their little mall afloat.

It was a losing battle. The theaters subdivided and became second-run theaters sometime in the eighties. Gately's had a very loyal customer base but they were unknown outside the South Side and south suburbs. The former Dominick's space sat vacant most of the time and the interior entrance to the mall was sealed off. Teenagers and young adults cruised the south parking lot near the entrance to the theaters and the arcade. There were fights and vandalism -- never serious -- but enough that the police had to be called. This gave the mall a somewhat unsavory reputation.

By the early nineties, the writing was on the wall. The only stores that survived were ones that had outside access. Gately's never remodeled and its stock was also dated. Stores began to close and were not replaced.

Gately's went out of business before Christmas 1993. By this time, the interior entrance to the mall was sealed off. Walgreens remained for a while, as did the theaters and the arcade.

The entire mall was remodeled into Menard's (A Midwestern home improvement store) around 1994. A long corridor remained from the north parking lot running next to the former Dominick's space to provide access to the theaters and arcade. The Gately's building was sold to the Star chain of suburban newspapers and became their main offices. The former Golden Bear restaurant, which had been a banquet hall in later life, was demolished.

I don't know exactly when the arcade closed, but the theaters remained open until 2003, when they were sold to Menard's for an expansion of their store. To date they were the only indoor theaters in Tinley Park.

The main Brementown Mall sign on 159th remained standing for several years after Menard's invaded the mall, a testament to the struggles of a small, neighborhood mall with local retailers against the big boys.

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