Chip Strahl's Commentary:

May 10, 2004 (user submitted)

June 30, 2004 is the last day of business for College Hills Mall in Normal, Illinois. It will be torn down and replace with an open air "lifestyle center" next spring. The Shoppes of College Hills will be a welcome addition compared to the near empty mall it is replacing.

College Hills opened in 1980 with two anchors: Carson Pirie Scott and Montgomary Ward. Target was added on in 1982, probably one of the first in Illinois. This mall was built primaraly to complament Eastland Mall in nearby Bloomington. College Hills is much smaller and does not have a food court. I arrived in the Bloomington/Normal area in 1993 when I was a student at Illinois State University. College Hills is much closer to ISU, It as brighter and more appeling than Eastland, which looked old, worn out, and smelled kinda funny.

Carsons merged with the parent of Bergner's in 1989, which has a store in Eastland. Carson's sold their store in College Hills to Von Maur that same year. Von Maur remodeled and opened in 1990. In 1993, the mall is near capacity. It has the usual mall stores: Radio Shack, Payless Shoes, a Hallmark store and all of the Foot Locker stores. There was no food court, so most of the resterants were scattered, such as Diamond Dave's mexican bar, a small A&W, and a local bagel/sandwich place. Old Country Buffet was the major food draw. It also had a MC Sports, Vanity, KB Toys, Spencers, Waldenbooks. The Buckle, Campustown (which has most of the Illinois State stuff), Barrel N Bins, and Champs.

About 1997 things were starting to change. Montgomery Wards closed it doors, quickly replaced with Hobby Lobby. The mall was also sold to Oak Tree Group of New York & ran by Urban Properties of Chicago. Bloomington/Normal, despite two major universities and corporate headquaters of State Farm, was too remote for these guys. The mall was run into the ground. The Buckle was the first to leaving, later opening in Eastland. Other stores with a duplicate at Eastland also left, like Claires & KB Toys. Urban did a small remodeling, mostly kicking out MC Sports and moving Foot Locking to make way for a Stein Mart.

Stein Mart opened in early 1999 and was a failure from the start. At the same time, Eastland was completely remodeling and adding Famous Barr as a fifth anchor (they already had Sears, Jc Penneys, Kohl's, & the afore mentioned Bergner's). Spencers Gift moved to Eastland soon after. Campustown and A&W had stores in Eastland and closed up in College Hills. By 2000, College Hills was half empty. They did attract a Bath & Body Works (its Eastland was too crowded) and a few mom & pop place. The country furniture store that set up in KB Toys was good for laugh, dark-stained wood furniture against a bright yellow & red backdrop. Stein Mart cut its losses in 2001 and the exodus began. Barrels N Bins left soon after, followed by Champs Sports, Vanity, all of the Foot Lockers, the Hallmark store, Waldenbooks, Sam Goody's, and then the death knell Old County Buffet. Even the arcade closed its doors.

Today there are 11 stores left in College Hills Mall. The anchors, Target, Von Maur, & Hobby Lobby, remain healthy and still draw in customers. Radio Shack, Payless Shoes, Bath & Body, Diamond Daves, the local bagel place, a dance studio, Christopher & Banks, GNC, and couple mom and pop place are still in the mall. Management must have ran out a drywall since the recent departures have not been boarded up. Oak Tree sold College Hills Mall in 2004 to Cullinan's which recently opened a similar project in Peoria, The Shoppes of Grand Pairie.

The new mall will built aroung the three anchors and the rest of the mall gets demolished. Target and Von Maur have just completed remodeling their stores. The current tenants have the first option if they wants stores in the new center. The old College Hills Mall gets detroyed some time this summer. Cullinan's seems the be a good company and looks like they keep their promise of a new mall on the site.


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