Matthew Graczyk's Commentary

Added January 17, 2019 (User submitted January 10, 2018)

The Grove (now known as The Grove Shopping Center) was built in 1986 as a hybrid outdoor outlet mall / lifestyle center at the northwest corner of 75th Street and Lemont Road to serve the communities of Downers Grove, Darien and Woodridge. It was originally anchored by Sears Outlet, Service Merchandise, TJ Maxx, Toys "R" Us, Builders Square, Cub Foods, F&M, Jo-Ann, and Saxon (a local paint chain). Other noteworthy smaller tenants I remember included Sears Paint & Hardware, Sears Portrait Studio, Sears Optical, El Bee Shoe Outlet, County Seat Outlet, Dollar Bazaar, Gifts For Success, Bargain King, American Mattress, Rent-A-Center, Jo-Ann Fabrics, and Funcoland (Gamestop).

I was a small child at the time and I remember going there for the first time as we were going grocery shopping at the new Cub Foods which was celebrating their new grand opening. Many times we also visited The Grove as it also had an Old Country Buffet restaurant which we ate at regularly.

It consisted of two rows of stores turned inward with a crossroad in the middle leading to the Sears Outlet for easy access. There were also landscaped terraces leading to the Jo-Ann and TJ Maxx as well.

As the years went by for this mall, the tenants came and went regularly. However, by the mid 1990's. when we would go to Old Country Buffet for dinner, I noticed the tenants started leaving for other more more visible locations, but nobody was returning to replace them.

The Sears Outlet was the first major store to leave in the early 1990's, as well as their paint and hardware store leaving as well. It was immediately replaced by a Harlem Furniture (Now called The Roomplace). The Sears Optical and Portrait Studio stayed in the mall as they were separate tenants. The Sears Optical remains to this day.

Builders Square left in the mid-late 90's and relocated to Woodridge as one of their Builders Square II prototypes in the newly built Centerpointe strip center, an experiment by Kmart who owned Builders Square at the time.

Saxon went out of business in the mid 90's, and F&M next door also closed after the chain filed for bankruptcy as well. Michaels moved in shortly afterward to occupy both parcels.

By the late 90's it was starting to show big time that the mall was starting to die. The outside tenants were still thriving, but the rest of the mall was empty. All the other tenants on the inner part of the mall either closed, moved to outer stores or left the mall altogether to new locations. The Old Country Buffet was the only tenant that continued to thrive, although it was because of the blessing of having a huge lighted sign advertising their presence on the outer wall, while all the other stores had to settle for unlit plastic lettering that was very hard to see from 75th street while driving by. I also believe the lack of a list of tenants on the sign for The Grove was a problem as well.

Service Merchandise would leave in the early 2000's due to the chain filing for bankruptcy, leaving a huge wing of the center empty.

By 2001, on the inner part of the mall, only the Old Country Buffet and Harlem Furniture remained. The rest of the mall was empty and maintenance was no longer being done. I remember riding my bike through the rows of empty stores, crumbling sculptures, and weed-filled landscape plots despite the "No Bike Riding" signs everywhere do to nobody caring anymore. The last of the other inner tenants to leave, a dentist, moved to an outparcel.

In 2002, plans were made to raze the front row of stores and demall The Grove into a simple open air strip mall. I heard that after finding out that the Old Country Buffet, which was on one of the outer stores was closing. It needed to be booted out for demolition to begin. The Harlem Furniture located as the back anchor would remain open during reconstruction. After the closing of the buffet, fences were erected and the other stores on the outside of the parcel (Petland, a wig shop, an engraver and a Sears Portrait Studio) were evicted as well. The demolition of the front row of stores was complete by early 2003 revealing the blighted interior to the street. The terraces in front of Jo-Ann Fabrics and TJ Maxx were also removed to bring the parking lot closer in and provide easier access to the former inner stores.

Slowly, but surely the tenants started to come back, but it seemed the problem was never solved. An Oriental buffet called Royal Buffet was the first to arrive and continues to operate to this day. The Sears Portrait Studio moved to one of the now exposed inner stores. The nursery for the former Builders Square was built in and was made into another store which would now be occupied by Rent-A-Center which ironically was there one door over in the 1990s. The old Builders Square location would later be devided and become a Linens & Things as well as a Marshalls, though L&T would close in the mid 2000's and is now empty to this day, except in the fall when it would be temporarily made into a Spirit Halloween Store each year. The Service Merchandise was divided up, the inner wing of the mall it occupied became a Petco, and the main atrium became a Grants Appliances store (which closed later on due to the chain filing for bankruptcy and is currently empty.) The facade for the center would be redone a few years later to refresh the area's appearance, except for the part where the Builders Square nursery was, that part of the facade was left untouched for some reason and as a result looks horribly out of place. TJ Maxx would leave its location and move across the street to a larger building.

To this day, The Grove is a perfect example of an area of Chicago's sprawl that is overbuilt due to high hopes without foresight of future trends. Its now ridiculously large parking lot is still unmaintained and crumbling in a few places, the landscaping is still overgrown with weeds, and vacancy is still a big problem. The Grove is still a long way from becoming something fully functional and trendy again.

Links - The Grove Shopping Center link from Edgemark, LLC
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