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Article updated: 4/24/2013 6:58 AM

Serpent Safari closes, reptiles move to new homes

By Anna Marie Kukec

Serpent Safari, which educated and entertained youngsters and adults for about 15 years in Gurnee Mills, said it received an eviction notice that displaced dozens of reptiles and closed the business after it declined to move to another part of the mall, the store's general manager said Tuesday.

The store closed April 17 when about 25 of the larger reptiles, including pythons, were sent to Alligator Alley in Wisconsin Dells. Another 50 smaller animals, including turtles, lizards and frogs, were sold to the public during a store-closing sale, said General Manager Joan Singer.

"We thought it was our permanent home there," Singer said. "But we received the eviction notice that we had to leave in 2 weeks."

Singer said the store had paid its rent in full and on time, all while owner Lou Daddono remained in talks with mall officials. The mall sought to move Serpent Safari from the south end to the north end of the mall. It aimed to make that wing only for high-end stores with Macy's expected to open this summer, Singer said.

The Lake County mall declined to talk about the store closing. "We do not comment on landlord-tenant relationships. Those talks are private," said Les Morris, spokesman for Simon Property Group Inc., owners of Gurnee Mills.

Serpent Safari began in Wisconsin in 1987, but was closed and the Gurnee location opened in 1998 to display a collection of animals, including a Nile crocodile, a rare albino alligator, frogs, snakes, and others. The store was featured on PBS, Discovery Channel, Wild Chicago, Oprah, Guinness World Records and other national and regional publications, its website said.

The cost to move the animals and the specialized exhibits likely would have cost about $800,000, about the same amount they had invested when they opened the Gurnee store, Singer said.

Besides the cost of the animals and exhibits, the store also lost a number of birthday parties and other events pre-scheduled for the upcoming year, Singer said.

"We had a great concept and we believe the mall just didn't realize the long-term value we brought to the mall," Singer said.

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