Those of us who grew up in the Northwest suburbs and are now AARP eligible likely have fond memories of spending time at one or more of our regional shopping malls: gathering up enough allowance to eat grownup food at the Tartan Tray at the former Randhurst mall in Mount Prospect; watching blockbusters on Saturday night on the giant screens at the Woodfield movie theaters; bundling up to run from one store to another at Oakbrook Center Mall at Christmastime.
No matter where you grew up in the burbs, you were within a couple of towns of one of these shopping megaplexes and are bound to have spent time in at least one of them.
Regional malls are part of our suburban identity. Just imagine Schaumburg without Woodfield.
The Streets of Woodfield lifestyle mall has a theater complex that dwarfs what Woodfield had in its early days. The Tartan Tray went the way of Wieboldt and Wards at Randhurst, long before the mall in Mount Prospect was finally bulldozed a few years ago.
Woodfield has grown and adapted with the times. Randhurst, once an enclosed mall, has risen from the rubble as Randhurst Village, with an entirely different concept -- shopping built around an entertainment and dining district.
We've enjoyed seeing its resurgence over the past three years, rolled out in phases and anchored by a movie megaplex and hotel and a variety of restaurants, along walkable streets.
Oakbrook Center Mall, which like the original Randhurst, was built in 1962, has seen some additions over the years but otherwise has seen little change to its general concept. But like others, it, too, needs to adapt.
Staff Writer Sean Hammond wrote this week about an ongoing $30 million renovation at Oakbrook Center Mall -- the first full-scale makeover since the shopping center debuted 51 years ago.
"You always need to reinvent yourself," General Manager Chuck Fleming told Hammond. "We really wanted to enhance what we have, and also maintain the things that have kept shoppers coming to the Oakbrook Center."
Work should conclude by Thanksgiving.
Hawthorn, Yorktown, Stratford Square, Fox Valley and Spring Hill malls have all undergone their own transformations over the years to remain relevant, some more successfully than others in the face of difficult economic conditions, emerging shopping corridors and changing shopping habits.
Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles, though, has been a notable disappointment. The giant carousel was a draw for a while, but the mall had difficulty catching on and has steadily lost patrons in recent years. Some feel the mall wasn't big enough in the first place to support big anchor stores.
Here's hoping that a new plan for Charlestowne -- due to the city any day now by its new buyers -- will help ensure that more fond memories can be made there for years to come.