Why Huntley outlet mall lost its luster

After more than 22 years, the curtain will fall - maybe as soon as the end of the month - on the Huntley Outlet Center.

Signs for closeout sales announcing deep discounts are plastered on the windows of the seven stores left in the 279,000-square-foot mall at I-90 and Route 47.

“The whole mall is coming down,” said Dolores Matousek, 78, owner of Huntley Antique & Jewelry Mall. “We've had 11 great years here.”

The remaining mall tenants - Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Darna Furniture, G.H. Bass & Co., L'eggs Hanes Bali Playtex and Wilsons Leather - also expect to close up shop by end of the month or early March. In its heyday, the Huntley outlet housed 40 stores. In the end, experts say, it succumbed to online shopping and not being on the “A List” of malls that were deemed worthy of reinvestment.

Mall owners want to rezone the nearly 77-acre property for office, research and industrial use; they're soliciting national real estate firms to help market it.

The mall was purchased last April by Huntley Investment Partners LLC - which includes Elgin's Capital Companies LLC, Chicago-based The Prime Group, which built the center in 1994, and Craig Realty Group, a California-based development and management firm of upscale factory outlet centers in 12 states.

“We've been spending most of our time meeting with the village and exploring all possibilities for a re-gentrification there, if you will,” said Rich Turasky, Capital Companies founder and president from Lake in the Hills. “It's a pretty broad zoning that would allow us to be able to talk to a lot of diversified users.”

Huntley Outlet's previous owner, Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group Inc., owns the successful and recently expanded Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora and Gurnee Mills mall, yet wasn't able to draw shoppers to Huntley, the second-oldest in the region.

Evolving industry

Balloons highlighted the grand opening of the Huntley outlet mall in 1994, and shoppers came. Daily Herald file photo

The concept of outlet malls - clusters of stores occupied by manufacturers selling directly to customers, often offering deep discounts - took hold in the '80s and '90s. For a while, it seemed, shoppers' appetite for the outlet malls would only keep growing. But the past decade proved a challenge with traditional shopping centers offering aggressive promotions and discounts, and the migration to online shopping, analysts say.

Nationwide, outlets tripled from 113 in 1988 to 345 in 2013, but dipped to 215 just two years later. Sales tax revenues from the outlet centers took a hit after the 2008 market crash, but started picking back up in 2011, according to industry experts.

That's evidenced by increased investments in premier malls.

Fashion Outlets of Rosemont opened in 2013 and caters mostly to an upscale clientele.

The two-story, 530,000- square-foot enclosed mall runs upstream of traditional outlet malls, experts say.

Aurora's Chicago Premium Outlets, now 12 years old, added about 294,000 square feet of retail space to its existing footprint of 437,342 square feet in 2015, while Gurnee Mills, which opened in 1991, is planning a $6 million interior renovation.

Where those other outlet malls are thriving, the Huntley center has been barely hanging on because it didn't see the same kind of investment Simon poured into its Aurora and Gurnee locations, says Phyllis Ezop, retail industry analyst and president of Ezop and Associates strategy consultants out of La Grange Park.

Its sales tax revenues are one third what they were a decade ago, according to village officials.

The Huntley mall's demise partly can be attributed to sales shifting online, yet that's not the whole story for why the mall failed, said Ezop.

“In general, the mall industry is evolving,” she said. “The ones that have stronger locations and stronger demographics are doing better.”

Village officials had hoped the $61 million full-access interchange at I-90 and Route 47, completed in 2013, would bolster the mall's sales and boost traffic, but it was too little, too late, analysts say.

Fixing front door

  The curtain is about to close on the Huntley Outlet Center this spring. Closeout sales are under way at the few remaining stores expected to leave by early March. Brian Hill/

Huntley leaders, meanwhile, are eager to see something happen with the property.

“It's the front door to our community,” Village Manager Dave Johnson said.

“We are going to make sure that it fits with the village's long-range vision for the Route 47/I-90 corridor.”

Johnson said it's sad to see the mall fail since “early on (it was) a destination point for many people and one that generated significant sales tax for the community.”

Huntley had a sales tax sharing agreement with mall owners, which netted the village $1.7 million since 2000.

“To lose that revenue is significant for the village,” Johnson said. “The desire is for that property to continue as retail.”

Turasky believes the location could be ideal for a data center, large manufacturing/distribution business, or an office building much like Zurich North America's stunning 750,000-square-foot, $400 million headquarters in Schaumburg.

  Dolores Matousek, of Huntley Antique and Jewelry Mall, crosses out the names of the stores that have closed at the mall. Brian Hill/

For Dolores Matousek, who lives in nearby Sun City-Huntley senior retirement community, it's a relocation of the family business started more than 50 years ago.

Its new home will be Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee.

Leaving Huntley, she said, will be difficult because of her many loyal customers from Sun City.

“Now, they will be forced to go to Randall Road, which is kind of tough on old people,” she said, “but that's the way of the world.”

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