REI Co-op, Nordstrom Rack, Whole Foods, more opening at new Vernon Hills center

The first of five anchor stores to open in the long-awaited Mellody Farm retail center in Vernon Hills will make it official Friday with the launch of a three-day event.

Outdoor retailer REI Co-op, which specializes in gear and expertise related to hiking, biking, paddling, camping and other activities, is hosting a grand opening "outside social" featuring giveaways, food, music, demonstrations and other activities for three days beginning at 8 a.m.

"We're fully operational and fully stocked," said manager Greg Hamilton. The 25,000-square-foot facility adjoining the Des Plaines River has been fine-tuning operations since an unadvertised "soft opening" Sept. 14.

The event Friday is part of a series of openings in the $200 million center at the northeast corner of Milwaukee Avenue (Route 21) and Townline Road (Route 60). Nordstrom Rack opened Thursday, HomeGoods follows on Sunday, and Barnes & Noble and Whole Foods Market open Wednesday.

Several restaurants also are part of the mix, with City Barbeque first to open on Oct. 8.

A ribbon-cutting featuring top corporate and village officials is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, at The Lawn courtyard.

The name Mellody Farm is a nod to the former Hawthorn Mellody farm operated by the Cuneo family, which once owned the property and other vast tracts in the area, including the site of Hawthorn Mall across Milwaukee Avenue and several residential areas.

That historic character is considered an integral part of the architecture and design of the 270,000 square-foot project, described by Regency Centers as reflecting "the evolution of brick-and-mortar retail with a focus on attracting shoppers who place a high value on experiences."

A dozen handcrafted benches, lots of brick and barn wood, and an array of painted murals are among the elements meant to evoke a throwback, urban vibe. "It looks cool and it's still evolving," said Vernon Hills Building Commissioner Mike Atkinson.

"We hope everyone enjoys the first-class retailers but also the environment that was carefully curated for community interaction that sets Mellody apart from any suburban shopping experience in the Midwest," said Matt Hendy, vice president and market officer for Regency Centers.

REI is self-described as the largest consumer co-op in the U.S., with 17 million members. The Vernon Hills REI store is the fourth in Illinois, with other locations in Oakbrook Terrace, Northbrook and Lincoln Park.

In-store workshops and outdoor activities such as kayak tours on the Des Plaines River will be offered. REI also selected the Preservation Foundation of the Lake County Forest Preserves as its primary charitable partner and contributed $20,000 to improve public access at Ryerson Woods in Riverwoods and the Des Plaines River canoe launch on Route 60, just south of the store.

The Foundation also will receive 10 percent of the sales of the limited-edition Greenway Boogie IPA developed by REI with Tighthead Brewery in Mundelein.

Mellody Farm was 18 months in the village review and approval process before ground was broken in April 2017. It involves a $20 million village incentive, to be repaid from proceeds generated from a special financing district.

About $4.4 million of that incentive was dedicated to road improvements, including dual turn lanes in all directions, at one of the heaviest traveled areas in Lake County.

When fully leased in the fall of 2019, Mellody Farm will have 50 merchants.

An adjoining 260-unit apartment development known as The Atworth at Mellody Farm has a separate construction value of $50 million and provides a walking-distance customer base for the retail area.

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  The new Vernon Hills REI Co-op is open and is planning on a grand opening celebration Friday through Sunday, in the Mellody Farm retail development at routes 21 and 60. Paul Valade/
  Construction continues on several businesses in the $200 million Mellody Farm retail development in Vernon Hills. Paul Valade/
  Nordstrom Rack opened its Vernon Hills store Thursday at the Mellody Farm retail development at routes 21 and 60. Paul Valade/
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