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Eastland Mall turns 40
Gayle Gleespen decorates Wednesday (May 2, 2007) in preparation for Eastland Mall's 40th anniversary. (Pantagraph/CARLOS T. MIRANDA)

BLOOMINGTON - Susan Lange, 50, remembers shopping and hanging out at Eastland Mall in Bloomington in her 20s.

She bought groceries there, even caught an occasional movie.

Eastland even sponsored contests designed to attract customers - whistling competitions, talent shows, cooking contests, fashion shows, bubble-blowing contests with chewing gum, beauty pageants and others.

Times have changed. The grocery store is gone, as is Eastland Cinema. The contests lost their appeal.

But long-time shoppers still visit the mall that turns 40 this year, this time with their children.

"I've been coming here for bargains for 30 years," said Lange of Bloomington, while buying a prom dress for her 17-year-old daughter, Tamar. "This is still where I come to shop."

Lange's choices have expanded greatly. Eastland had 28 stores when it opened on Feb. 16, 1967, anchored by JCPenney and Sears, which remain today. Bachrachs has been with the mall since the beginning, also.

Today, Eastland has 89 stores, said mall Marketing Director Gayle Gleespen, and more anchors: the Bergner's expansion opened in 1974; Kohl's in 1984; and Macy's, then Famous-Barr, in 1999. The food court was added in 1990.

More expansions are possible, she added. Tennessee-based CBL & Associates Properties has wanted to purchase the U.S. Post Office distribution center, 1511 E. Empire St., since the company bought Eastland Mall in 2005. CBL continues to pursue that sale, Gleespen said.

Eastland also plans to launch a "We Know Bloomington-Normal Restaurant Campaign" May 11, Gleespen said, so shoppers can offer opinions on the mall's next sit-down restaurant. Eastland wants an upscale, sit-down eatery that's not currently in Bloomington-Normal, she said. Shoppers can fill out suggestion cards at the mall beginning May 11 to offer their opinions.

In addition, Eastland continues to look for more retailers, though the mall only has three vacancies currently, Gleespen said.

"We have to do some rearranging if (new retailers) want to come here," she said. "It's a process that just doesn't happen over night."

Moving east

Eastland Mall contributed greatly to the growth of Bloomington's east side, and the decline of retail in down-town Bloomington.

Verizon opened on East Empire Street in 1958. The General Electric plant was already open, and there was a gas station at the corner of Illinois 9 and U.S. 66, now Veterans Parkway, said Greg Koos, executive director of the McLean County Museum of History.

Kmart and OSF St. Joseph Medical Center were developing about the same time as Eastland, also.

For the most part, though, east Bloomington was untapped, Koos said, and downtown Bloomington was the place to shop.

"Downtown Bloomington was a regional retail center that attracted people from counties all around us," he said. "High-end retail was all around the square."

Then JCPenney, Sears-Roebeck & Co. and Singer Sewing Center left downtown for Eastland Mall.

That move from central business districts, or downtowns, to the outer edges of cities was common throughout the U.S. at the time, Koos said.

That trend, as well as the indoor mall concept, spread across the nation after World War II, when the automobile became more common, he said.

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