BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington resident John Kerrick has witnessed the evolution of retail over more than 50 years of living in the Twin Cities.
As a grade-schooler, he remembers shopping for new shoes and clothes for school with his mother at the J.C. Penney store when it was in downtown Bloomington where Maguire's Bar & Grill is today.
"I remember every bit of that," he said last week while walking laps with a group of friends inside Eastland Mall.
Kerrick was in high school when Eastland was being built in 1966 at Veterans Parkway and Illinois 9.
"Everyone migrated from downtown Bloomington and a few shops in Normal," he said. "It was the place to come for quite a while."
He recalled how the relocation of J.C. Penney, Woolworth, Roland's department store and other downtown merchants to the mall sent the retail hub in the city's core on a downward spiral.
In 1988, Roland's closed and that 30,000 square feet was remodeled into the mall's food court. As he reminisced, Kerrick stood in front of a shoe store that was home to Eastland Mall Cinemas until its three screens faded to black on March 7, 1993.
After 30 years as a mall tenant, Woolworth, which had once been the cornerstone of American retail, closed its mall store in 1997. Earlier that year, the company announced it would close its remaining 400 five-and-dime stores nationwide after 118 years of business.
Over its 50 years, Eastland Mall has experienced the loss of stores and the addition of new ones. That is the nature of retail.
But the mall's immediate future has been shaken by the loss of two anchor stores — Macy's which closed a week ago, and J.C. Penney, an anchor from the beginning, that will close later this year.
And, while there's been no announcement that another of the mall's original anchors, Sears, will close, the company recently announced there is "substantial doubt" that it will be able to keep its stores open.
They join several smaller mall retailers, including The Gap, GapKids, The Limited, MC Sports and Radio Shack, that also have recently closed.
"Poetic justice?" mused Kerrick about the mall's loss of stores and renewed retail interest and increased housing options downtown in the last decade.
"But it's happening everywhere. I have a daughter that lives in Jacksonville, Fla. It's happening there, too."
"I hate to see anything close," said Del Morgan, of Bloomington. "It means somebody is out of a job."
"It was the place to be," added Ken Reeser, also of Bloomington. "It was a fun, exciting place; all of the contests they used to have here."
The two men and others meet around 8 a.m. nearly every day for coffee in the mall's food court area.
"We were thinking about moving somewhere else, but we really haven't done anything about it," said Reeser. "That's a topic of discussion."
Eastland Mall owners, CBL & Associates Properties, previously said it is in discussions to redevelop the Macy's and J.C. Penney square footage "to recapture under-performing space and deliver a fresh new mix that drives increased traffic and sales to the entire property."
The owners added it's too early to announce concrete plans or potential tenants.
"The highest priority is to work with Eastland Mall to reinvent itself," said Mayor Tari Renner. "That's one of the things in retail — you have to constantly reinvent yourself.
"Strong revitalized downtowns and specialty shops and smaller shops are not hurting as much in this economy as the big box stores," he added. "That's another reason why we need a strong revitalized downtown."
Alderman Diana Hauman represents Ward 8, where the mall is located. She also walks regularly at the mall for exercise.
"Monday morning they were taking the Macy's letters and their logo down," she said. "I think that's when it really hit me that they were gone."
While walking later in the week, she said, "I was actually thinking about living here … if they created some condos, apartments, lofts. If there are more entertainment and/or restaurant opportunities this could be a pretty cool place."
She doesn't want to see Eastland go away because it's the only enclosed mall in the Twin Cities.
"It's here. Let's make the best of it," said Hauman. "Let's make it current and a thing for the future."
Hauman, who has a background in managing retail facilities, said she has visited other cities where their malls have been redeveloped into mixed uses — with commercial and retail spaces on the first floor and residences above.
"It makes no difference to me what they do with it," said Reeser about Eastland. "I thought it would make a great library down at the other end."
"I think it would be a cheap buy for Unit 5 (school district)," added Barney Johnson of Normal.
"I always wondered why they couldn't have for the guys who didn't want to look at the slips and brassieres and new shoes a place to sit down and have a beer while waiting for the wife and a place to entertain the kids, maybe," said Kerrick.
"As far as residences, that's not a bad idea," he added. "But can you imagine what the rent would be monthly?"