Deerbrook in Headlights

TL;DR: A suburban shopping center with a long-struggling and largely-forgotten enclosed mall for a core is finally put out of its misery.

Deerbrook MallHistory:  Deerbrook Mall (named for the bordering villages of Northbrook and Deerfield, which it serves) was a fairly small regional mall buried within a traditional strip mall, but initially fared well thanks to its placement at a busy intersection, and a stone’s throw from Walgreens’ corporate headquarters.

The mall opened in 1971 and featured a warm colonial theme with streetlights, cobblestone walkways, recessed seating areas, and a fountain in the center court. The mall was anchored to the south by Montgomery Ward, and Turn-Style to the north (with an attached, external Jewel-Osco grocery store further north – Jewel being Turn-Style’s parent company). Slightly-later additions included Marshall’s in the center court, and to the west a General Cinema twin. A Brunswick bowling center was also built behind the mall in the 70s; later joined by an auto service center and what is presently an indoor sports arena.

Deerbrook Mall - c.1980
c.1980 directory via Jim Futrell

The anchor stores changed hands and names countless times over the following decades. Montgomery Ward closed in the 1980s and was divided into three retail spaces with a small mall expansion at the northernmost end of the store. The southernmost space became a Service Merchandise catalog retailer, the middle a Spiegel outlet, and anchoring the mall expansion: Designer Depot, a failed division of Kmart that only survived into January 1987. John M. Smyth’s Homemakers furniture gallery took that space over a year later, and hung around until being converted into a Best Buy from the mid-90s until 2012. Since 2014 the space has operated as a Hobby Lobby.

Service Merchandise and Spiegel were both closed by the mid-90s. An Illinois Secretary of State’s office briefly occupied part of the former space, and SportMart then opened in the latter space, before moving to the other side of the mall in the early-2000s. The two vacant spaces were then reunited as a Sears-owned “The Great Indoors” furniture superstore in 2002, then in 2012 a pathetically short-lived children’s superstore called Wonder!. This space is currently vacant, again.

Deerbrook Mall - Late-'80s
c.1988-89 directory via Jim Futrell

Jewel sold the entire Turn-Style chain to Venture in 1979, who rode out a 10-year lease at this store then bailed. The mall was expanded partially into this space (housing a huge Blockbuster Video), but the mall expansion was retracted when SportMart relocated to that area. The Sports Authority acquired SportMart and rebranded in 2005, but liquidated last year and is currently vacant. Bed Bath & Beyond and a few smaller stores are now in the rest of the Venture space; the former suffered a rather noteworthy fire back in 1994.

Finally: Marshalls was acquired by the TJX Companies in 1995, and at some point that store was converted into a TJ Maxx, who ultimately stuck around until the very end.

Still with me?

The Waukegan Road-facing side of the mall was facelifted around 2001 and began to emphasize a modern strip mall design – or at least emulate it from the busier side of the mall, as the rear entrance by the General Cinema was left in its 1971-state until the end – only changing slightly when the stucco rock facade was either removed or fell off on its own. The mall interior was also given an ultra-abstract remodel somewhere before, or around the time Best Buy was added – but maintained a high vacancy rate for decades, and toward the end was pretty much serving as a glorified entrance to TJMaxx.

General Cinema, which was located in a back corner of the mall, also shuttered on February 24, 2001; five years after the same company opened a 14-screen multiplex at Northbrook Court, literally two minutes east, and four months after General Cinema itself filed for Chapter 11. The theater never re-opened.
Deerbrook Mall - 2003A 2003 leasing map shows only six stores open in the mall interior – with the adjacent Brunswick bowling center also leasing a couple of stores purely for storage – and the others all having outside entrances. By the end of the decade, the only holdouts were TJ Maxx, Famous Footwear, and a Boston Market. The latter two were gone within a couple years, and in 2014, TJ Maxx finally announced it would relocate to Village Square in Northbrook — effectively closing the mall interior for good, and leaving the village and realtors scrambling for the next three years to rejuvenate the site.

Deerbrook Demo Explore: Somehow this completely slipped under my radar, but the other week I found out through a Facebook group that Deerbrook’s interior mall was being demolished – finally delivering on a de-malling plan from 12 years, ago! Double-suck: it had already been completely gutted from asbestos abatement, and structural demo was underway on TJ Maxx and the cinema. The next day, I rushed over after work and had no trouble getting in where they had punched-through, as the contractors had gone home and I was still in my work clothes. Nobody at the neighboring arena gave me a second lookStripped MallMall MummyThe basic layout of the mall and everything molded into the floor was still there, but beyond the theater and TJ Maxx, it was just an empty shell housing a minefield of scrap metal piles, a handful of storefront windows and gates, and whatever bare studs and supports were left in place. The walls for Hobby Lobby and the former Sports Authority, whose buildings are being retained, were early in the process of having permanent walls constructed and therefore still paper thin. You could clearly hear Muzak, voices, and pretty much any sound on the other side of the wall in Hobby Lobby.
This Mall is MetalsDeerbrook in HeadlightsThe center court still retained the flying-saucer ceiling lights that were installed in a later remodel, but otherwise all of the mall’s abstract wall and ceiling treatments had been removed. The mall’s fountain, which once featured bronze mushrooms and frogs – and even remained functioning years after every other mall in the area had long turned theirs off – was finally dry and had been picked-clean. Not even a stray penny to be found. Buried under the scrap pile lies one of the sunken seating areas.
TJ Suxx Mad Maxx B&WNever the Same Place AgainMCMXCVITJ Maxx, despite the major demo work already underway, otherwise looked as it did the day it closed beyond the scrappers pulling all of the fluorescent bulbs and ballasts out of the ceiling for recycling. At time of writing, this store has now been demolished.
The Show Must Not Go On Gee-See-SeeThe one spot in this mall that had my interest, however – even years before finally getting my ass down here – was the 15-year mothballed General Cinema four-screen. Unfortunately it was too late to see the latter-three auditoriums, which in the 1980s had been squeezed into what was originally theater #2 and had already been leveled; however theater #1 was still very-much in tact.
Popcorn Bob Pepsi SueThree-Two-FourDeerbrook Cinema was remodeled somewhere in the mid-1990s with new seats, carpeting, and a remodeled lobby/concession area. Unfortunately all of it only saw a few years’ use before the theater closed. Now with the theater being torn down, all of these seats are going to waste, and it’s especially shitty considering the number of budding community theaters popping up in Lake County, especially around Antioch and Waukegan, who could have probably used them.
The Last Picture Show in DeerfieldEvery Seat in the House is Badimg155Scrounging around the auditorium, I did find a ticket stub for the last show, here: a February 24, 2001 showing of Cast Away… fitting.

After a final, major cleanup (probably including the transfer of much of the equipment and functional things to Northbrook 14) the place was mothballed; leaving only the main signs, fixtures, and Pepsi fountains (GCC switched to Coke products in the months leading to 2002’s merger with AMC Theatres) behind. Trying to find anything, even some garbage with the General Cinema logo, was a challenge… a clean popcorn bucket required climbing atop the theater’s entrance foyer to retrieve it.

What now?

S&B&WPer the Trib: the mall interior and theater are being torn down so an access road can be built to the otherwise-obscured sports arena, NTB, and Brunswick Zone behind it. OfficeMax, Ulta, and Art Van Furniture will then build new stores, on the mall site – while a new Stein Mart is slated to take over the existing OfficeMax space toward the north end of the mall. Jewel-Osco is also rebuilding a bigger store on the north end, and at the opposite end: the village is hoping to land a Sam’s Club for the former Montgomery Ward anchor. Hopefully the combined effort will finally revitalize this long-maligned, but prime chunk of retail space in the North Shore.

PS: For some great vintage views of this mall, check out its Labelscar entry!

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42 thoughts on “Deerbrook in Headlights

  1. Your exploration of dead malls continue to inspire me. I’m reminded that one of these days I’ve got to get into the old Twin City Mall, the only dead mall in my area with anything remotely interesting. Sadly for me, it appears large portions of the mall have been gutted over the years, but the old main entrance still has some awesomely retro examples of late ’60s, early ’70s store façades, which would be any photographer’s and urban explorer’s dream.
    If I ever do go there, I’ll post whatever pictures I take to Flickr. I’m sure you’d probably find them interesting.

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  2. Thanks for posting

    I was one of the managers at Deerbrook General Cinema when it closed in 2001.

    We stripped it pretty clean of anything of value obviously, but there was a lot of stuff left there as you can see.

    I can’t believe it sat for 16 years. Castaway was one of the last movies we had there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, Nate, worked there in the 80s. And I know they used to store excess movie posters in the ceiling tiles upstairs near the popcorn room. Any idea if you guys made sure any of those found a good home?

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  3. Really interesting history of the mall. I was there on 5/4/17 and they had already demolished the physical hallway to the theater. I am glad you documented the General Cinemas enterance. I had no idea it had been close for so long, especially because the one theater was in fairly good condition. Thanks for writing this up and sharing your photos.

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  4. Sad but cool to see this. We were still hitting Boston Market like 5-6 years ago and would walk around and see the deserted stores. Every year before school started mom would take us there and get shoes at Payless and then some new Levis at Jean Action.

    No mention of ROSE RECORDS? That used to be right outside of the General Cinema and was a TickeTRON outlet. Camped outside that parking lot in ’85 for Grateful Dead tickets, that was a party in that little lot every time a good show came thru for years.

    I’d dig that GCC logo sign over the entrance. How did someone not nab that yet?

    And didn’t most of us get their Drivers License when the facility was there?

    Have been saying for years to level the entire thing and put up condos. Nothing survives there.

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  5. Rode my bike there in 1979 to the see the movie “Hair.” I remember seeing most of the “Pink Panther” movies there in the 1970s.

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  6. So sad to see it go! Deerbrook Mall was one of my favorite hang outs! There was a lot of empty stores there in 1986 when I worked at Merle Norman Cosmetics! Across from me Was Fannie May Candies! Loved going there on my break to grab some Trinidads!

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  7. This is so sad. I loved going here as a kid!

    PS – It should be “could’ve” or “could have”, not “could of”, in this sentence: “…especially around Antioch and Waukegan, who could of probably used them.”

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  8. I worked at the Shoe Store and my brother worked at Turn Style. Enjoyed many movies at the Mall. Big Boy was still there in the corner. Don’t forget Golden Bear across the street to the north and Howard Johnson’s Restaurant across to the east.
    So many changes in this area. Lots of good memories. Thanks for the stroll back in time

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    1. Have to stop at Big Boy in Ann Arbor when I visit Michigan..resented Applebee’s going there think it was….Golden Bear mention!!..Hardcore Deerfield knowledge..you ROCK sir

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  9. Thank you for this great piece. Are the general cinema bathrooms still intact? The women’s room stalls had a sink in each one. Never seen anything like it before or since.

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  10. Wow, I grew up in Northbrook and watched the 1st Star Wars movie A New Hope Episode IV at General Cinemas. I remember the place well. After Northbrook Court opened, Deerbrook Mall became the “discount” and lower tier mall and never recovered.

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  11. I spent quite a lot of time at Deerbrook Mall. I remember going to Blockbuster Video and having the “kids,” now 25 and 20, play in the playground while we searched for movies. Later, there was also a play land for kids in the mall–I’ve forgotten the name. We went there on many a cold, winter day…

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  12. We moved to Northbrook in ’77, when I was 3, so my family was around for the early decline of the mall. I remember those fountains, and the sunken seating areas, which made me wonder if Deerbrook had something in common with the construction of the Edens I theater on Skokie Blvd, which also had sunken seating areas in the lobby. I remember that fountain, I hope someone took it who’d appreciate that kind of thing.

    I got my first glasses and contacts at Uhlemann Optical, which had previously been called the Wizard of Eyes. I got a couple of watches at Service Merchandise, I remember filing the order for one of them on the computer terminals they’d just deployed. (Better: File orders for large things you didn’t intend to buy, under fake names, just to watch them come down the delivery chute to the pickup area!) The Boston Market location was long occupied by Buffo’s, which advertised during the last few years of televised Blackhawks games during the Bill Wirtz era. Meals came served on large blue metal pans, with thick steak fries. That little hole-in-the-wall hot dog stand lasted forever. How many name changes did it have?

    I was of course one of thousands who got their license at that SoS office after the Service Merchandise closed. Bonus: It was one of the few locations open on Mondays.

    We tried to see The Muppet Movie at that theater three times. The power failed the first time. The air conditioning failed the second time. My sister’s stomach failed the third time, right in the middle of “America the Beautiful”. We finally saw it someplace else.

    The Blockbuster Video wasn’t the first location in the area. It was preceded by a couple of years by the one at 83 and Lake Cook Rd in Buffalo Grove. (There was an Irving’s in that strip mall, on the end near the Jewel.) Before the location opened in downtown Northbrook, you’d run into EVERYBODY you knew there on a Friday or Saturday.

    The Metra station didn’t help Deerbrook… that didn’t open until January of 1996, when Deerbrook and neighboring Lake-Cook Plaza were well into decline.

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      1. Yes. That was a project involving the Transit Management Group involving Northbrook and Deerfield. Around 1996, there was a temporary station, which was later replaced with the permanent one.

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  13. Moved to Highland Park in 67 and remember the rise of that area. I helped open the Montgomery Wards store in around 71 if I recall. Hung out at the Golden Bear on weekends with friends my first college year(71-72). Moved from Illinois in 81. Parents are now gone no reason to return, but the memories are still sweet.

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  14. I grew up less than a mile from Deerbrook Mall and was about 6 when it opened, so it was definitely my “go-to” mall. Walked there many times, often to Osco or Turnstyle for candy or comic books or trading cards growning up. Worked at Osco in my teen years (mid-80’s). Many memories! Thanks for the memories!

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  15. I literally think one of the back side doors of Deerbrook Mall was in the opening scene in Fargo . Can anyone put this idea to rest for me after 35 years .

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  16. There are companies that deal in used seats. If those are in decent condition and it looks like they are, whoever would have the authority whether the owner or the demo people ought to call one in and sell them for so many dollars a seat. Maybe this will be done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dust aside, they were in great shape. I did notice the first few rows were gone – not sure if they went before demo or if the contractors took them out – but either way I have little faith the rest were salvaged, as I saw mangled piles of them where the adjacent auditoriums once stood. The mall is pretty much gone, now.

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  17. Sigh – another part of childhood dead. I grew up in Skokie but came to Deerbrook regularly. I recall last being at the theater as an early 20’s punk for Bill and Ted’s adventure in 1989 or 1990 among many other times.

    More recently I’ve lived in Deerfield for the past 15 years and watch exasperated year in and year out as this former landmark whimpers along. I hope something decent emerges, finally. I saw the same sadness in the old purple hotel in Lincolnwood.

    Nice pictures.

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  18. So sad I grew up in Northbrook and used to go to Deerbrook Mall all the time our parents used to drop us off at the movies there also remember Fannie Mae and couple stores that were in there, I also remember getting my hair done at a fancy Salon in Deerbrook Mall I can’t remember the name though looks so strange all vacant

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  19. Rachel Kodner – the salon was Connie Pagano’s. It was directly across from Guido’s Italian Restaurant, and many of the Hairdressers would come to Guido’s after work. They were the best customers and great tippers!

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  20. I just drove by the newly built Jewel store, and noticed the middle of Deerbrook Mail was being Torn out! I wish i thought to take extra pictures like this site. I used to see movies in the mid-80’s in fact my old classmate from High-school was watching a film(Mannequin!) pretty sure the back exit door was propped open and some of the “Bulls” players came in after Training at the Multi-Plex center next to the Bally’s Bowling center. Anyway my friend was trying to open up a giant bag of Skittles and poured it all down the inclined floor!! LoL…hysterical! I believe we saw MJ with the players that night so it was probably 1987 at the movies. Also in 1986 there was a Push-cart shop or Booth outside the movie theatre entrance were people could “Record A Song” on cassettte tapes, i have about 8 tapes that friends sang to Popular Rock songs.

    My relatives used to shop and eat at Kuhn’s Deli and of course Service Merchandise. I got my first Drivers Exam and License at Secretary of State also in Deerfield Mail.

    Nice memories, it was great to go to while it lasted so now I hope the Mall bounces back again with new Tenant in 2017!!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. What an awesome post! You’re my hero! I grew up in Deerfield in the late 60’s and 70’s and loved Deerbrook Mall. Many, many memories. And thank God you posted a layout with the list of tenants. My memory is now at ease. Your “after” photos are terrific, too.

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