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.
History: 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.
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.
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 The mall was expanded partially into this space (housing a huge Blockbuster Video), but the mall expansion was retracted when SportMart relocated to that area.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.
A 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.
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 lookThe 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.
The 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 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 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.
Deerbrook 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.
Scrounging 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.
Per 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!