Photo by Dermot Connolly
The lights were on but the doors were locked as passerby peered inside the empty Carson’s store in the Chicago Ridge Mall on the evening of Aug. 29. Carson’s officially closed that day at 5 p.m.
By Joe Boyle
The doors have officially closed for the final time at Carson’s and the mayors of Chicago Ridge and Evergreen Park are awaiting word on what will replace the onetime iconic retail stores in their villages.
“We’ve had a sit-down meeting just a couple weeks ago with managers of the mall,” said Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar on Friday. “Although they did not want to share specific names, they have been in contact with eight to a dozen businesses who may want to locate at where Carson’s was. They would love to fill the whole thing with one business, but that is not likely.”
Tokar added that it would be difficult to draw one business to fill the shuttered Carson’s, which is located at the south end of the Chicago Ridge Mall, 9500 S. Ridgeland Ave., due to its size. The two-floor structure is 150,000 square feet and might be best suited for lease to several businesses, Tokar added. However, he is confident that Starwood Retail Partners, managers of the mall and 30 others across the country including the Louis Joliet Mall, will be able to find tenants.
In the interim, Spirit Halloween will open a seasonal retail shop on the first floor of the closed Carson’s at the Chicago Ridge Mall. The seasonal retailer will remain open until Halloween.
Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton has similar concerns under different circumstances. A new state-of-the-art Carson’s opened in September 2016 with great fanfare at 9700 S. Western Ave. The store was going to be the anchor of the new outdoor Plaza. A large crowd attended the grand opening and business continued to be brisk, according to Sexton.
Even when the parent company, Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. from Milwaukee, filed for bankruptcy protection in February, Sexton was confident that Carson’s would remain open because the store was making money. But a bankruptcy judge on April 18 approved the sale of Bon-Ton’s assets, which includes Carson’s, to two liquidation firms after the retailer could not find someone to keep the department store open.
Suddenly, both Tokar and Sexton were informed that despite the fact the two stores were profitable, they were going to close by the end of the summer. Both Carson’s stores closed on Aug. 29. Sexton said that conversations continue with the managers of the new Plaza, Lormax Stern Development Company, from Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
“They are still working on it,” Sexton said on Tuesday. “They are a business and they are trying to get the best deal. And we are looking out for the best deal for Evergreen Park. We are just going to find out what’s the best for everyone somewhere in between.”
Carson’s history in the Chicago area market dates back 164 years. Carson’s became a fixture at the old Plaza back in 1964. The old structure was torn several months after the new Carson’s opened. The now closed Carson’s is 120,470 square feet.
Sexton did not have much to add to a published report that Carson’s would reopen in some fashion. The information on Carson’s website was vague and no one responded to email messages or phone calls.
“I don’t know what that’s about,” Sexton said. “I assume they are talking about online. They haven’t indicated to me that they were going to come back here.”
The doors were locked at Carson’s in Chicago Ridge Mall on Friday morning. Some shoppers walked by and peered through the locked glass doors. One person walked by and just shook her head. Judy from Oak Lawn, as she preferred to be called, said she walks through the mall before most of the stores open to get her daily exercise. She said it is sad to see Carson’s close.
“Oh yeah, this is sad,” said Judy, 79. “This was always the spot to be. They always had great clothes and their linens were great, too. We came here all the time. I liked the men’s clothing. You could get everything here. I’ve talked to a lot of people and they don’t know what they will do. Where are they going to shop?”
Apparently, many shoppers are going online to purchase their goods with Amazon, taking a lot of business away from brick-and-mortar stores like Carson’s, Kmart and Sears.
“Everything is changing,” said Judy.
A woman who only said she was a representative of company management was taking a series of photos just outside Carson’s Friday in Evergreen Park. She looked at the two-story building for a couple of moments before walking away. She said she wanted to just take a few last photos.
“I guess I will just cry a little bit on the inside now,” she said.
Tokar said the official closing is a little depressing, but they will have to move on.
“This is tough because we have to look at our budget for next year,” the Chicago Ridge mayor said. “It was a great store. It’s definitely going to be a challenge, but I’m optimistic. But we had other stores who picked up like Kohl’s and a few others.
“I’d like to see a furniture store or a sporting goods store go in there,” Tokar said about possible replacements for Carson’s. “There’s a lot of things we can do.”