Photo by Joe Boyle
The parking lot is mostly full Sunday afternoon at Carson’s in the Chicago Ridge Mall. Management is considering ideas about how to fill Carson’s when it closes after August.
The Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling last Thursday will allow Illinois to collect taxes on items purchased online can’t come any sooner for two local mayors who have been increasingly worried about the state of brick-and-mortar stores in their southwest suburban communities.
“I think it is a fantastic decision,” said Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar. “We are living in changing times. Who could have predicted the enormous rate of online shopping in just the past 10 years that has taken place? Everything has changed.”
Bon-Ton Stores, which was the current parent company of Carson’s, filed for bankruptcy protection in February. But Tokar and Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton, who saw the opening of the new Carson’s as the anchor of the new outdoor Plaza in September 2016, believed the stores would remain open because they both were making money.
But a bankruptcy judge on April 18 approved the sale of Bon-Ton’s assets, which included Carson’s, to two liquidation firms after the retailer could not find someone to keep the department store open.
Both mayors were taken aback by the news and each said that it was imperative that the Supreme Court start looking out for brick-and mortar stores. The Illinois provision goes into effect Oct. 1 and compares to the South Dakota law that the Supreme Court decision is based on.
The Supreme Court ruling overturns earlier decisions that said retailers could not be forced to collect sales taxes in states where they do not have a physical presence. However, consumers have been making online purchases in greater numbers at reduced rates in comparison to brick-and-mortar stores. The two mayors said the online operations had an unfair advantage over once iconic facilities who have to pay state sales taxes.
The court ruling will result in online companies providing up to $200 million more a year for the state, according to the Illinois Department of Revenue.
“I think it is great,” Sexton said about the new law. “I’d like to see it bring more revenue to the state and bring more money to the village. Anything that can help our brick-and-mortar stores I’m all for.”
The parking lot was mostly full in front of Carson’s at 9700 S. Western Ave. in Evergreen Park on Sunday afternoon. The parking lot was also nearly full at Carson’s located at the south end of the Chicago Ridge Mall the same day. Both stores had large orange signs attached to the wall of the buildings indicating they are going out of business. Items were priced 50 to 70 percent off. Employees at both facilities said the stores will continue to operate through August.
Tokar said that discussions have taken place with Chicago Ridge Mall management regarding the impending vacancy of Carson’s and what can be done.
“They are very well aware of the situation and they are coming up with ideas to cope with it,” Tokar said. “You have to remember that they have other malls that they run. But that is 150,000 square feet to fill and that is a boatload of space for one user.”
The Chicago Ridge mayor said the most likely scenario could be two or three businesses taking up residence in the Carson’s store.
However, Sexton is confident that a new tenant will replace Carson’s at the new Plaza. He said they have an offer and time will tell if it will take place.
“The contract has been sent out and we are just waiting to hear from them,” Sexton said. “I can’t say any more than that other than it is a major retailer and they would fill both floors.”
Despite Carson’s eventual departure, Sexton is delighted with the series of stores that have opened up at the new outdoor Plaza. Rally House is the latest to open. Bed Bath & Beyond and Burlington also recently opened. Sexton said that Whole Foods will be joining them.
“Hopefully, they will be opening in January,” Sexton said about Whole Foods.
And he emphasized that a replacement will be found for Carson’s.
“As far as it goes right now, we don’t expect it to stay vacant very long,” Sexton said.
Tokar said that even with the new law that will require online businesses to pay taxes whether they have a physical presence in the state or not, Chicago Ridge Mall management is coming up with ideas to draw more adults, teens and youngsters.
“We used to go to the mall and shop and then go home,” Tokar said. “Well, why not offer more entertainment to make people stay? They are reconfiguring the food court, for instance. It’s a hard time, it really is. I know they are working really hard on it.”