Eastland Mall metamorphosis points to larger retail changes

By Dave Fidlin for Chronicle Media

Now in its 51st year, Eastland Mall in Bloomington is still a shopping destination despite undergoing major changes in the past few years.

Retail-themed headlines in the first half of 2018 could, on the surface, appear grim.

So far this year, a movement some retail analysts have dubbed the “retail apocalypse” has claimed the lives of two deeply rooted companies drowning in red ink, each with stores in the Bloomington-Normal area.

Toys R Us, 1703 E. Empire St., is in the final phase of its wind-down as its parent company calls it quits. The same is true of Bergner’s, 1601 E. Empire St., whose parent company, the Bon-Ton Stores Inc., will close the doors by the end of the summer.

Sears Holdings Corp., headquartered in suburban Chicago, is in a similar precarious position, having closed hundreds of locations in recent years.

At last count, the Hoffman Estates-based retailer has about 800 locations under its namesake brand, as well as Kmart. Company management adamantly states they have adequate liquidity to maintain operations and are in it for the long haul.


Sears continues to maintain a presence locally at 1631 E. Empire St., though Kmart vanished from McLean County in late 2014 after closing its location at 1608 E. Empire St. The closest Kmart is now in Springfield.


The regionally focused Eastland Mall, which celebrated its half-century birthday a year ago, serves as a microcosm of the swift changes taking place in the current retail landscape across the U.S.

The mall, managed by Tennessee-based CBL Properties, lost two of its five department store anchors — JCPenney and Macy’s — in 2017. With Bergner’s following this year, Eastland is poised to finish 2018 with two of its five anchors still in tact: Sears and Kohl’s.

The sudden loss of multiple department stores — dubbed anchors because of the draw they historically have provided — has, in the past, spelled sudden doom for once gleaming retail properties.

Because of the widespread struggles in department stores, CBL management, however, say the remain optimistic of Eastland’s long-term health and say changes are afoot as retail property owners across the nation rethink strategies.

“It’s an exciting time for Eastland Mall,” CBL spokeswoman Stacey Keating said in an interview with the Chronicle. “There’s tremendous opportunity for continued growth through future redevelopment activity, and we’ll be excited to share more information as plans are finalized.”

One of Eastland’s two currently vacant anchor spaces is in the process of undergoing a makeover. The former JCPenney site is being subdivided for three new tenants: H&M, Planet Fitness and Outback Steakhouse.

H&M and Planet Fitness, new to the Bloomington-Normal area, are set to open late this year. The new Outback, replace an existing eatery at 1409 Veterans Parkway, is set to open in early 2019.

In a statement announcing the changes, Stephen Lebovitz, president and CEO of CBL Properties, said the subdivision of JCPenney points to the company’s commitment to reimagining spaces as consumers’ priorities shift in the modern marketplace.

Like other large shopping centers, Eastland Mall is looking to reinvent itself as traditional department stores such as Macy’s close down.

“The additions … are a perfect example of our commitment to bringing a dynamic mix of uses to our centers,” Lebovitz said in the statement. “Dining, value and fitness are increasingly in demand, and we are pleased to deliver names that not only meet this demand, but elevate the overall customer experience.”

While there are no formal announcements at the moment, Keating said CBL is actively pursuing redevelopment opportunities for the vacant Macy’s building and is pursuing a similar strategy at Bergner’s. CBL owns both anchor spaces.


Of the Macy’s site, Keating said, “It is too early to share tenant names or a concrete timeline. We’ll be excited to share more news as deals are finalized.”


Behind-the-scenes planning also is underway at the Bergner’s building, which will cease operations on or before Aug. 31, based on terms reached in Bon-Ton’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings.

“We monitored the situation with Bon-Ton very closely and have been working on contingency plans for each property impacted,” Keating said. “We will announce more details when plans are formalized.”

While the department store spaces are the more visible changes taking place at the mall, Eastland also is adding and subtracting inline tenants.

Most recently, CBL announced Hibbett Sports as a new retailer in the mall, setting up shop next to Charlotte Russe. Keating said she anticipates Hibbett opening in September.






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