Since the early 1970s Jim Claeyssen has had a unique perspective on the development and growth of CherryVale Mall, the Rockford region’s prime shopping destination.
“I remember riding my bicycle to the top of the hill on West State St. in Cherry Valley and looking across to see the mall being built,” he said. “As a teenager I came here, like all the other teenagers did. … (Later), my kids came to see Santa here.”
Now mayor of Cherry Valley, the mall’s host community, Claeyssen marveled at the passage of time and the development of the mall during a 45th anniversary observance last Friday.
“The mall is one of our biggest assets in the Rock River Valley area,” he said. “It’s a community gathering place and it’s exciting to see the changes over the years.”
CherryVale marked the milestone with a series of events, games and treats, including a giant cookie that was cut into pieces and offered to shoppers.
The 850,000 square-foot-mall is located on 233 acres southeast of Rockford, with convenient access from Interstates 90 and 39 and U.S. Route 20.
“You can’t be a mall these days without a great regional presence, which means regional access,” said Mark Peterson, CherryVale general manager for nearly 27 years. “In our case, we serve Rockford and Belvidere and surrounding communities very well. But if you live in Freeport, DeKalb or Janesville, or you name it, you can get here in a half-hour or 40 minutes because of the great roadways that are here. The junction of those roadways serves us well.”
It opened in late 1973 as the Mall at CherryVale with a two-story Sears and Marshall Field’s as initial anchors.
“When this mall was developed it was literally a field, it was on the far-flung edges of the greater Rockford area,” said Peterson. “CherryVale opened with all of 17 stores, but was a drop in the bucket for what this mall could be.”
Growth came quickly as businesses filled retail spaces. And there were more changes to come.
A food court, then a cutting-edge concept, was added in 1989 and the mall underwent a full-scale remodeling in 2004. An adjacent upscale lifestyle space — The District of CherryVale — was constructed in 2007.
Today, the mall features around 140 stores including original anchor Sears and Macy’s, which purchased Marshall Field’s and changed names in 2005. JCPenney was added as a fourth anchor in 2004.
One defunct anchor store — Bergner’s — closed early this year as part of corporate parent Bon-Ton’s bankruptcy. Peterson promises an announcement “very soon” regarding development of that space.
“We’re here to add to the quality of life in the greater Rockford area,” Peterson said. “There are many different components to the quality of life and shopping is certainly a key component of that and the greater Rockford area deserves a very good shopping center.
“That’s what we’re working very hard to be — today, over the last 45 years and many decades to come.”
—- At 45, Rockford’s CherryVale Mall changes with times —-