CherryVale Mall looks to fun, games and food to help fill empty anchor space

By Jack McCarthy Chronicle Media


The continued implosion of Sears and last year’s closures of Bon-Ton stores like Carson’s and Bergner’s has resulted in going-out-of-business sales and empty anchor space throughout Illinois and the nation. Rockford’s CherryVale Mall hopes it has a solution as a Texas-based company plans to fill the vacant Sears space with a family oriented entertainment center. (Photo By Jack McCarthy / Chronicle Media)

Could fun, games and food be a way to fill gaping holes in retail shopping malls?

CherryVale Mall officials believe that’s a possible solution as a two-level entertainment complex takes over a 121,000-square-foot anchor site left vacant when Sears closed its Rockford area department store earlier this year.

Nickels and Dimes Inc., a Texas-based entertainment firm, announced Friday it would create a family oriented venue featuring arcade games and other attractions, chef-crafted food and drinks as well as party and corporate meeting space.

The development comes as major retailers are closing outlets and other large and midsize operations are retrenching as shopping patterns change, including rapidly growing online purchasing through Amazon and others.

“Retail is in the midst of a profound transformation and CherryVale Mall is evolving with it,” said Melissa Cavanagh, mall marketing director during a press conference in front of the shuttered Sears store. “We’re working to attract new uses for our property and the addition of this new tenant is an excellent example of the shift we’re seeing in the retail industry.

“We’re working to provide the best place for you to shop, dine and play,” she said.

As CherryVale’s proposed entertainment options reflects the changing nature of shopping malls, it also could offer a potential template for other centers to fill empty space.

According to its website, Tilt operates 20 amusement centers around the country, including a site in north suburban Gurnee. CherryVale would be the largest for the company, which was founded in 1972 and got its start operating storefront arcades.

The former Sears space will be divided between two concepts — Tilt Studio and Tilt Ten. Both are positioned midway between the child-focused Chuck E Cheese and adult-oriented Dave and Buster’s arcade, sports bar and restaurant franchises.

“We offer a family environment,” said Kevin Jordan, Nickels and Dimes senior vice president of operations. “We are not a teen hangout, we want mom and dad to be there with them. … We are after Chuck E Cheese and before Dave and Buster’s, that’s our market.”

Kevin Jordan, senior vice president of operations for Texas-based Nickels and Dimes Inc., speaks in front of the shuttered former Sears store at CherryVale Mall Friday about plans to convert the space into a two-level entertainment complex. (Photo by Jack McCarthy / Chronicle Media)

According to plans described last week, Tilt Studio will occupy the lower level and feature multi-level laser tag, black-light miniature golf, bumper cars, simulated racing and more than 100 games and activities plus party and meeting space.

On the second level, the adult-focused Tilt Ten will feature a full sit-down restaurant and bar, a 12-lane bowling alley, party and group meeting rooms plus 100 games and activities.

Projected as an entertainment destination, the complex is also seen as a traffic generator for the rest of the 1 million-square-foot mall.

“There are a lot of winners here,” said Einar Forsman, Rockford Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “Obviously the mall and other shops, the village of Cherry Valley, our broader region. … It’s going to bring value and visitors to Rockford and the larger region to be here at the mall and take advantage of all that they have.”

Construction is expected to begin in coming weeks with a grand opening in early 2020. But Jordan said it’s possible to have it open by late this year.

The company doesn’t plan to stop at CherryVale, but Jordan wasn’t ready to single out any potential markets in Illinois or elsewhere.

“We are always looking, we are continuously looking at new locations,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to do another one until this one’s up and running. It could be mid-next year before we could actively start looking.”

The addition of Tilt Studios/Tilt Ten fills the second of two empty CherryVale retail spaces.

Choice Furniture opened a 64,000-square-foot showroom on the lower level of the former Bergner’s store late last year. The Rockford-based company also plans to develop the store’s upper level but hasn’t revealed plans or a timetable.

Macy’s and JC Penney occupy CherryVale’s other anchor spaces.

“Obviously there’s a real demand for this marketplace and for this mall because in a very short period of time we have filled two department store locations,” said Mark Peterson, CherryVale general manager.

CherryVale is owned and managed by CBL & Associates Properties of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Other CBL properties in Illinois include Bloomington’s Eastland Mall, Hickory Point Mall in Forsyth and two properties in downstate Fairview Heights.

The CBL properties and other malls around the state and nation have plenty of space to fill.

In Illinois, for example, the Fox Valley Mall in Aurora lost anchors Sears and Carson’s in the past year. Sears also closed its Joliet anchor, a recently rebuilt Oak Brook store and the company no longer has a presence in Chicago, the city of its birth.

Downstate communities have also been hard hit. Eastland Mall in Bloomington saw closures by Bergner’s and Sears. Bergner’s stores in Peoria and Pekin were also shuttered.  Sears remains open at Peoria’s Northwoods Mall.

Sears, an original tenant when CherryVale opened in 1973, shut down earlier this year as part of a wave of 80 planned closures announced late in 2018.

Bon-Ton, Bergner’s parent company, filed for bankruptcy protection in early 2018 and eventually liquidated all 256 stories including Carson’s, a Chicago area retail fixture since 1854.

New owners have recreated a Carson’s online presence and reopened a retail store in Chicago’s southwest suburbs.