CherryVale Mall turns 50

By Lynne Conner for Chronicle Media

Appearing at the mall’s 50th anniversary celebration on Oct. 14 are (from left) Winnebago County Board Chairman Joseph Chiarelli, Winnebago County
Board District 11 Rep. Kevin McCarthy and CherryVale Mall general manager Justin
Shea. Shea is holding a proclamation from Winnebago County. (Photo by Lynne Conner/for Chronicle Media)

Easy online shopping may cast a powerful lure these days, but CherryVale Mall continues to thrive with an in-person experience as it celebrates 50 years as the Rockford region’s premier retail destination.

Successful adaptation through changes in tenants and customer habits have helped the now 850,000-square-foot, two-story property maintain its edge.

“CherryVale Mall has continued to evolve over the past 50 years to provide our community with unique retail, dining and entertainment experiences,” said Justin Shea, CherryVale’s general manager. “Whether it’s shopping The District, the varied flavors found at our food court or the many family friendly activities at the mall, CherryVale has something for everyone.”

According to mall owner CBL Properties, CherryVale currently features 110 stores and has attracted more than 4.5 million visitors in 2022.

Located at U.S. Route 20 and Interstate 90, CherryVale sits at the eastern edge of Winnebago County within the village limits of Cherry Valley.

It is the largest shopping mall in northern Illinois outside of the Chicago metropolitan area. It opened in 1973 with two anchor stores, Marshall Field & Company (currently Macy’s) and Sears (currently Tilted 10 and Tilt Studio). A free-standing theater complex positioned east of the mall operated from 1975 to 1999.

President Gerald R. Ford made a campaign swing through CherryVale Mall during his
1976 election campaign. (Cherry Vale Mall photo)

CherryVale has undergone numerous changes during the past 50 years, including adding a third anchor store, H.C. Prange (currently Galleria Furniture and Mattress), a food court in 1989 and a fourth anchor store — JCPenney — in 2004.

In the early 2000s, CherryVale added a fifth anchor, Barnes & Noble Booksellers and The District at CherryVale, an upscale retail space adjacent to the mall. Zales Jewelers has been the longest-operating retail tenant at CherryVale Mall since opening in the late 1970s.

Shea said that the mall prides itself on having a 100 percent restaurant occupancy in its food court, which allows CherryVale to offer a “more diverse food concept for our customers.” Additionally, Shea noted that local business owners operate 40 percent of all retail spaces at the mall.

Sponsoring community events, past and present, is another way CherryVale Mall continues to serve the Rockford region.

Girls Scouts prepare a table outside a store in the 1980s. CherryVale Mall has been
active in community and event sponsorship over the years. The facility has a Rockford
Park District play area and has hosted fashion shows, telethons for nonprofits and car
shows among many events. (Photo courtesy Lynne Conner)

“Since 2007, the Rockford Park District has maintained a fun and safe play area for children where families can take a break while visiting the mall,” Shea said. “We are also happy to offer our monthly GQ vendor show and promote our Police Weekend, which has been held at CherryVale for over 35 years.” The mall has also hosted fashion shows, telethons for nonprofit organizations and car shows.

Among notable past events at CherryVale was in 1976 when then-President Gerald Ford made a campaign stop, which drew more than 3,000 people. Kids of all ages watched in awe as Santa Claus arrived for the Christmas season during the mid-1970s via a helicopter that landed in the mall’s parking lot. Between 1976 and 1982, mall patrons could literally “follow the yellow brick road” to see live broadcasts from WYBR FM 105 radio, housed at the end of rainbow arches on the mall’s lower level.

The Rockford area also once had three other indoor malls: Colonial Village, North Town and Machesney Park Mall. All have since closed. North Town and Colonial Village opened Before CherryVale. And Machesney Park Mall opened in the late 1970s and was operational until around 2003.

CherryVale Mall’s ability to adapt to changing consumer trends is precisely what drives the mall forward with optimism and confidence.

Zales Jewelers has been the longest-operating retail tenant at CherryVale Mall since opening in the late 1970s. (Cherry Vale Mall photo)


“In this age of online shopping, what sets CherryVale apart is our commitment to the community and our ability to offer a more personalized shopping experience,” Shea said. “While many of our retailers have an online presence, our shoppers tell us that they value the ability to browse merchandise and try on clothing without the hassle of mailing items back.

“We have added Tilt Studio, Tilted 10 and Tilted 10 Restaurant & Bar, a 120,000-square-foot family entertainment and Hyper bowling center as a way to bring back business post-COVID-19 and present a competitive entertainment venue for the community,” Shea said.

Through CherryVale’s five-decade history, Shea credits the community’s commitment as a main factor for the mall’s success.

“We could not have come this far without our valued customers, past, present, and future along with our retail tenants who have provided the Rockford area with a diverse selection of shopping and dining experiences.”