Home Issues May / June 2024 Issue Still Going Strong: Oakbrook Center continues to thrive, as more malls close

Still Going Strong: Oakbrook Center continues to thrive, as more malls close


By Chuck Fieldman

The roster of Chicago area shopping malls continued to get smaller recently with the March closing of 44-year-old Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee/Carpentersville and the April shutting down of the 43-year-old Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale.

The challenges of successfully operating most any retail business, including shopping malls and the stores within, have become even greater in recent years, with the boom of online shopping. And the COVID 19 pandemic, which began about four years ago, only created more obstacles to retail success.
But Oakbrook Center, which opened in 1962, continues to be a very strong presence in the retail and restaurant world and a major presence in the western suburbs.

“Not only does Oakbrook Center continue to thrive, it has become the region’s destination of choice for best in class retail, dining and entertainment,” said Serge Khalimsky, Oakbrook Center’s senior general manager.
“Since 1962, Oakbrook Center has evolved with our community, and we purposefully curate the best experience for our guests. That’s what keeps us so strong. Right now, we offer luxury, first-to-market physical locations of digitally native brands, entertainment concepts, state-of-the-art fitness (Life Time Fitness), and home furnishings (Restoration Hardware). When brands, experiences, or restaurants want a presence in Chicago, they want to be here.”

Oak Brook Village President Larry Herman, who grew up in the village, said the success of Oakbrook Center is not by accident or luck. “The mall and commercial sector were thoughtfully conceived and located by Oak Brook founder Paul Butler, sitting at the crossroads of some of Chicago’s major thoroughfares,” Herman said. “In its early days, the mall was more oriented to everyday living needs, including not only department stores like Marshall Fields and Sears but even a Jewel grocery store. It drew most of its customers from the immediate surrounding suburbs. I recall in the 1970s going to the mall to get a haircut, have shoes repaired, and purchase hardware.”

Herman said that in recent years, as many of the traditional department stores have closed, Oakbrook Center has become a decidedly more upscale shopping area, with many exclusive stores not found elsewhere in the Chicago area.

“Coupled with a burgeoning dining scene, the mall is now drawing customers from much farther distances for its unique experience,” he said. “We are also seeing increased traffic from those who previously would shop in Chicago but prefer the relative safety and convenience of Oak Brook — not to mention the ample free parking.”
While some outdoor malls in the Chicago area were later enclosed, Oakbrook Center has maintained its outdoor presence, something that has worked out just fine for its owner.

“At Brookfield Properties, the demand for traditional and open-air centers is benchmarked against the pre-Covid (2019) baseline,” Khalimsky said. “We are currently surpassing those 2019 levels of success in all venues, traditional and outdoor. Our outdoor centers throughout the portfolio are thriving, and we still see solid and steady demand for traditional properties.”

Oakbrook Center has lost some of its stores along the way, including major player Sears, which closed five years ago but has managed to march on.

“While we are always sad to see a tenant leave, we see it as an opportunity to repurpose the space and offer something new to our community,” Khalimsky said. “We are in a unique position because Oakbrook Center is a place where brands want to be, and we are in constant communication with different retailers, so we can be very thoughtful about how we fill our center.”

While Brookfield Properties doesn’t share its occupancy rates, Khalimsky said Oakbrook Center is in the top tier of the company’s assets “by every metric we measure.”

While the perception of Oakbrook Center as a “high-end mall” isn’t baseless, Khalimsky said there’s more to it than that specific description. “When we say Oakbrook Center has something for everyone, we mean it,” he said. “Yes, we have a large luxury offering and higher-end dining options, but we have a wide variety of retail, dining, and entertainment at different price points.”

And while some formerly popular retail businesses, such as Sears, have gone out of business and vacated Oakbrook Center, the mall continues to be an attractive to location for many retail, entertainment, dining, and fitness, health and beauty operations.

Among the impressive roster are retailers C.D. Peacock, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Restoration Hardware, Vuori, Zara, Alo, Reformation, Psycho Bunny, and Travis Mathew; entertainment businesses Puttshack, AMC, and Sony Wonderverse; eateries Wildfire, Beatrix, Violi, The District food hall; and fitness operations LifeTime, Mario Trococi Spa, Aesop.

Khalimsky said in late March that additions expected soon at Oakbrook Center are CD Peacock Mansion, Buck Mason, Byredo, Swatch, Ichiddo Ramen, and Breitling.

Along with its impressive variety of businesses, Oakbrook Center management has done an outstanding job of offering community events that have made the mall somewhat of a gathering place in a village that doesn’t have a downtown.

The summer 2024 schedule includes weekly Movies on the Lawn, a summer music series, artisan markets, a Father’s Day car show, interactive displays, and yoga on the lawn.

As for the future of Oakbrook Center, Khalimsky said Brookfield Properties is excited.

“We are always looking for ways to evolve, whether that is leasing or development opportunities,” he said. “We really have two types of customers — our guests and our retailers. We want both to be happy, thrive, and have an excellent experience at our center. We are far more than a landlord that collects rent from tenants. We are a partner to our retailers and work with them to help them become successful. Their success is our success.” ■

A timetable of significant changes and improvements at Oakbrook Center since 2013:

2013 – 2014: Full mall common area redevelopment, including the construction of three glass pavilions and the creation of The Lawn with an 18’ x 32’ Daktronics video screen overlooking the new open space. We use The Lawn for a variety of experiences for our guests, including movie nights and art installations/experiences.

2013: Redeveloped the Bloomingdale’s Home building into The Container Store and new inline GLA.

2013: Converted the lower level of Neiman Marcus into two restaurants (Perry’s Steakhouse and Old Town Pour House).

2016: A new 12-screen AMC Theater and The District food hall were added, along with the renovation of the common area surrounding the additions.

2016: Upgraded parking decks with new lighting, color identification, and Park Assist program.

2017: Redeveloped the former Sears box to create new inline GLA and large entertainment use space. Replaced former Sears Auto Center footprint with new Lifetime Fitness.

2021: LifeTime Fitness opened (in April), RH Design Gallery opened (in September), and Puttshack opened (in November).

2021 – 2022: Completed redevelopment of former Lord & Taylor box, adding new restaurants (Piccolo Buco, Sweetgreen), entertainment (Puttshack), and retail (Arhaus).

2023: Opened Wonderverse in the former Sears box.