Lincoln Mall; A Mall On Life Support

Lincoln Mall is located at Lincoln Highway (US 30) & Cicero (Route 50), in south suburban Matteson and its the story of many local malls that have fallen on hard times. But with Lincoln Mall many mistakes were made along the way.

Lincoln Mall is an indoor mall that opened in 1973 and was the first of the far south suburban malls past Evergreen Plaza (now simply called the Plaza), Ford City. and long shutterd Dixie Square Mall (best known for being wrecked in the first Blues Brothers movie in 1980 but it was already closed for a year by then), Lincoln Mall predated fellow south suburban malls River Oaks in Calumet City (initially an outdoor mall later changed to an indoor mall), and Orland Square Mall in Orland Park.

Unlike Orland Square, Lincoln Mall sits on an interstate (I-57), and seemed to be reachable from any south suburban location. Its original anchor stores were Carsons (the only store still there), Wiebolts (which closed in 1986 and is now Sears which is closing, more on that later), Montgomery Ward (where I worked in the mid 90’s and closed in 1999), and JC Penney (which closed in 2000 and opened a free standing store across the street).

Today the Carsons is a thriving store that seems to be in its own little world from the vacancy that defines the mall today. The Sears opened in September of 1995 and gave a boost to the mall after having the vacant Wiebolts for 9 years but I was working at Montgomery Wards at the time and the energy (and some employees), that went into that Sears came from Wards. Not to mention that Sears was originally from neighboring Park Forest and their newly shuttered Park Forest Plaza Mall (which also had a Marshall Fields), and little did any of us know that Lincoln Mall would suffer like Park Forest Plaza’s later on.

Having worked at Lincoln Mall from August of 1995 to August of 1997 (at Montgomery Ward), I got to see its flaws daily and real beginning of its decline. The first thing was that the mall was not a destination for the ideal customer that retail developements desire, the middle aged & middle class shopper. One reason for that was the mall lacked a true food court. In the 90’s there was a full service McDonalds within the mall and several other food options (Orange Julius, Athen’s Gyros, Aunt Annies’, The Original Cookie Factory, Dunkin Donuts & Gloria Jean’s Coffee), but they were scattered throughout the four wings of the mall and no central shared seating area. Outside of the mall (adjacent in the parking lots but across Mall Drive), there was a Pizza Hut, Bakers Square & a KFC at the Mall’s furtherst US 30 entrance. The Bakers Square has since closed.

Also the movie theater was not attached to the mall, it was a small 3 or 4 theater cinema also across mall drive from Montgomery Ward and was not technologically advanced and since has been demolished for a free standing Target store.

The other big issue at the mall was security or the lack there of. During my mid 90’s days there was a Pace bus that came up and down US 30 from Chicago & Ford Heights (to the east of the mall), and though it was convienent to get employees to the mall, it also brought in a crime element and had issues, both on the bus, around the bus stop at the mall’s main entrance and cars were vandalized and or stolen and the mall security was not on top of things. I remember a co-workers car being stolen one week night evening and security not knowing anything about it. My own car was severely hit one Saturday night in the mall parking lot and again mall security was clueless.

Though Montgomery Ward has its own interior security (they were “LP”, Loss Prevention agents), and did a great job within the store, often incidents would happen in the mall and subjects would run into Wards being chased by mall security and since Wards was designed with way too many exterior doors for any practical use, it wwas tough to contain these issues. I worked at the Gold N Gem’s, fine jewelry counter and being on the 2nd floor near the mall entrance we could see problems coming literally.

Eventually Matteson police would make regular patrols in the mall to keep things in line but by then the mall had a reputation in the community of “having issues & drama”  and during the day it seemed like any other mall in any regular suburb but at night it became a hang out for various teenagers and the desired customers stayed away in droves. It hurt business at Wards and I’m sure other stores felt the lack of business as well.

In 2007 the mall started on a ambitious rebuilding plan that including tearing down the vacant JC Penney & Wards stores and having several new adjacent but free standing stores & resturants along Mall Drive. To their credit a Target & JC Penney were built across Mall Drive and opened in 2008 but nothing else from that developement ever happened. In fact part of the old Wards was demolished but left half done allegedy due to financial issues. It was so bad there was plastic blowing in the wind and it resembeled the old 2nd floor deck from the electronics & applicances “Big Ticket” department. We used to have cookouts on out there on the summer holidays. It was a shame to see it. Finally in 2010 that section was demolished as well after it was noted in the Southtown Star about the hazards of the exposed building.

The latest issue with the mall is that it was up for auction this past Friday June 1, 2012 for an outstanding balance Due $38,679,999, I assume for the failed development and the mall was put up as collateral. No word of who (if anyone), won the auction but Sears is in the process of closing their store (currently sales of 30-50% and arrangements can be made to buy the store fixtures), and this sale should wrap up in a few weeks. Sears stated they are closing this location because with the change of ownership they were unsure if they could maintain their store the way they want to.

I walked through the mall on Saturday June 2nd at mid afternoon when most malls are busy and you can see from the pictures (I took these on my recent visit), this mall is dead except for a few shoppers. The technical term “dead mall” refers to any mall with high vacancy and low traffic, also the term “greyfield” is used for these failing developments. Lincoln Mall is noted on the interesting website as well as which lists various malls that are nearly vacant or on life support like Lincoln Mall.

Hopefully new ownership can make something out of this once promising mall.

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