Goodbye Lincoln Mall

On Saturday November 29th, I came to see Lincoln Mall one last time.

As you may have heard the venerable south suburban mall on US 30 & Cicero Ave in Matteson is supposedly going to close to for good right after the first of the year. Now in the past few years this former bustling shopping center has died a slow death with stores closing, customers avoiding it, court cases and a decaying infrastructure.

Its just a sad story because many of us grew up going to the mall and later working there and now its truly a “dead mall”. I mean its “Black Friday Weekend” when I took these pictures, where you can’t get a parking spot at any other mall and here it looks like the place is closed.

I started working at the Lincoln Mall in August of 1995 for Montgomery Ward, which was one of the original anchor stores (the others were JC Penney, Carsons & Wiebolts), but Wards closed in the spring of 1999 and I had left in August of 1997. It was apparent then that Wards and the mall had seen better days.

The mall suffered its first loss with the closing of Wiebolts in 1986 but bounced back when Sears (previously at the Park Forest mall), relocated to Lincoln Mall in the fall of 1995. I was working in the mall then and quite a few Montgomery Wards employees left to work at Sears. It was a bright, new store and big boost to the mall with traffic and employees.

But soon after that the mall had declining customers due to the lack of a food court, security issues and competition from other shopping malls. In the evenings the mall became a hang out for young people from Chicago Heights and there was multiple incidents. Cars were stolen and or damaged and security had no clue and I know this personally as a co-workers car was stolen one night and no one knew anything. And my own vehicle was virtually “T boned” and again security was clueless.

Not to mention mall security often would chase a suspect into Wards and then Wards security (“Loss Prevention”), would have to deal with it. It got to the point where Matteson’s police force would patrol the mall but it seemed to be too late then. Even with the addition of Old Navy and a few other stores, traffic was down, Wards was struggling financially to the point of filing for bankruptcy protection in the summer of 1997.

Not to mention during this time River Oaks Mall to the east in Calumet City became enclosed and went through an extensive renovation and the always superior Orland Square Mall to the west in Orland Park also went through a significant renovation and the Orland area was booming with new and better stores.

It wasn’t uncommon for a Lincoln Mall store to not have a product and the Orland Mall store to have it in stock. In Ward’s case, often that store would sometimes be at Chicago Ridge Mall to the north or even Louis Joliet Mall to the far west.

Plus Lincoln Mall never had a designated food court. Yeah I know we all kid about food courts and the food that’s in them but its awfully convenient and that was something Lincoln Mall always lacked.

During my time in the mid 90’s your options were a full service McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Sbarro’s, Orange Julius, Gloria Jean’s coffee, A Cookie place, Aunt Annie’s pretzels, Cinnabon and my favorite Athen’s Gyros. None of which were within six or seven doors of each other. And only Athens, Orange Julius & McDonalds had seating inside of their establishments, the rest were chairs in common areas or you took it with you.

Think that doesn’t matter? As workers we often left to eat which took time and for customers if you leave to eat, I bet you are not coming back to shop some more. It takes its toll on having people in the mall.

And as the mall went down so did the surrounding businesses. The movie theater (across Mall Drive), closed in the late 90’s and became a stand alone JCPenney (who left the mall), and  a new Target also set up shop across the street. The nearby Best Buy closed, so did Bally’s gym, Hostess day old bread store & Bakers Square.

As you can see in my pictures, the mall is barren of stores, customers and life, it has the feel of a creepy movie though Halloween is over. The parking lot is an unpatched, minefield that resembles a third world country.

Have you ever seen History Channel’s “Life After People”? That’s what this looks like, just vacant stores, empty hallways, its eerie and honestly needs to close. I took pictures all over the place, pointed out what “used to be here” to my wife even as bystanders watched and not a security guard in sight. An empty security SUV was outside but safety has to be a thought in this place, especially since I know this mall’s history.

I know more the more trendy shopping areas now is a “Lifestyle Center” like Bolingbrook’s Promenade. An outdoor, town like feel with many options for stores, eating and even events like concerts & farmers markets.

Lincoln Mall just didn’t change with the times and had a run of bad luck with stores that went out of business or just moved on to other locations. And management simply didn’t keep up to date and make this a “destination” like Orland Mall.

The old Marshall Fields was in the old mall in Park Forest like Sears was but never relocated to Lincoln Mall.

So with many other things that didn’t stand the test of time well, the mall will close in over a month, hopefully the land will be reused well and new business can come in and rejuvenate the area.

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