Time Capsule of Retail: Discovering Belvidere Discount Mall in Waukegan, IL

The Historical Significance of Belvidere Discount Mall

Belvidere Discount Mall, nestled on Belvidere Street in Waukegan, Illinois, marked a significant chapter in retail history in the Chicago metropolitan area.

Opening its doors on November 18, 1965, it became the first enclosed shopping mall in Lake County.

This pioneering mall set the stage for a new era in shopping, introducing a concept that would become a staple in American culture.

The grand opening of Belvidere Discount Mall was a noteworthy event. With 35 stores spread over 300,000 square feet, it was not just a shopping destination but a symbol of modern consumerism.

Among its original tenants was a Montgomery Ward department store, relocated from downtown Waukegan, adding a touch of heritage to the new retail space. The mall quickly became a hub of activity, drawing shoppers from across the region.

However, the initial success of Belvidere Discount Mall faced a challenge with the opening of Lakehurst Mall in 1971. This larger, more modern shopping center overshadowed Belvidere’s fortunes.

Montgomery Ward, a key anchor store, shifted to Lakehurst in 1988, leaving a significant vacancy in Belvidere.

This move marked a turning point in the mall’s history, signaling a need for reinvention in the face of evolving retail trends.

Retail Evolution and Anchor Store Changes at Belvidere Discount Mall

In 1988, a significant shift occurred at Belvidere Discount Mall with the departure of Montgomery Ward, its main anchor store, to the newly established Lakehurst Mall.

After a prolonged vacancy, the anchor space at Belvidere Discount Mall witnessed a resurgence with Builders Square taking over in 1995.

This transition began a new chapter for the mall that would see further evolution. Around 2000, Home Depot replaced Builders Square, introducing a different retail experience to the mall’s patrons.

This change brought in a new customer base, diversifying the mall’s appeal and signaling its adaptability in the competitive retail sector.

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The changing face of Belvidere Discount Mall’s anchor stores reflects the broader trends in the retail industry.

Each transition, from Montgomery Ward to Builders Square and then to Home Depot, not only transformed the mall’s physical landscape but also its commercial identity.

These shifts illustrate the mall’s resilience and ability to navigate the retail industry’s ups and downs, remaining relevant and enduring in Waukegan’s retail scene.

Cinematic Memories at Belvidere Discount Mall

In January 1966, Belvidere Discount Mall enhanced its appeal by opening a 1,000-seat movie theater. The General Cinema Corporation operated it as a single-screen theater and later expanded to a twin-screen setup.

This theater became a beloved spot for movie enthusiasts in Waukegan, adding a significant entertainment dimension to the shopping experience.

Despite its popularity, the Belvidere movie theater faced challenges, leading to its closure in the summer of 1989.

This was partly due to the mall’s declining foot traffic and the expansion of the nearby Lakehurst Cinema.

The theater was converted into a four-screen discount cinema in 1991 to revive the space, but this resurgence was short-lived.

The theater ultimately ceased operations at the end of 2003, marking the end of an era for moviegoers in the area.

The rise and fall of the Belvidere movie theater mirror the broader trends in the entertainment industry and the mall’s journey.

Its presence offered a unique blend of shopping and entertainment, making the mall a go-to destination for a family outing.

The theater’s history is a nostalgic reminder of the evolving leisure habits of the community and the need for retail spaces to continuously adapt to changing consumer preferences.

Renovations and Rebranding Efforts at Belvidere Discount Mall

Belvidere Discount Mall entered a new phase in its history with major renovations in 1985 and again in 1998.

These refurbishments were not just about refreshing the mall’s appearance but were crucial for staying relevant in the competitive retail market.

The 1985 renovation came under the new ownership of Imperial Realty, marking a significant milestone in the mall’s journey.

The 1998 renovation was particularly transformative, including rebranding the mall to ‘Belvidere Discount Mall.’

This strategic rebranding reflected a shift in the mall’s marketing and positioning. It signaled a new direction and a renewed commitment to meeting the evolving needs of shoppers.

Belvidere Discount Mall’s renovations and rebranding efforts were critical in its survival and adaptation.

These changes were essential in attracting new tenants and customers, ensuring that the mall remained an integral part of Waukegan’s retail landscape.

The mall’s ability to reinvent itself through these renovations underscores its resilience and enduring appeal.

A Hub for Family-Owned and Hispanic-Oriented Businesses

Belvidere Discount Mall stands out in the retail landscape of Lake County with its unique mix of family-owned and Hispanic-oriented businesses.

Unlike larger malls like Gurnee Mills and Hawthorn Mall, Belvidere focuses on a diverse array of small businesses.

This approach not only supports local entrepreneurs but also caters to the cultural and commercial needs of the Hispanic community in Waukegan.

The predominance of Hispanic-owned businesses in the mall is a testament to the area’s demographic shifts and the community’s entrepreneurial spirit.

These businesses offer a variety of products and services, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the Hispanic community. This distinct business model has helped the mall carve a unique niche in the regional retail scene.

Family-owned businesses add a personal touch to the shopping experience at Belvidere Discount Mall. These businesses contribute to a friendly and welcoming atmosphere with their individual stories and customer-centric approach.

This mall aspect attracts loyal local customers and visitors looking for a more personalized shopping experience.

Embracing Niche Markets and Local Artists

Belvidere Discount Mall has successfully carved a niche in Waukegan’s retail landscape.

Since 2019, Belvidere Discount Mall has become a hub for artists and creators in Waukegan. Vacant retail spaces and the former Belvidere Cinema have been transformed into galleries and music venues.

This initiative revitalizes unused spaces and enriches the community with cultural and artistic activities.

Belvidere Discount Mall’s strategy of embracing niche markets and supporting local artists has redefined its role in the community.

This approach enhances the shopping experience and fosters community and belonging. The mall maintains its relevance and appeal by adapting to the community’s evolving needs and interests.

Strategic Location and Community Engagement

Located in a thriving area of Waukegan, Belvidere Discount Mall serves a substantial population within a 3-mile radius.

Its location at the high-traffic intersection of Belvidere Road and Lewis Avenue makes it an accessible and attractive destination for shoppers. This strategic positioning is crucial in drawing steady visitors, contributing to the mall’s enduring popularity.

The mall’s proximity to significant landmarks, like Naval Station Great Lakes and Corrine J. Rose Park, adds to its appeal.

These nearby attractions bring additional foot traffic to the mall, enhancing its status as a central shopping and leisure spot in the region.

Belvidere Discount Mall’s unique tenant mix and prime location have made it a vital part of the local community. Its ability to offer a diverse shopping experience keeps residents engaged and returning.

This community focus, combined with the strategic location, ensures that Belvidere Discount Mall remains a key player in Waukegan’s retail and social fabric.


Reflecting on the journey of Belvidere Discount Mall, it’s evident that this historic mall has navigated various phases of retail evolution with resilience.

From its inception as a pioneering enclosed mall to adapting to changing retail and entertainment trends, Belvidere has remained a significant part of Waukegan’s landscape.

Its shift towards embracing family-owned and Hispanic-oriented businesses, along with fostering a creative community, illustrates its adaptability and commitment to serving the diverse needs of its patrons.

As Belvidere Discount Mall continues to evolve, it stands as a testament to the dynamic and enduring nature of retail spaces in American society.

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