Sandburg Mall in Galesburg, IL: A Journey Through Time and Change

Inception and Early Years

Kenroy, Inc. proposed and developed Sandburg Mall in 1971. Construction started in February 1974, and the mall opened on October 1, 1975, in Galesburg, Illinois. The initial anchors were Sears, JCPenney, and Bergner’s.

The mall’s design included spaces for 50 stores. Sidney H. Morris & Associates designed it. Sandburg Mall featured a variety of retailers.

Early stores included Osco Drugs, Bresler’s Ice Cream, Team Electronics, Garcia’s Pizza-in-a-Pan, GNC, Karmelkorn, and Musicland.

When it opened, General Growth Properties owned the mall, which spanned 529,000 square feet and had parking for 3,700 cars.

Shoppers enjoyed a diverse range of stores, making Sandburg Mall a key destination in Galesburg. This made it one of the top things to do in Galesburg, IL, during its early years.

Sandburg Mall: Expansion and Growth

Sandburg Mall expanded twice, in 1982 and 1992. The expansions brought new features and more shopping options.

The mall added a two-screen cinema run by Kerasotes Theatres. This gave shoppers a place to watch movies after shopping.

Kmart opened as the fourth anchor during the 1992 expansion. This addition attracted more visitors. The mall now had four anchor stores: JCPenney, Bergner’s, Sears, and Kmart. Each anchor played a key role in driving traffic to the smaller stores.

Other stores opened during this period, including Target, which opened next to the mall in 1994. The variety of stores increased the mall’s appeal, and Sandburg Mall became a hub for shopping and entertainment in Galesburg, Illinois.

Economic Downturn and Ownership Changes

In the late 1990s, the Galesburg area faced an economic slump. The closure of the Maytag factory hit the local economy hard. As leases expired, many stores left Sandburg Mall.

The mall’s original owner, General Growth Properties, sold it. Ken Tucker and Associates took over management.

On December 18, 2003, Kerasotes closed the two-screen cinema. They opened an eight-screen theatre nearby, drawing moviegoers away from the mall.

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By 2007, the mall faced high vacancy rates. Sandburg Mall Realty Management bought it for $3.3 million, hoping to revive it.

Sears closed on April 30, 2014, the first major anchor to leave. This was a big blow, and the mall struggled to attract new tenants. In 2015, Mall Group Investments bought the mall for $1.326 million at a sheriff’s sale.

However, the economic downturn continued, and Kmart closed in July 2016. The mall’s decline seemed unstoppable.

On October 25, 2016, G.L. “Buck” Harris bought the mall in an online auction for $690,000. Harris had experience with struggling malls, owning Six Flags Mall in Arlington, Texas, and Sunrise Mall in Corpus Christi.

Both of these malls also faced closures. Harris announced plans to demolish the mall’s interior to create an outdoor plaza while keeping the remaining anchors.

However, this plan did not materialize. In January 2018, JCPenney closed, and Bergner’s followed in August 2018. By September 28, 2018, the mall’s interior was completely closed.

Current State and Future Plans

A few businesses remained after the mall’s interior closed in September 2018. A car repair shop, a building supply outlet, and a moving van rental operation continued to operate, keeping a small part of the property alive.

In April 2019, the Galesburg Planning and Zoning Commission approved new proposals for the mall.

The initial idea was to convert the former Bergner’s store into a Convention Center, which aimed to attract more visitors and events to the area. However, this plan did not materialize.

In 2023, a new proposal emerged to transform the former Bergner’s into the Lane A. Evans Veteran Affairs Community-Based Outpatient Clinic.

This project aimed to provide much-needed services to veterans in the region. If successful, this clinic could give the mall a new lease on life and serve a vital community need.

Galesburg Warehouse Bargains

Galesburg Warehouse Bargains opened in 2018 as part of the former Sandburg Mall complex. This store operates simply by buying in bulk, keeping costs low, and passing savings on to customers. The store offers various products, from tools and appliances to flooring and garden supplies.

The Galesburg location is one of several under the Warehouse Bargains name, which started in Jacksonville, Illinois, in 2011.

The founders grew their business by establishing strong vendor relationships. This allowed them to purchase large volumes of inventory at reduced costs, which they then passed on to their customers.

Galesburg Warehouse Bargains has become a go-to place for homeowners, contractors, and DIY enthusiasts.

The store features a diverse inventory, including vinyl click-lock flooring, butcher blocks, water heaters, appliances, and outdoor furniture. It also offers a range of pet products, exercise equipment, and tools, making it a versatile shopping destination.

Latest Developments and Future Prospects

Tom Morris, the current owner of Sandburg Mall, has ambitious plans for its future. In March 2023, Morris revealed his vision to transform the deteriorating mall into a mixed-use development.

He aims to build a hotel with an upscale restaurant near the former Sears building. Additionally, he plans to convert the mall’s interior wings into apartments or a multi-family, independent living facility.

Local officials support adding a hotel with a convention center to attract more visitors and events. The city believes the mall’s location at the intersection of two major corridors makes it an attractive site for redevelopment.

While the mall’s interior has suffered major damage, including roof leaks and mold, the structure remains viable for redevelopment. The site falls within the Galesburg Enterprise Zone, which could provide incentives for renovation projects.

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