Is There Hope for St. Charles' East Side Business District?
City leaders are looking at several ideas to revitalize the struggling corridor.
The sight of “store closing” signs propped up by actual people at street corners east of downtown St. Charles seems to be a familiar one these days for city residents.
With Blockbuster Video, Learning Express Toys, Sears—and many of the stores occupying smaller space in the Charlestowne Mall—the news of another east side establishment closing its doors is an almost regular occurrence.
Concern continues regarding the state of the east side business district as several retail businesses have shuttered their doors. St. Charles city leaders say they are well aware of the problems facing the area, and there are several solutions currently on the table for how to turn things around.
Not dead yet
“Of course, the elephant in the room is Charlestowne Mall,” said St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte, who stated that he believed that the problems existing there are due to previous poor management.
A year ago, the mall was purchased by Charlestowne Mall Investments, LLC. They are expected to share a significant design and remodeling plan for the property in the near future.
“So far, in the works, we have an ice skating rink,” said mall General Manager Kathy Marano, adding that plans are in process to also bring a buffet restaurant to the property.
This seems to fall in line with plans to bring more unique attractions and entertainment venues to the east side that cannot be found on Randall Road, or anywhere else nearby.
“We need to give people a reason to go to the mall besides just shopping,” explained Chris Aiston, St. Charles economic development director.
Even in its current state, the outlook for Charlestowne Mall may not be entirely bad news.
According to DeWitte, Von Maur department store continues to thrive, seeing a good year in sales and a successful holiday season in 2010. Carson Pirie Scott recently renewed its contract, which will take them through to 2018 in the mall.
In addition, plans to expand the Charlestowne 18 movie theatre are also in discussion.
Vacant store fronts, restaurants and even car dealership appear to be a growing problem for St. Charles’ east side business district, especially recently.
Blockbuster Video at Main Street and Lakeside Drive closed its doors late last summer, followed by the stunning announcement that Sears, a longtime anchor store in the Charlestowne Mall, would also be closing.
After months of selling off its remaining inventory, Sears was recently shut down permanently.
In addition, the popular Learning Express Toys closed its location near Super Target to merge with its newer store in Geneva Commons.
Most recently came the announcement that the Borders Bookstore on East Main Street was on the list of locations selected by the company to be shut down. Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February.
A March 29 article in the St. Charles Patch confirmed that the closing of Borders stores is now in the hands of liquidators, and the St. Charles location is expected to be closed by the end of April.
The city of St. Charles also has had significant discussions with General Motors in recent months regarding the St. Charles Pontiac, Buick, GMC dealership on East Main Street, which has had an empty lot and been closed for business for months.
“We hope to have positive news regarding that vacant dealership in the next 14 to 30 days,” he said.
Where do we go from here?
St. Charles city leaders offer some reasons why the east side has suffered while downtown businesses, with store fronts filling in the First Street Development and the Randall Road corridor have not.
One main reason is the type and amount of development along Randall Road in the last 10 to 15 years.
“Randall Road has affected the east side,” Aiston said. “Retail is all about drive time, and consumers who live on the west side want to drive the least amount of time they need to.”
According to Aiston, the development along Randall, combined with the fact that there are fewer homes on the east side of St. Charles than the west side, typically results in fewer shoppers who frequent the businesses east of the river.
“There are large masses of land dedicated to industrial parks and the DuPage Airport,” Aiston said. “The fact is, there are fewer ... roof tops on the east side.”
But there is good news for east side retail, according to the city's mayor.
“While it may appear that the east side has taken its share of abuse as far as businesses leaving, Wal-Mart is undergoing a complete site redesign and rebuild,” said DeWitte, adding that this project is bringing increased sales tax revenue to the city.
DeWitte said that the Super Target, which is across Main Street from Walmart, is also thriving despite the down economy.
DeWitte said that he expects to see some revitalization of the area when they city begins a redesign and reconstruction of the east side corridor in the next 12 to 18 months that could involve updating some of the older buildings in the area to make them more appealing to businesses looking for sites to open in St. Charles.
The city is also in the process of reaching out to several retailers that specialize in areas where St. Charles is currently under-served.
"We're making sure that St. Charles is on their radar," Aiston said.