One of Mount Prospect’s claims to fame is having the first air-conditioned indoor malls in the USA (and was one of the largest air-conditioned spaces in the USA when it was originally built): Randhurst Mall. Now, I’m not sure if that’s something to brag about, but I am sure if you found many people my age from Mount Prospect and spoke to them about Randhurst, they’d have (hopefully) at least one good memory of the place.
For me, it has a strong family connection. My Opa worked at the Carson Pirie Scott there for a very long time. My Dad got his first job at CPS there as well. My Aunt Joan worked for the people who managed the mall in the 80s. And I worked at three different places there, including my first job at Child World, a short stint at Things Dismembered (oops, my bad) and, of course, CPS. Even my brother Brian worked at CPS Randhurst!
As a kid, it was the place we all hung out. One of my fondest memories was going to Randhurst on Christmas Eve with my cousins Steve, Karin and Alex, all visiting from Atlanta. Brian and I got to hang out with them as they picked up Christmas presents. I specifically remembering hanging out in a poster/t-shirt shop downstairs near the glass elevator, and having some sort of at-length conversation with my cousin Alex about something I can’t remember. But we had a heap of fun!
Anyone who has been following the news knows Randhurst is going to be torn down in the next few weeks. The Powers That Be are redeveloping the site into a “lifestyle center” that seems to be the more popular choice for shopping destinations lately. (I don’t agree with the tactic, because from the information I’ve gained over the years, bad management has driven the mall into the state it is currently, and I don’t think tearing it down and putting a lifestyle center up will help the place. Alas, I digress.)
So, with Noel and I being in Mount Prospect in August, we decided to take one last visit to Randhurst and take a few pictures and a bit of video so I could show everyone back in New Zealand this mall that had been a part of my life and a large part of Mount Prospect’s contemporary history.
Armed with a video camera, and Noel with a camera, we went with my Mom into the mall. We started in a newer part and filmed towards the Customer Service area. (An important thing to note at this point, which will make sense later, is the Customer Service people saw me filming.)
We saw the large groups of empty shops, the gates down or doors closed, the interiors dark and empty. Some stores bore signs saying where they had moved to (i.e. other malls). Only a few stores, like American Eagle Outfitters, remained.
To be honest, it was like visiting a dying relative. Noel was absolutely shocked by the downturn. Through the video camera’s viewfinder, I was even growing more disillusioned and upset.
Now, to explain about Randhurst. The original design had the core of the mall in a triangular shape with main anchors at each tip. In the middle, the mall had a sub-main level and a sub-second floor. The second floor was originally offices and limited to the triangle itself.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, this design was altered. Two more anchors were added. The second floor was gutted and altered to include shops, a food court and access to the second floors of the three original main anchors. The basement was opened up, with a glass elevator installed to go to all floors of the mall.
The upgrade revitalised the mall, with the mall being, more often than not, packed.
This declined with bad management choices, like management trying to rape the existing stores for more money without raising the bar. Unfortunately, most stores started to leave. Wards went under. JC Penney left. Kohls followed soon after. And the smaller stores, without the strong anchors, started to drift away as well.
Back to 2008, we’d taken pictures and filmed most of the mall. I was, from behind the lens, saying to Mom and Noel how sad it was Randhurst had declined to this when I heard someone yelling. I didn’t pay much attention but my Mom said, “Scott, I’d stop filming.” I was about to say why (turning the video camera off in the process) but I heard the voice yelling from the ground floor, “Stop filming!”
There was a middle-aged woman dressed in black coming up the escalator to the second floor. Mom said, “Just walk away,” but both Noel and I were ready for a fight so I said no and waited for the woman to approach to see what her problem was.
This woman was one of those people who, if you put her in a uniform, it went to her head. Obviously, with the status of Randhurst, they couldn’t afford a uniform for her. I felt, as did Noel, if someone had a problem with me filming, they should say so to my face, not bellow at me across a mall. So I stood my ground.
She’d obviously calmed down a bit by the time she reached us (that or she was tired as she was out of breath) and she said, “You can’t film in the mall.”
I replied, “Listen, I used to work here and my family has a strong history with this mall. I’m only filming because I know they are tearing it down next month, and I live in New Zealand now, and I wanted something to remember it by.”
She got a bit defensive and started spouting on about the Privacy Act (which, if you know about it, is a bloody joke compared to the New Zealand one). I said, “Filming what people. There’s no one here!”
She changed tact and said something about existing stores and being twitchy about filming. I replied, “What stores? There’s nothing here.”
The tact changed again. It was mall management. I asked if we could maybe talk to management and see if we could get permission to film. She replied that since we started filming without permission, they’d not let us film at all, and probably would have never agreed to it. And since she was being an absolute bitch about it, and I was angry, I said, “You mean the management that drove this mall into the ground? And if it was such a bloody problem, why didn’t the customer services people who were at the desk and were doing absolutely positively nothing in an empty dead mall stop us filming when we first entered the mall?”
By this time, Mom, I think, was totally embarrassed, but Noel and I and she went to leave. The cameras were away and we got what we came for. But the thing that really pissed me off was this woman was following us.
Mom asked if we’d wanted to go to American Eagle as Noel and I love their shorts and wanted to pick up a few pairs while there. But I remained defiant.
“I’m not giving this place another penny of my money if this is how they’re going to treat people who were loyal to the place.” And Noel agreed, and the lady finally stopped following us (I think it was the snide comments Noel and I were making), knowing full well we were very pissed off.
So, Randhurst, this mall I was very fond of as it played such part in my early life, giving me three of my first jobs and a hang out and giving me many fond memories, suddenly soured. It took one mall cop to do that, which is sad, but my honest opinion is TPTB are making the wrong direction with Randhurst. But maybe Randhurst is like the dying relative, the one where the doctor says, “I’m sorry, I can’t do anything to save him/her.” No matter what they try, Randhurst may never be revitalised, may never live up to her former glory.
And that is a truly sad prospect indeed.
If you’d like more information on Randhurst, see: