Gurnee Mills Mall In Gurnee, IL: Retail And Fun Combined - BestAttractions (2024)


Origins and Early Development

The Lamb family owned the land where Gurnee Mills mall stands today from 1837 until 1988. This land, part of Section 16 of Warren Township, was sold to Western Development Corporation in 1988.

The developers planned to build a super-regional shopping center on 324 acres near the Tri-State Tollway and Grand Avenue intersection. This site included farm fields and wetlands.

Western Development Corporation, later renamed Mills Corporation, faced concerns from residents.

They worried the new mall would steal customers from existing businesses and smaller malls like Lakehurst Mall and Pleasant Prairie Premium Outlets. Despite these concerns, construction began with a groundbreaking ceremony on July 19, 1989.

The construction cost was projected at $160 million. Initial anchor stores included Sears Outlet, Phar-Mor, Reading China and Glass, and the Gurnee Mills Family Entertainment Center.

By the opening on August 8, 1991, 70% of the mall’s retail spaces were leased. The mall’s design featured a single Z-shaped corridor, making it easy to navigate and explore.

Preserving the oldest trees and wetlands on the property was a condition of the land sale. These natural elements were integrated into the mall’s design, maintaining the area’s original charm.

Gurnee Mills marketed itself as the “world’s largest outlet mall.” The mall’s construction aimed to attract visitors from Chicago and Milwaukee, boosting the local economy and providing new shopping and entertainment options for tourists looking for things to do near Chicago, IL.

Expansion and Growth

In 1993, the Grand Hunt Center opened nearby, featuring Target, The Home Depot, and Best Buy. This addition increased the area’s shopping options, making it a retail hub.

In 1996, the Rainforest Cafe opened, adding an entertainment dining option. This restaurant, with its jungle theme and animatronic animals, became a popular attraction.

By 1997, the mall had grown further with the addition of Planet Hollywood and Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World.

Bass Pro Shops, in particular, drew outdoor enthusiasts with its large selection of gear and themed environment.

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The mall’s popularity soared, drawing 14.4 million visitors and 2,300 tour buses annually by 1995.

It became Illinois’ second-most popular tourist attraction after Woodfield Mall. Its mix of shopping, dining, and entertainment options made it a top destination.

Gurnee Mills continued to innovate. In 1999, Serpent Safari, a reptile zoo and store, opened next to the Rainforest Cafe.

This unique addition attracted families and school groups. Rink Side Sports, featuring an NHL-sized ice rink, opened in 1999, adding to the mall’s entertainment offerings.

By the late 1990s, Gurnee Mills had firmly established itself as a major shopping and entertainment center.

Challenges and Changes

The early years of Gurnee Mills were challenging. By 1992, Phar-Mor closed its doors, becoming the first anchor to exit.

Other early challenges included confusion over the mall’s mix of outlet and full-price stores.

Some retailers enjoyed good sales, while others struggled. In 1993, Burlington Coat Factory opened, adding more variety.

In 2001, Lakehurst Mall, a nearby competitor, closed. This validated some initial concerns about Gurnee Mills’ impact on local businesses.

That same year, Syms and Waccamaw Pottery left the mall. Spiegel, another anchor, closed its doors in 2002, reflecting broader retail struggles.

However, Gurnee Mills quickly filled these vacant spots. Kohl’s moved in where Spiegel used to be, and Circuit City, previously outside the mall, relocated to Syms’ old spot.

Despite these setbacks, the mall adapted and continued to attract shoppers.

Further changes occurred in the early 2000s. Sam’s Club and Walmart opened across the street, adding to the retail landscape.

These additions, along with a focus on entertainment, helped Gurnee Mills remain a vibrant shopping destination.

New Management and Renovations

In 2007, Simon Property Group took over ownership of Gurnee Mills. They were eager to update the mall’s aging decor, which hadn’t changed much since 1991.

By 2010, they announced a $5 million renovation plan to modernize and enhance the mall’s appeal.

In 2009, Neiman Marcus opened a Clearance Center, and JCPenney closed its outlet store. By 2011, Simon Property Group decided to demolish the old Circuit City location to make room for Macy’s.

This new store opened on July 24, 2013, alongside other retailers, marking a new phase for the mall.

Bed Bath & Beyond and Buy Buy Baby opened a combined store in 2012, adding to the mall’s appeal. Floor & Decor replaced Shoppers World in 2017.

That same year, a $6 million renovation began. This included updates to the Dine-O-Rama food court and plans for new entertainment options.

Simon Property Group’s efforts revitalized Gurnee Mills. These continuous improvements show the mall’s adaptability and commitment to providing a great shopping experience.

Recent Developments

In the past few years, Gurnee Mills has seen new changes and additions. In 2018, Dick’s Sporting Goods opened in the space previously occupied by The Sports Authority.

This move brought more variety to the mall’s offerings. Hobby Lobby also opened in 2022, taking over part of the old Sears Grand location.

The entertainment options have evolved, too. Tilt Studio, which took over the Rink Side Sports ice rink area, closed in 2020.

It was replaced by Top Shelf Ice Arena, which opened in 2021. This new rink offers a range of activities, from public skating to hockey leagues.

In September 2022, Bed Bath & Beyond announced the closure of its Gurnee Mills store as part of a nationwide reduction plan.

Despite this, the mall continues to attract new retailers and keep the shopping experience dynamic.

New Developments at Gurnee Mills

Gurnee Mills, the largest outlet and retail shopping center in Illinois, is welcoming several new stores and restaurants in 2024.

Charlotte Russe, a popular retailer offering fashionable, value-priced apparel and accessories, opened in April 2024. This store caters to young women in their teens and twenties.

Ebisu, a unique Japanese lifestyle store offering a wide range of products, opened in May 2024. This addition brings a taste of Japanese culture to the mall.

Fave Pizza, promising “mouthwatering pizzas” made with top-quality ingredients, started serving customers in April 2024.

Pandora, known for its high-quality, hand-finished jewelry, plans to open its doors in July 2024, adding to the mall’s variety of jewelry stores.

RamenYa, a Japanese ramen restaurant, will be opened in July 2024. The restaurant’s staff spent years perfecting ramen recipes for American audiences, drawing on their research and experiences in Japan.

Thai Esane, another culinary addition, has been offering authentic Thai dishes since May 2024.

Round 1 Bowling & Amusem*nt is a major new entertainment venue scheduled to open in August 2024.

It will feature bowling, billiards, arcade games, karaoke, darts, ping pong, a kids’ play zone, and party packages for both children and adults. This addition underscores the mall’s commitment to providing diverse entertainment options.

Finally, The Inspiration Co., offering unique jewelry, gifts, and apparel, opened in June 2024. This store adds to the mall’s range of specialty retailers, providing shoppers with more options for unique and meaningful purchases.

These new additions highlight Gurnee Mills’ continuous effort to update and diversify its offerings, ensuring it remains a top shopping and entertainment destination in the region.

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Gurnee Mills Mall In Gurnee, IL: Retail And Fun Combined - BestAttractions (2024)
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