Sep 232008

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This blurb appeared in our local paper on August 28, 2008:

• Someone took a change machine from Randhurst Mall, 999 N. Elmhurst Road, between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. July 30. The machine, which changes dollar bills for quarters, contained $340 in cash. It was worth $850.

While this wasn’t exactly a Danny Ocean-level heist, it says more about the current state of Randhurst than you might intially think. What this article says is that sometime in the middle of the day someone stole what I assume to be a heavy piece of equipment from the shopping mall, presumably without being noticed.
This is quite a change from the Randhurst I grew up with. The inside of the mall consists mostly of empty storefronts now, and is scheduled to be demolished very soon to make way for redevelopment, a mixed-use property called Randhurst Village. (The stores outside the mall, most notably Costco and Home Depot, are doing extremely well– quite a contrast.)
The Randhurst I knew was a busy place where you could find pretty much anything you were looking for. I grew up near the shopping center (they never called it a “mall”), and many days of my youth were spent there since it was only a bike ride away.
When I was a kid, the anchors stores were Montgomery Ward, Carson Pirie Scott, and Wieboldt’s. Wards had a great record department and cafeteria (“The Buffeteria”) and I used to get my WLS surveys and stickers there. I never went to Carson’s or Wieboldt’s as a kid, although Wieboldt’s had an S&H Green Stamps redemption center in the basement, and I used to get blank cassette tapes there when I got a little older.
The main destination for us kids was SS Kresge’s, in the corridor between Carson’s and Wieboldt’s. It was a “dime store” in the sense that K-Mart never was. We used to get Frozen Cokes and Air-Popt® Popcorn, and maybe a little toy from the aisles in the back. They also had a little cafeteria where we’d get Cokes if we didn’t want the frozen variety. At one end of the store they had aquariums where you could buy various tropical fish and those little turtles the FDA doesn’t allow you to buy any more. The fish were right next to the massive display of Contact-Paper rolls. And every Christmas, as my mom will tell you, they had the demonstration table set up with “Balsam Pine, Smells So Fine” incense which came with its own little log cabin.
Speaking of Christmas, Randhurst was quite the destination because every year on the day after Thanksgiving Ringmaster Ned from WGN-TV’s Bozo’s Circus would welcome Santa Claus to the mall. My cousins and sister and I went every year for a stretch of about 4 or 5 years to witness the event.
When my kids were little, we used to spend hours walking around and browsing the stores. One of the high points for them was getting a table in the food court– which was next to impossible at lunchtime on the weekends– and eating their Happy Meals. And right up until earlier this year, Rebecca still liked going to the “sample lady” at the teryaki stand on the second level.
My last visit to Randhurst’s interior took place on an early Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago. The place is almost unrecognizable, with nearly every storefront shuttered and only a few customers and security guards walking the once-busy main aisles. The merry-go-round in the center of the mall was still lit and turning, with one or two kids and their parents on the ride. Except for the echoes of the carousel’s music, the whole place was eerily silent.
If you Google “Randhurst” you’ll find all sorts of remembrances of this once-great mall. (As I wrote this, I thought of hundreds of things that could fill this blog.) For a good overview of the center’s history, check out this link to a document at the Mt Prospect Historical Society’s site.
Will the “new” Randhurst draw the crowds? We’ll have to wait and see.

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