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Some Suburbs Reversing Retail Vacancies, Others Stumped

Vacancy sign for retail space (CBS)

Vacancy sign for retail space (CBS)

Kris Gutierrez (CBS) Kris Gutierrez
Kris Gutierrez is anchor of the CBS 2 Chicago morning news from 4:30...
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CHICAGO (CBS) — Everywhere you look, you see them: vacant shops in strip centers, empty store fronts in shopping malls.

Shoppers in aurora spent nearly $5 billion in stores last year, but one retail center built in 2008 has never been occupied.

“We just over-built,” retail-market analyst John Melaniphy tells CBS 2’s Kris Gutierrez. “We’ve got way too much retail space.”

Take St. Charles, for example. Statistics show it increased total retail sales last year by nearly $44 million, compared to the year before, due in large part to booming business on Randall Road.

But town’s main mall, Charlestowne, has very few stores left and not many shoppers.

“It’s scary desolate, where you don’t even want to be in there anymore,” resident Kathy Meier says.

Suburban St. Charles has hired Melaniphy to figure out what to do.

In Skokie, total retail sales topped $1.2 billion last year, but there are still empty shops there, too.

Some residents consider a vacant stretch of Dempster Street an eyesore.

“I’ve seen all these storefronts filled, and now I’m seeing so many of them empty,” says Shalom Klein of the Dempster Street Merchants Association.

To improve things, Tom Thompson, Skokie’s economic development coordinator, says the village took the extraordinary step of purchasing old shopping centers and leveling existing shops to make them development-ready.

That cost taxpayers roughly $8 million.  

But it appears to be working. Two new businesses will begin construction here soon. Thompson says it was a move the village had to make.

“Many of our strip centers in Skokie were built in the 1950s and 1960s,” he says. “They’re not as well suited to modern retailers or restaurants or different uses right now.”

One hopeful sign: Ross, HHGregg and FiveBelow have all capitalized by taking over empty buildings, at cheaper rates, according to Melaniphy. The problem is, there aren’t enough retailers willing to make that move.

“It’s getting better, but it’s still going to take a long time,” Melaniphy says.