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The Evolution of Northbrook Court

Address: 2171 Northbrook Court, Northbrook, IL, 60062

Original Facility built: 1976

Construction Stage: Ongoing

New Facility opening: N/A

Known stores in former: J.C. Penney, Sears, I.Magnin, Gap Shoes, and many others

Current stores: 125, including Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, AMC Theaters, and Crate & Barrel Home Store. See mall website for full list.

Mall website: http://www.northbrookcourt.com

News stories: None

It's not often that Framingham/Natick Retail would profile a shopping center nearly halfway across the country. Even more so, why profile a center that General Growth hasn't discussed comparing a new Natick Mall to? Northbrook Court is a key example of what we don't want to see the new Natick Mall become. It has plenty of excellent, high profile tenants ranging from Neiman Marcus to Max Mara, combined with unique restaurants like P.F. Chang's and Corner Bakery Cafe. Yet it has taken nearly 30 years for this mall to create a vision for what it wants itself to be, and will take longer to at last achieve it. Can an upscale mall survive near other upscale shopping areas like the Old Orchard Mall in Skokie, IL and downtown Winnetka, IL; or for us, shopping areas like Wellesley Center and the malls of Newton? Let's explore.

Northbrook Court has a somewhat interesting history: basically, it wasn't supposed to be built. In 1976, a developer proposed building 2,300 apartments on a large piece of unincorporated land near Northbrook, IL. Northbrook didn't want the apartments to be built, but the village didn't really have a say as the land was unincorporated. As the developer faced a long court battle over the apartments, he proposed to build a shopping center with a small residential complex. That time, Northbrook agreed. Although the mall would be built, the neighboring village of Highland Park ended up suing the state of Illinois: first for a share of the mall's tax revenue; then later over the annexation going to Northbrook. Both suits failed.

Initially, the mall had a fairly stale batch of retailers: A lackluster Sears was one of the mall's first anchor stores which would replaced in 1983 by the equally downmarket J.C. Penney. Together with the slightly-more upscale I.Magnin flagshipped the mall that shouldn't have been built. At one point, two of the mall's four anchors were vacant. Like with the Natick Mall, it was located in a financially-attractive area, but shoppers were instead several miles away to the Old Orchard Mall in Skokie (or in Natick's case, The Mall at Chestnut Hill in Newton). The mall got some moderate national attention in the mid-1980s, where the mall was used for several scenes in the movie "Weird Science".

Eventually, the mall was able to snag Lord & Taylor as a tenant, along with a Neiman Marcus that refused to stay open on weeknights. Yet while the Neiman Marcus was fairly successful with its unique schedule, Neiman's shoppers rarely entered the mall corridor. In 1995, the mall was entirely renovated, and filled the vacant J.C. Penney site with a the last full-service Marshall Field's store to ever open (not unlike Natick, with the last Jordan Marsh store to open), and in 1997, Northbrook Court added a 14-screen General Cinema movie theater on the site of the I.Magnin (which had been vacant for three years before any plans were pitched), which became an AMC Theater when General Cinema was acquired in 2002. The mall also served as a testing ground for the GapBody chain in 1998, and had been a testing ground for the forgettable "Gap Shoes" chain in 1992.

In 1998, General Growth acquired Northbrook Court from the Canadian developer Grosvenor, which was around the same time that the company acquired the Natick Mall. Slowly, changes were made: General Growth worked to find different tenants than the ones at Old Orchard. By the start of the new millenium, In 2001, Crate and Barrel opened a massive, 36,000 sq. ft. flagship store on a mall outlot. In 2002, the mall announced plans to add more restaurants, high-end boutiques, and children's stores, while that same year opening the first Land of Nod store. In 2003, a 500-million dollar renovation brought a children's area to the mall.Yet in 2005, the mall manager noted in an interview that the mall wasn't doing well as too many of the mall's tenants targetted children. Also in 2005, the upscale Di Pescara and food court-fodder Magic Pan opened as part of an agreement with local restauranteer Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. 2006 brought the end of Marshall Field's, as the Northbrook store became a Macy's.

So, what can we learn about upscale malls for Natick? For one, the MetroWest area doesn't have an upscale mall like Old Orchard in such proximity. The Newton malls may have more upscale stores than Natick, but access to the Atrium Mall and The Mall at Chestnut Hill, both on Rt. 9, isn't all that easy: meanwhile, Old Orchard is a gigantic mall, located directly off a major interstate. And Natick can expect some issues getting that target customer in unless it is planned right. Right now, Northbrook is looking toward restaurants and upscale stores to get the customers in; that's exactly what GGP is planning for Natick. Should it be executed successfully like Tyson's Galleria outside of Washington, D.C.; we'll have a giant success. The affluent area demographic is there for the Natick Mall, and the retailers all want in. If GGP gets the right tenants in on the first shot, which I am optimistic that they will, we won't have a Northbrook on our hands.

My Pictures: April 8-9, 2007


Fast forward a year, and there's a somewhat substantial difference on the outside of the mall. As with the rest of the chain, the Northbrook Marshall Field's has become a Macy's. (Interestingly, many of the decendents of the Field family live in nearby Lake Forest, where Federated has been unable to get the green awnings outside of the 20,000 sq. ft. Lake Forest Macy's changed to Macy's red)


The interior of the mall has a unique style. Tile, wood, and a material that is somewhat of a faux-concrete combine to create an elegant feel.

My Pictures: May 12-14, 2006

Marshall's (Field's, that is)

Here is the Marshall Field's that took over from J.C. Penney in 1995, and would be the final full-service store in the chain to open. This fall, the nameplate is slated to change to Macy's. Note the crumbling parking lot that mirrors the Sherwood Plaza lot... presumably the green bush-filled parking dividers haven't made their way to the Midwest yet.

Crate & Barrel

This flagship Crate & Barrel is among the largest in the chain, which would make sense given that the company is headquartered in Northbrook.

P.F. Chang's

This somewhat blurry shot is of the mall's P.F. Chang's China Bistro outlot. As with all P.F. Chang's, the obligatory horse is located on the right of the photo. I wonder where the Natick Mall horse will be placed?

NBC signage

The signage listed at the first intersection (heading west) of Lake Cook Rd. and Northbrook Court, listing all of the Mall's anchor tenants.

Media: None

Related Links: Can General Growth Manage Luxury Malls?, From Wonder Bread to the Natick Collection 2007 Expansion, General Growth Properties, Northbrook Court at GGP.com.


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