Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Profile of Gurnee Mills - a Midwest Mega-Mall

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Profile of Gurnee Mills - a Midwest Mega-Mall

Article excerpt

'Way back in 1988, there was a great deal of vacant farmland in northern Illinois, just south of the Wisconsin border. The spot was 45 miles north of Chicago and 42 miles south of Milwaukee. The nearest city was Waukegan, Ill., a market of about 80,000 people.

The site, however, had two advantages: it was right next to Interstate 94 and near a popular Great America amusement park. The Western Development Corporation, which must hate a vacant field like this in the same way nature abhors a vacuum, saw an opportunity to give passersby a new place to shop.

To the uninitiated, this was a rather startling conclusion. Milwaukee is ringed with two-level major malls. Only a few miles up the road are two factory-outlet malls with big names, including Liz Claiborne, Mikasa, Calvin Klein and dozens of others. To the south are Chicago's great centers, from Water Tower Place to Woodfield and Orchard Place.

Today that vacant field holds a 2 million square foot mall called Gurnee Mills and it just celebrated its first anniversary. In the past year, it attracted 14.8 million shoppers to nine anchor stores and 151 manufacturers' outlets, off-price discounters, and retailer's clearance outlets, plus 21 food service units.

The center opened at 70% occupancy; now it is at 80% occupancy. It sees 95% possible in the near future.

How They Did It

Gurnee Mills executives credit two market conditions for their success. They believe that people still see shopping as recreation and they designed the mall to be fun to visit. There is a Show Court, where special events are held. The main aisle has a circus air, with a great deal of neon and colorful signage.

Second, they believe people will travel far to save money. Gurnee Mills attracts over half its visitors from over 20 miles away. With the combination of a fun place to shop, low prices and broad selections, they "created a destination."

Mall Promotion Centers on Special Events

Marketing director for Gurnee Mills is Kristen Hill, who reports, "We use media to boost our local events. In addition to the work of our full-time PR staff, we advertise on all the major media -- newspapers, local magazines, radio, tv and outdoor.

"We buy newspapers to lead off a wave of advertising for special events. Our ads appear in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago SunTimes, Milwaukee papers, and just about all the other dailies in between. We use tv around the holidays."

Impressions After a Tour of Gurnee Mills

* Prices are pretty low. At Macy's Outlet Center (which may be the only one in the country) a top-quality men's suede cap was marked: "Original price $24; our price: $12. …

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