Vacant big box stores creating big problems in the suburbs

Many of the big retailers we grew up with are disappearing-- from Sears, Carson's to Toys R US. And it's leaving big holes in communities across the state.

"It's really sad," said Teisha Burns, a shopper.

Greg Buzek, the president of IHL Group, a global research firm specializing in the retail and the hospitality industries, says the retail industry is undergoing a rapid transformation.

"It's moving to luxury and experiential retail and low-end dollar stores and off-brand retail very fast. If you're in the middle of the road, we like to say you end up as roadkill and that's what happened with a lot of these traditional brands that have not upgraded or changed their business models," Buzek said.

Four big box stores have closed in Matteson just this year, including Carson's and Toys R Us.

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"I have individuals that call me and say what about these stores closing. What are you doing," said Sheila Chalmers-Currin, the village president.

Sam's Club is opening a distribution center in its store that closed in Matteson this year.

Pete's Fresh Market is planning to move into the old Dominick's in the village next year.

"Every time when I get a win, I know that there are going to be other wins," Chalmers-Currin said.

New retail anchor leasing activity has reached a seven-year high in the Chicago area.

But it hasn't kept pace with store closures.

According to a recent study by the commercial real estate firm CBRE, the total available anchor space is up 50 percent since 2016.

"There are a lot of large spaces that are available to the market and retail has changed a lot," said Daniel Hyman, the president of Millennium Properties.

Some communities have an easier sell than others.

Ellen Dean, the economic director for Gurnee, says the village is fortunate to have a low vacancy rate.

"The A malls and the A locations are getting stronger and that's why we've benefited. If you are a C or a D location you're actually getting weaker," she said.

Some communities are thinking outside the box when it comes to attracting new tenants.

The old Kmart store in Waukegan has been turned into a school.

"Those property owners that have lost those stores have to find new ways to re-purpose those properties. It may be a medical clinic from a local university. It may be a church," Buzek said.
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