JOLIET – The city’s main retail district in and around Louis Joliet Mall is going through another growth spurt.
Finding space for stores and restaurants that want to be by the mall has been an issue for several years, city officials say. But new retailers are moving in, thanks in part to spaces opening up and in part to retailers willing to venture off the main drag a bit.
Sports Authority recently opened a store in one of the shopping centers outside the mall. International clothing retailer H&M plans to open a store soon inside the Louis Joliet Mall.
Sleepy’s, a national mattress chain, opened a store outside the mall in September, its 1,000th store nationwide. It being the company’s 1,000th store was a happy coincidence.
Being near the mall was not.
“We definitely wanted to be in the mall area,” said Sam Khan, regional vice president for sales in the Midwest for Sleepy’s.
Sleepy’s picked a spot somewhat tucked back from the main retail strip along Route 30. The store is located where Essington Road and Division Street split off. One advantage, Khan said, is that anyone at the main entrance to the Louis Joliet Mall on Route 30 sees the Sleepy’s store while at a traffic light.
It’s a busy intersection, Khan said, adding, “That’s why it works for us.”
Being by the mall is still an attraction to retailers and restaurants because of the potential market reach.
“Louis Joliet Mall attracts from a wide radius, more so than other parts of Joliet,” Khan said.
Even so, getting retailers and restaurants to look beyond the main drag along Route 30 can be a challenge, Mayor Thomas Giarrante said.
“We don’t have any empty buildings,” Giarrante said. “There’s no more space along Route 30. They all want to be there.”
Sports Authority took advantage of the one big empty space that was available along Route 30 when it opened a store in the former MyGofer location, also once a Kmart Store, in the Louis Joliet Pointe shopping center.
Sports Authority took up most of that space but not all. The remainder will be used by Fresh Thyme Markets, a grocer specializing in fresh foods and organic products. Fresh Thyme plans to open in the spring.
Giarrante has been trying to stir interest in other areas near the mall, particularly Hennepin Drive and potential outlots outside of the Sears mall store. Both areas are relatively undeveloped, given the crowded spaces facing Route 30. But Giarrante said there is more potential in that area that may be apparent to outside developers scoping out sites.
Traffic coming into the mall at Essington and Hennepin is as high as anywhere along Route 30, Giarrante said. And retailers and restaurants are starting to consider the alternative locations.
Hooter’s took the leap years ago when it opened a restaurant on Hennepin in area that would be considered the back side of the mall. Giarrante would like more restaurants to consider sites nearby, creating a potential restaurant row.
He will have the opportunity next week when a restaurant developer is scheduled to meet with the mayor.
Another retailer has also been talking with city officials about new construction that would be at a site other than Route 30, Giarrante said.
The arrival of H&M Group, which will open a 23,000-square-foot store, is likely to be the biggest new development inside the mall this year.
“They haven’t announced the opening date yet, but it is expected to be during the holiday season,” said Kris Kuchler, marketing director for Starwood Retail Partners, the company that owns the mall.
The mall also is preparing for an announcement later this month of a new development yet to be detailed. Giarrante said he has an invitation to the announcement – scheduled for Nov. 26 – but even he has not been given details on what it is about.
• Herald-News reporter Brian Stanley contributed to this story.