Updated: Jul 5, 2021
By Tom Hendricks
Published April 29, 2021 in The Burg
I was in junior high when Sandburg Mall opened. It was the place to be in the winter and holidays saw the place busy with shoppers not traveling to Peoria or the Quad Cities—they could “get it in Galesburg”. There was concern about what would happen to downtown when the mall came to be.
Later that trend reversed as the mall started to decline and Galesburg experienced good things on Main Street. Likely it is the natural cycle of things in the retail world. Consumer sentiment shifted to buying more local. Downtown also saw many beautification projects and investments in properties (most notably Seminary Street) and downtown Galesburg began to grow again—or at least there were fewer empty storefronts.
At the mall, moms would drop kids off so they could roam the corridors and see their friends. There were plenty of places to eat—Garcia’s Pizza and their “Gutbuster” was popular, McDonald’s, Orange Julius, and a small cafeteria (I don’t recall the name) in the Bergner’s store. It was way back in the corner by the bedding department. Even out of the way, we’d find ourselves there—the chili was incredible. Prior to the mall being built there was OT Johnson’s downtown. I have vague memories of eating in the “Big Store”, and it was way ahead of its time by having a restaurant.
I recently read a story of a bear-wrestling event held early on as a promotion for the Mall. A bunch of us from Churchill were there to heckle the wrestlers—not the bear. Nowadays that seems kind of silly but it was all in good fun and drew a crowd. There were other attractions too—Aladdin’s Castle was a busy arcade with all the latest pinball games, air hockey, etc. and video games were just starting to appear.
Games like Asteroids, Pac-Man and Space Invaders were popular. It was a noisy place.
Team Electronics was a go-to for buying records and tapes (8-track and then cassettes) as well as stereo equipment. Spencer Gifts sold all sorts of novelty items, some of which were on the risqué side. Thom McAn Shoes was popular among those of us in school and the three anchor stores—JC Penney, Sears and Bergner’s—were later joined by K-Mart. A movie theatre opened down by JC Penney and there were stores for clothing, books, shoes, jewelry and gifts. An elaborate toy train display was put up in the center court. Years later, some enthusiasts, including my best friend from high school, Todd Tunzi, refurbished the exhibit and got it running again.
When we started our family, it was very convenient to meet friends who had children similar in age.
Strollers would be used to wheel around the coats and winter garb and to carry the required diaper bags and related necessities of parenting. The kids could blow off steam before heading home for baths and bedtime and the parents took turns watching the little ones. When the girls got a little older they would sometimes work their way toward Claire’s or one of the other stores. The boys would slide on the slick floors and generally wear themselves out. The dads pretty much tried to keep them from disrupting the general population. Of course, Santa flew his sleigh in for photo ops at Christmas and the Easter Bunny hopped in during the spring.
The building was popular with “mall walkers” and many regulars were seen making the circuit. I don’t know the actual distance one trekked by walking down and around each anchor store’s leg and back, but I’d guess one trip around the whole thing would be ½ mile of so. If the walker actually entered the anchors and followed the main aisles in each, the combined distance probably touched a mile. Not a bad place to be during cold winter weather.