By now I’m sure you have read or heard that Sears in River Oaks Center is scheduled to close in June. Last week I wrote a column that mentioned Siam Marina restaurant pulling out of its River Oaks location to move to Tinley Park.
It’s sad to see local landmarks leave. I have memories of River Oaks when it was still an outdoor shopping mall. I remember it being a big deal when it was finally enclosed, and I have lots of fond memories of shopping and working at the mall.
My first job was in the candy department at what was then Marshall Field’s, another anchor store in the 50-plus-year-old mall. My mom worked there in the cash office and got me the job for the Christmas season when I was a senior in high school.
My job basically consisted of weighing and packaging candy for the droves of Christmas shoppers. I remember the wonderful smells of the chocolate and coffee, even though back in my high school days I wasn’t a big fan of either.
Many customers would comment that they couldn’t work there because they’d be too tempted to eat all the candy. If I worked there now, that would probably be the case.
I also loved working at the store because I got to meet my mom for lunch breaks and we’d dine at the Marshall Field’s Café adjacent to the candy department. My favorite was always when they had honey mustard chicken, but they had great pot pies and sandwiches, too.
I eventually gave up the part-time job, the café eventually closed and my mom eventually left the store, which by then was known by its current name, Macy’s. Still, I have great memories of that first job and my time spent at River Oaks.
I think that malls and shopping centers are more than just a commercial enterprise. They offer a shared experience for many community members. They remember when a certain store opened or buying their prom dress in the mall with their friends. I’m sure many first dates took place at the mall’s food court and movie theaters, and many tool sets came from Sears.
Just last year, we took our son for his first baby pictures at the Sears in River Oaks and always loved the photographers there. It will be sad to see that part of our history go.
The world moves a lot faster now and online shopping has pretty much taken over. I do my share of online shopping but it can’t beat being able to touch a fabric, try something on or examine a toy before buying it. Maybe someday malls will make a comeback. Until then, we have a few months to say goodbye to part of Calumet City and River Oaks history.