TUSCOLA — A combination of factors has played into the reduction in the number of shops open at Tuscola’s Outlet Shops mall.
City Administrator J. Drew Hoel said fewer than 15 stores remain open there. That’s a sharp decline from its hey day when 60 stores called the mall, which opened in 1994, home.
“Vacancies are very high,” Hoel said, adding that mall owner Mason Asset Management, which has owned it for the last two-and-a-half years, has “been very tight-lipped” about the mall’s status.
Company officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Fewer stores open means fewer dollars to work with for the city of Tuscola.
It isn’t all gloom economically for the Douglas County community. Hoel said the opening of the Love’s Truck Stop last fall provided an economic boost.
“Love’s Truck Stop has helped tremendously,” Hoel said. “We’ve had a pretty good rebound in numbers from that.”
A flurry of punches has left many retail stores reeling from greater numbers of consumers using online shopping, the pandemic and scarcity of workers.
“What I read is ... retail sales were impacted tremendously by COVID,” Hoel said. “People weren’t shopping. They weren’t going out to eat. That accelerated a lot of the trend of the internet home-based shopping.
“I’ve heard from a number of business people. I’ve seen dozens of stories in all sorts of media about the challenges people are having hiring new employees and keeping them employed.”
The mall’s downturn is not completely unexpected.
“I would just say our mall has been a mainstay in central Illinois for over 25 years,” Hoel said. “That’s much longer than the so-called life expectancy.”
The mall has drawn shoppers from all over the area to shop in Tuscola. Hoel said ZIP-code checks found shoppers came from as far away as Springfield, Decatur, Champaign and Terre Haute, Ind.
Fewer shoppers affects not just the mall, but local restaurants, gas stations and other businesses.
“We still see pretty good traffic there,” Hoel said. “We’re doing some other things to counteract (the fewer stores). We have a strong business climate here in Tuscola, and we’re proud of that.”
Hoel said to accommodate the loss of sales-tax money, the city has been more careful with its spending, “knowing that it’s a trend everywhere.”
“Retail sales are down. We’re reining in some spending. We’re also pursuing some economic development,” the new truck stop being one example.