a Gem in the Midwest
By Chuck Fieldman
As senior general manager of Oakbrook Center, Tim Geiges is the onsite person who steers the ship of one of the most successful shopping centers in the United States. Geiges, who enjoys outdoor actives such as running, swimming and golf, grew up outside of Cleveland, Ohio, and made a stop in Northwest Indiana, before settling in the Chicago suburbs in 2005. His resume in shopping center management includes a five-year run, which ended in 2015, at Old Orchard in Skokie, which initially was built by the same developer as was Oakbrook Center. Geiges said he was aware of Oakbrook Center long before becoming its senior general manager in 2018. “Oakbrook Center is well located in the western suburbs, with great access,” he said. “Oak Brook has allowed the property to recreate itself over and over. I’m proud to work for (Oakbrook Center owner) Brookfield Properties, which continues to reinvest. I enjoy coming to work everyday and always trying to make the property better.”
Oakbrook Center opened in March 1962, according to information from Brookfield Properties. Key tenants at that time were Marshall Field’s, which was became Macy’s in 2006; Sears, Bonwit Teller and Jewel Tea Co. Many businesses have come and gone over the nearly 60 years of operation, and that still is the case. Geiges said new businesses continue to open, mentioning the newly-built Restoration Hardware Gallery and its Sept. 24 debut, with three levels, 60,000 square feet and a glass-encased rooftop restaurant and wine bar as a new addition. Slated for October openings were Allbirds, a New-Zealand-American company that designs and sells footwear and apparel; and Gucci, an Italian luxury fashion house based in Florence, Italy, which includes handbags, footwear, accessories, makeup, fragrances and home decoration among its offerings. A fall opening also was targeted for Puttshack, a U.K.-based mini-golf gaming restaurant going into part of the former Lord & Taylor site, which will have four mini-golf courses, food, drinks and private event space. “Puttshack is exciting; it looks like a fun place,” Geiges said. He said the transformation of the former Lord & Taylor space into multiple new businesses isn’t untypical of what is expected in the future. “We’re always looking at trends, and converting big box stores to multi use retail is definitely something that is happening now and will continue,” Geiges said. “I can’t even picture Lord & Taylor there anymore.”
“I think free parking and less sales tax are an attraction. It takes once to come out and see what we have to offer and then want to come back.”
Geiges said the retail future of Oakbrook Center is likely to include some of the ever increasing businesses that began as online only, but now are looking to open brick and mortar options. An example is online giant Amazon, which opened an Amazon 4-Star Store in November 2019 in part of the former Sears space. While providing an impressive shopping experience and a plethora of restaurants to visitors, along with entertainment and events, Oakbrook Center plays a huge role in continuing to allow the village to be among the relatively few municipalities in Illinois to not levy a property tax, as mall businesses contribute a significant portion of sales tax revenue collected by Oak Brook. Collections of sales tax from Oakbrook Center businesses account for about 50% of the village’s annual total, said Oak Brook Finance Director Jason Paprocki. But the importance of Oakbrook Center to the village doesn’t end with those tax dollars, said Village President Gopal Lalmalani. “The mall is the brand of Oak Brook,” he said. “People come to visit Oak Brook, in part because of the mall. We don’t have a downtown or a train station, and I think our our downtown is really the mall. They do many things there and always are doing something to make the place more attractive.” Geiges said that the retail component of Oakbrook Center, while obviously at the forefront of operations, doesn’t account for everything that takes place. “We see people spend a lot of time here; we give them a reason to come here for a lot of reasons,” Geiges said.
Events such as free Wednesday night family movies during the summer on a big screen in the village green area, an art festival and a Father’s Day Classic Car Show, expected to return in 2022 after being canceled for two years, have been popular happenings and have brought people out from Oak Brook and well beyond. Oakbrook Center also previously hosted the Christkindlmarket and the Adventure to Santa holiday event. “This is more than a traditional shopping center,” Geiges said. Retail’s always going to be a critical piece, but there’s so much more than retail.” Geiges said an important goal at Oakbrook center is to create experiences that bring the community together. “The Wednesday night movies (this year) were great because people were really trying to get back to some sort of normalcy after so many things being shut down a year ago (because of COVID-19),” he said. While excited about the new businesses opening in Oakbrook Center, and the variety included, Geiges said he believes the future of Oakbrook center looks bright. “I saw a lot of new customers las year from the south suburbs and the city,” he said. “I think free parking and less sales tax are an attraction. It takes once to come out and see what we have to offer and then want to come back.”
*Photos provided by Tim Geiges