Oakwood Mall, currently located at 4800 Golf Road, officially opened its doors on October 15, 1986. Several controversies preceded this opening which claimed an additional Eau Claire mall would render nearby London Square Mall unable to keep up with competition. Though this argument proved to be true when London Square Mall was demolished in 2002, Oakwood Mall’s opening was heralded and featured as front page news. Celebrating its entrance into the Eau Claire economy, the grand opening featured 5000 helium-filled balloons, 50 pounds of confetti, a band, and a chorus to wow the crowd of roughly 2500 people (pictured below). Later advertisements boasted of the venue’s unprecedented 600,000 square-feet proclaiming, “Oh! Oh! Oakwood Mall is exciting!” These stories and advertisements provide a small glimpse into the complex history of the mall that now houses a variety of vendors to fit the retail, entertainment, and dining needs of Eau Claire and its surrounding communities.
After a decade of negotiations and compromises, the Eau Claire City Council agreed to a $24 million investment in the mall on January 9, 1985. In this agreement the city promised to issue $6.5 million in tax incremental financing bonds for the necessary street and underground construction. Construction at the site of Oakwood Mall commenced in June 1985 as a joint project between General Growth Companies, based in Des Moines, Iowa and JCP Realty Inc., a subsidiary of J.C. Penney Co.
Despite the many supporters of Oakwood, critics argued that a majority of the stores Oakwood Mall promised to offer were duplicates of stores already present in the Eau Claire economy. They claimed that offering these stores would double the amount of retail space devoted to selling clothes in Eau Claire, produce unnecessary competition and drive out smaller businesses located downtown. While London Square Mall (500,000 square feet) held the position of the “prime retail space” in Eau Claire from its opening in 1971, at least eight stores planned to open additional locations at Oakwood Mall. Highland Mall manager Bob Grootwassink feared this competition would lead to the fall of not only Highland Mall and London Square Mall but also the closing of once beloved local stores in the downtown area: “The sad thing is that the local guys, or the people who have owned stores here for a long time are the ones who are going to get hurt. Ma and Pa-type stores can’t compete with the marketing and selection of national chains…It’s just a shame.” More cynics argued Eau Claire was not the bustling retail-based economy that others portrayed it as: “Eau Claire is not going to become the retail hub of the Midwest. I don’t think there’s enough buying power in Eau Claire to support two major shopping centers…There’s already an oversupply of retail in Eau Claire,” noted Michael Peterson, manager of London Square Mall, “Shopping centers are all going to have vacancies and we’re going to have to live with that. It’s going to be guerilla warfare between all of us.”
Ultimately, critics of Oakwood Mall were silenced as the mall developed into a large-scale, diverse mall. In the early stages of planning, the mall reported that 54 stores signed on, including anchor stores of Target and J.C. Penney. Twenty more stores anticipated opening within the first six months after the mall opened, bringing Oakwood Mall to 84 filled spots out of 120. Mall officials expected the mall to expand to five anchor stores and 160 stores in the mall’s first ten years. The following map, printed in the Leader Telegram days before the grand opening, shows the variety of stores in the mall as well as additional spaces for new stores.
A year after its opening, Oakwood Mall boasted an additional 35 new stores and projected reaching 90 percent capacity by 1987. Mall surveys indicated that while 40% of shoppers resided in Eau Claire County, shoppers traveled from over 15 counties with a trade area reaching 70 miles north and east and 40 miles south and west with the average shopper driving 18 miles to reach the mall. Additionally, the mall reported an average of 13,500 shoppers every day. As Oakwood expanded, London Square Mall declined significantly, losing tenants rapidly until 1998 when it was left with only ten percent of its available mall space occupied. The building was ultimately demolished in 2002. Similarly, Oakwood Mall produced harsh consequences for many local stores downtown who were unable to keep up with the prices and availability of Oakwood’s vendors. Despite these consequences, Oakwood Mall remains a popular destination for shoppers, tourists, diners, and other visitors who come to see the mall’s many stores and offerings.
Oakwood Mall is a shopping complex in Eau Claire, WI, that (as of 2010) holds over 100 distinct retail outlets, and the four “Anchor” stores Younkers, Sears, Scheel’s All-Sport, J.C. Penny’s and Macy’s. The mall opened in 1986 and was originally built only to house approximately 50 stores and two anchors. The mall was built in what was little more than a corn field- since the construction of Oakwood Mall, the “Keystone Crossing” area has grown tremendously with stores such as Wal-Mart, Super Target, and Best Buy building near the mall.
My friends and I go to the mall a lot. It has a movie theater and we always want to see what’s playing. We also love to go to our favorite stores like: Aeropostale, Hollister, American Eagle, The Buckle, and Wet Seal. Sometimes it’s just fun to go in just to try stuff on! The food court is also really nice because there are so many restaurants in one place it is usually hard to decide what I’m going to have! Overall, the mall is a great place to go hang out with your friends, go shopping, and see a movie. You can hear our laughter echoing through the hallways! - Christina, Eau Claire Middle School student