After-Christmas shopping deals downtown underwhelm: ‘It didn’t used to be so quiet’

“It feels very different. It’s not like it used to be,” said Jezenia Sanchez at Water Tower Place. But at Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont, things were popping.

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Families wait in line to enter the Lego store in the iconic Water Tower Place mall on the Magnificent Mile on the day after Christmas. The toy retailer was limiting entry into the store as a COVID precaution. 

Families wait in line to enter the Lego store at Water Tower Place on the Magnificent Mile on the day after Christmas. The toy retailer was limiting entry into the store as a COVID precaution.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

A family from the suburbs headed to downtown Chicago on Monday to hunt for deals in a buzzing mall, but instead they found a Magnificent Mile icon where hardly a sale was stirring.

Outside the Forever 21 store in Water Tower Place, in the 800 block of North Michigan Avenue, the Sandoval family looked skeptically at the sale sign in the display window. 

“Few things in there are actually that low-priced. They’re at regular prices,” said Jazmen Sandoval, who had just left the clothing retailer. 

“No Black Friday today,” her mother, María Elvira Sandoval, concurred, citing inflation as the cause.

The family from Waukegan was among the shoppers underwhelmed by the sales downtown on what’s usually a profitable day for those who wait.

Gabriel, Maria Elvira, Jazmen and Luciano Sandoval stand inside the iconic Water Tower Place mall on the Magnificent Mile, where the family from Waukegan went looking for deals the day after Christmas. 

The Sandoval family from Waukegan found few post-Christmas deals at Water Tower Place. From left are Gabriel, Maria Elvira, Jazmen and Luciano.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

North Side resident Teresa Marshall said she has been taking advantage of after-Christmas sales for years, though not usually downtown.

This year, she came for the semi-annual sale at Bath and Body Works, where items ranged from 50% to 75% off.

Beyond the soap, shampoo and fragrance store though, she said the deals were scarce. “Young people tend to shop online, I guess,” she said.

The one store that shoppers agreed was buzzing was American Girl Place.

Northwest Side residents Darrell Essex and Jezenia Sanchez returned to the downtown mall for the first time in years for the doll retailer in particular as their daughter, Nia, or her dolls rather, had an appointment there.

“We got to get their hair done and their ears pierced,” the 7-year-old said.

“It’s like a real salon in there. It’s an experience,” Jezenia Sanchez said.

Nia Essex, Darrell Essex and Jezenia Sanchez stand inside the iconic Water Tower Place mall on the Magnificent Mile, where the family went shopping the day after Christmas.

Nia Essex, Darrell Essex and Jezenia Sanchez had an appointment at American Girl Place, where 7-year-old NIa’s dolls got their hair done and ears pierced.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

Otherwise though, the mall felt empty and lacking the typical sale-seeking buzz, Sanchez said. “It feels very different. It’s not like it used to be. It didn’t used to be so quiet.”

Nia Essex at least was impressed by the structure of the downtown mall. “It has a lot more floors,” she said peering at the floors above and below.

Aside from the impressive structure, the couple said they might have been better off doing their shopping closer to their house at the Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont. 

“It’s always packed, but especially today, the day after Christmas, the lines have to be out the door,” Darrell Essex said.

The northwest suburban mall was indeed busy, but shoppers there also complained about a lack of deals.

Tina Jones drove up from the Southeast Side with her family and said that in three hours of looking, the deals she found weren’t great. “A lot of the items are expensive and not really worth the prices. Even with the deals,” said Jones, who was in the market for coats.

Latrice Boyd, a South Sider who often shops at the mall, said the deals available were typical, aside from some sales at luxury retailers such as Gucci and Versace.

However, the crowds at the mall impressed her.

“It was so crowded they had us park in the theater lot across from the mall,” said the Woodlawn resident, who drove up to exchange some clothing that was too big. 

“There’s usually a lot of people here, but this, I said whoa.” 

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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