We are normally an “I-94” family when it comes to our malls of choice. A quick northbound jaunt up the expressway from our home on the northwest side takes us to Westfield Old Orchard, Northbrook Court, or even several of the smaller ones in Niles and Skokie. However, today we decided to try something new and head west to Oakbrook Center. (Note: a promotional consideration was given for this blog post by Oakbrook Center’s PR firm). Here are the most important points to consider when visiting.
Parking here, like many suburban malls, can be challenging, but especially on a holiday weekday right after Christmas. You’ve got to strategize. We had heard that a new parking structure had recently been built – called the Purple lot (see accompanying diagram). The mall itself was easy enough to find, located right off of the I-88 tollway. After entering the mall drive though, things got tricky. There are lots of surface lots surrounding the mall, but we wanted to get up close and into sheltered parking to minimize walking and having to cross busy streets. We quick-turned into an parking structure but quickly realized it was not the Purple lot and already at capacity. We buzzed out of that and after a couple of turns, got into the magic Purple lot. This parking structure looked brand new, and even had signage indicating how many parking spots would be open, though the signs hadn’t yet been activated. We zipped into a spot, and after some confusion about the escalators, figured out how to get up to the 2nd level right next to the AMC theaters and the new District dining area. Many of the restaurants had not yet opened, but it was certainly a convenient place to park, with restrooms nearby. I had also downloaded the official mall app, but had problems with it (at one point it crashed my smartphone and I had to uninstall). It wasn’t a big deal as there were plenty of directory kiosks close at hand.
After a quick lunch at Potbelly (which was packed and hard to find seating – it seems like the District dining scene can’t come soon enough to accommodate all the food service needs – more on that a bit later) we headed out to shop and explore. I had not been to Oakbrook Center for many years, and it seemed like the mall had gone through a refresh. It has become a multi-level shopping experience, with elevators leading from the dining to the main levels. In this regard it reminded me of navigating Westfield Old Orchard, another outdoor-style layout. Using architectural designs to create turns and alcoves, it gives the impression the mall is bigger than it probably is in terms of square footage. Most of the retailers were the usual suspects you expect to see at a mainstream mall. In any case, the brisk walk in the frigid weather made me feel like this mall had more than enough to offer everyone. We ended up walking most of the length of the mall, from its north end to near the south point at Barnes & Noble, which had a very comfy kids’ area and cafe. One final note: as a coffee addict, I make note of where to find java when I hit the mall. I was surprised that a mall of this size had only one tiny Starbucks outpost near the center. This particular one was so busy people were standing outside in frigid temperatures waiting to get in. Sadly, I had to skip the line this time. It seems like a larger store is badly needed here, one, like the Potbelly’s, with more seating area for customers.
In conclusion, this is a place I’d make a return visit, especially when the weather is more pleasant. I’d love to explore the stores and restaurants along the outer ring of the mall, but honestly as a creature of habit, will probably just make a beeline for the sheltered parking so I don’t have to walk too far for my caffeine fix.