White Oaks Mall opening day lineup (1977)

Macy’s gets top billing at White Oaks Mall’s Wabash Avenue main entrance, 2022 (SCHS photo)

“Think of us as your Big Apple,” White Oaks Mall boasted in ads on Grand Opening Day, Aug. 24, 1977.

Ninety-nine stores lined the corridors of the mall that day, including four “anchor” department stores – Myers Brothers, Famous-Barr, Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward – all of which occupied both upper and lower levels at the ends of the mall’s wings.

The first stores, among them Osco Drug, Zales jewelers and So-Fro Fabrics, actually opened at White Oaks on March 30, 1977. Interior construction wasn’t finished yet, however, especially in the mall’s center court.

Grand-opening ballyhoo included appearances by a batch of celebrities, greater and lesser. Ed McMahon, sidekick to late-night talk-show host Johnny Carson, was master of ceremonies. The other main headliner was President Jimmy Carter’s feckless brother Billy.

Sports figures included Chicago Bulls center Artis Gilmore; St. Louis Cardinals/Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock (who hawked his umbrella hat, the “BroccaBrella” in Springfield); tennis hustler Bobby Riggs; soccer star Kyle Rote Jr.; and 1976 Olympics decathlon champion Bruce Jenner (then still identifying as male; Jenner came out as transgender in 2015 and changed their name to Caitlyn Jenner).

The “celebrity” list was rounded out by Miss Illinois Nancy Beatty, soap-opera actor Tom Hallick, and Illinois Lt. Gov. Dave O’Neal.

Most of the celebs, decked out in white tuxedos, climbed into hot-air balloons for a brief balloon race. McMahon was declared the winner, although Carter claimed he was victorious “because he ended up with the cleanest white tuxedo.”

Thousands of people crammed the mall for the opening, including an estimated 150 people lined up to get Jenner’s autograph. State Journal-Register reporter Andy Lindstrom reported, however, that two of the most popular celebrities weren’t on the official program.

One was Ronald McDonald of McDonald’s Hamburgers, who was besieged by autograph hounds.

The other was Mary Shippen, the state poster girl for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Mary, 6, confined to a wheel chair for the past five years, was a symbol for the grand opening’s drive to raise $50,000 to fight the crippling disease.

“She loved meeting all the celebrities,” said her father, Robert Shippen of Springfield. “But Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse were her favorites.”

Stores listed in the State Journal-Register as open at White Oaks Aug. 24, 1977, were:

In 2022, Spencer’s gifts was one of three White Oaks stores that first opened in 1977 (SCHS)

Lower level

  • Roberts Brothers (men’s clothing)
  • Gordon’s Jewelers
  • Father & Son (men’s shoes)
  • Winston’s Bakery
  • Susie Casuals (women’s clothing)
  • Stuart’s (women’s clothing)
  • The Hub (men’s clothing)
  • Foxmoor (women’s clothing)
  • Waldenbooks
  • Nobil Shoes
  • Illini Sporting Goods
  • Wags Restaurant
  • S.A. Barker (women’s clothing)
  • Topps & Trowsers (men’s clothing)
  • Mermod Jaccard & King (jewelry)
  • Buster Brown (children’s shoes)
  • Florsheim (men’s shoes)
  • Swiss Pretzel
  • Lobers (shoes)
  • Spencer’s (gifts)
  • Bressmer’s (department store)
  • Aladdin’s Castle (entertainment)
  • Uniform Shop
  • Athlete’s Foot
  • Luca Pizza
  • Flowerama
  • Lowry Organ
  • Orange Bowl
  • Shaver’s World
  • Kinney Shoe
  • Brooks Fashion (women’s clothing)
  • The Children’s Shop (children’s clothing)
  • JoAnn Fabrics
  • Printer’s Ink (books)
  • Hickory Farms (food)
  • Ms. Ltd. (women’s clothing)
  • Earring Tree
  • Cookie Factory
  • Star of India (clothing)
  • Dutch Mill (candy)
  • Dockside Galley (seafood)
  • Circus World (toys)
  • Jean Nicole (women’s clothing)
  • National Shirt (men’s clothing)
  • Baker Shoes
  • Osco Drug
  • Carousel (food)

Upper level

  • Herndon’s (women’s clothing)
  • Merle Norman (cosmetics)
  • Oriental Gifts
  • Parklane (hosiery)
  • Maling Shoes (women’s shoes)
  • Paul Harris (women’s clothing)
  • County Seat (clothing)
  • The Limited (women’s clothing)
  • Just Pants
  • MCL Cafeteria
  • IPCO Optical
  • Morton’s (women’s clothing)
  • Gingiss Formalwear
  • Kay Campbell (women’s clothing)
  • Bottom Half (clothing)
  • Hanover (shoes)
  • Tinder Box (tobacco products)
  • Zales (jewelry)
  • Merry-Go-Round (clothing)
  • Richman Brothers (men’s clothing)
  • The Company (men’s clothing)
  • Musicland (records)
  • Orange Julius
  • Life Stride (women’s shoes)
  • Breslers (ice cream)
  • Air Step (women’s shoes)
  • Thom McAn (men’s shoes)
  • Silvermans (men’s clothing)
  • Motherhood Maternity
  • Hot Dog on a Stick
  • The Ranch (clothing)
  • Service Optical
  • Tannenburg & Sandervitz (deli)
  • General Cinema
  • Book Market
  • Radio Shack
  • General Nutrition
  • Helzberg Diamonds
  • Claires (jewelry)
  • House of Faces (cosmetics)
  • Riggings (men’s clothing)
  • Murray’s (shoes)
  • Kirlin’s (cards and gifts)
  • Casual Corner (women’s clothing)
  • So Fro Fabrics
  • Byerly Music

Kiosks

  • Children’s Photographer
  • Things Remembered (variety)

Anchors

  • Sears
  • Montgomery Ward
  • Famous-Barr
  • Myers Brothers

Maps of the mall indicated 15 storefronts remained vacant at the grand opening.

Forty-five years later, White Oaks, along with malls around the country, had suffered from changing shopper tastes. A walking tour in June 2022 suggested the mall had about three dozen obvious vacancies.

Of the original four anchor stores, three were gone; the fourth, Famous-Barr, was acquired by Macy’s in 2006. As a Macy’s, it was still in business in 2022. Three other stores remained of the 99 that opened their doors on Aug. 24, 1977: jewelers Helzberg and Zales and Spencer’s gifts.

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