Editor's note: This story is part of a special section commemorating the 50th anniversary of Woodfield Mall. Find the section here.
From the initial spark 50 years ago that turned Schaumburg's northeast corner into a downtown for the Northwest suburbs, Woodfield Mall remains the beating heart of Illinois' second largest hub of economic activity.
On a hot Tuesday afternoon just before the start of the school year, the regional mall's stores, eateries and entertainment venues were teeming with visitors of all ages.
"Obviously it's still the economic engine of the village and generates a lot of ancillary development around it," Schaumburg Economic Development Director Matt Frank said. "Woodfield continues to be a draw."
Other businesses, like those along Schaumburg's auto row, seek proximity to the mall and often incorporate "Woodfield" into their names, he added.
Woodfield's operations, of course, were affected like others by the state restrictions imposed for the COVID-19 pandemic. But the mall generated $8.6 million in home rule and sales taxes for the village of Schaumburg during the fiscal year ending April 30, 2019; $8.2 million during the year ending April 30, 2020; and $5.2 million during the year ending April 30, 2021.
Schaumburg Finance Director Lisa Happ said these figures don't reflect the added impact of people who shopped at Woodfield and then also shopped or dined at a neighboring business.
Schaumburg Business Association President Lisa Gilbert said the mall is a major ongoing contributor to the business community it essentially created.
"Woodfield has absolutely been a staple in the community and continues to be," she said. "Woodfield has always been a great partner to the Schaumburg Business Association. They are the major employer in Schaumburg."
Gilbert added that the mall is also of great benefit to employees of other businesses in the area, with its ability to provide whatever's needed with one stop.
"It's also team building -- with The Improv there -- and entertaining guests," she said.
General Manager Christopher Speca arrived only last year, but feels fortunate to be at the helm for Woodfield's 50th anniversary as it charts its course for the next half century.
"Woodfield has always been a mainstay in the Chicago market for first-to-market retailers," Speca said.
Examples range from the Apple store that opened in 2001 to Peppa Pig World of Play that opened in February -- both of them the fourth of their kind in the world.
Woodfield also hosts such iconic Chicago brands as Garrett Popcorn Shops and Stan's Donuts & Coffee.
Though originally built by the Taubman Co., Woodfield Mall was acquired by Simon Property Group in 2013. The new owner has modernized the space with a comprehensive renovation from 2015 to 2016 and the addition of a popular Dining Pavilion on the upper level in 2018.
These projects have helped keep Woodfield vibrant in the 21st century, Speca said.
"Woodfield is one of Simon's signature assets, one we're very proud of," he added. "We wanted to make sure the mall remains modern and relevant."
As many restaurants as the mall already had, the Dining Pavilion is seen as a key recent addition.
"Dining is a very important component of the shopping experience," Speca said.
And as much attention as online commerce has received in recent years, the reality is that shopping at a store remains a sensory, connective experience for a strong majority of people, he added.
But even after 50 years, finding the perfect mix of tenants to provide food, fun and merchandise is a continuous work in progress.
"We're always trying to identify the brightest and best uses," Speca said. "We'll never reach the point of complacency."
Heather Lloyd, Woodfield's director of marketing & business development, said the celebration of the 50th anniversary has been a special opportunity to learn what Woodfield has meant to area residents as they've shared their reminiscences from across the decades.
"Everyone has a strong, positive affinity to the mall," Lloyd said.