July 2011
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Shadows of their former selves

1. Bergner’s Sheridan Village

This actually happened a while ago, but I never got around to writing about it until tonight. Bergner’s in Sheridan Village has closed its basement level to shoppers. A wall has been erected around the old down-escalator. The housewares and luggage that used to be in the basement has moved to the second floor. The children’s clothes on the second floor have moved to the main level. They no longer have a real suit department. The customer service area no longer offers customer service, gift wrapping or Ticketmaster service. And some brands, like Ralph Lauren, are no longer carried at the Sheridan Village store (although they are carried at the store in the Shoppes at Grand Prairie).

Bergner’s in Sheridan Village isn’t going away anytime soon (one of the associates there informed me that they just signed a new five-year lease), but in my opinion they’re on a slow, inexorable march to extinction. It reminds me of how the old Bergner’s downtown started closing floors until finally the store closed altogether. As they cut back on brands, overall stock, and customer service, it will naturally lead to more customers migrating to the store at the Shoppes, if not their competition. It’s too bad, because I and many people I know prefer the Sheridan Village location to Grand Prairie, as it’s more centrally-located and has a better layout.

2. Heart of Illinois Fair

My family went to the Heart of Illinois Fair today. We were there from about 1 until 4:30. Admission was $8 for adults, $4 for children 6-12, so for my family of five it cost $28 just to walk through the gate. The rides were provided by Miller Spectacular Shows, and included the old standbys — the Ferris wheel, the Scrambler, Tilt-a-Whirl — and many others (but not as many as there used to be). You could either buy $1 tickets for the rides (each ride required 2-3 tickets), or you could get a $15 wristband that gave you unlimited rides from noon until 6:00. (After 6, the wristbands went up to $20.) We got the wristbands, which set us back $75.

We didn’t have any trouble getting on the rides. There were no lines. Many of the rides included us and one other family; and on some, we were the only riders. When we pulled in the parking lot, we were one of no more than 50 cars. By the time we left, things had picked up a little — there were maybe 100 cars. There weren’t as many vendors as in the past. The place felt nearly deserted.

I remember when I was younger, the place would be packed — I mean PACKED — on a beautiful Saturday afternoon like we had today. You’d have trouble finding a place to park. I remember once having to park across Northmoor because the Expo Gardens lot was full. Of course, back then, they had real concerts in the evening (at no extra charge). And they had the Mighty Blue Grass Shows providing the rides, which included a roller coaster, Himalaya (“Do you want to go faster?”), Sky Wheel (what we used to call a double Ferris wheel), and Dream Machine (swings).

The kids had fun (and fell asleep before their heads hit their pillows tonight), but I left wondering if the fair would be back next year. They seem to be following the Journal Star management method: offer less and less each year for more and more money.

30 comments to Shadows of their former selves

  • Maddy

    I, too, prefer the Sheridan Village Bergners. I remember going there as a child at Christmastime to see the talking Christmas tree. Back then, they even had a toy department in the basement, a bridal department, a restaurant, and Peanut Butter Haven (or was it Heasven?). Ahh, memories!

    We haven’t been to the fair in years–we cannot justify paying the admission fee. It does seem too high just to walk around. I do miss the pork chop palace, though.

  • District 150 observer

    I too as a kid went to the fair every year–I even snuck in a few times. I could hear the music and the hustle and bustle at night while laying in bed. I haven’t been back in decades.

    Bergners in Sheridan Village is where my family did the majority of non-grocery shopping, but that was before Northwoods. I too remember the talking Christmas tree and the restaurant upstairs (who remembers the name of the restaurant?–it is on the tip of my tongue.)

    The times they are a changin.

  • Mahkno

    In all fairness Ruhl & Ruhl, who seem to at least be managing Sheridan village if not own it, have done a terrible job filling the place. There are so many empty storefronts. They jacked up the rent and the place cleared out. Now it seems to be one of those on paper money losers that commercial management companies hold to offset taxes on profitable ones. HyVee is the only highlight there.

  • Mahkno

    They need to move the Heart of Illinois fair out of Peoria. Put it in Hanna City or Princeville.

  • conrad stinnett

    I am not a supporter of Grand Prairie and prefer not to shop there. I see no good reason why the Sheridan Village/Evergreen Square area can’t be a prefered central city shopping area

  • The Skandia restaurant was upstairs at Bergner’s in Sheridan Village. Bergner’s has been wanting to leave the Village for years but has held on. Bet they are gone in 2 years.

  • Joe Pye

    Peoria is not a big enough town to support two locations of the same department store. Especially if one store is going to carry more and different items. As soon as Bergner’s opened a store in Grand Prairie, I knew eventually the Sheridan village store was going to close. Frankly I am surprised its lasted this long.

  • District 150 observer

    Thanks Emtronics. I knew it was an exotic name. 🙂

  • I too like the Sheridan Village Bergners. Can’t stand fighting the traffic to drive to the Shoppes.
    Central city residents need to fight back somehow.
    As for the fair… always hot. I never went. I hope they dropped the abusive animal acts they have had in the past — caged animals, elephant rides, etc.

  • bookgirl

    This is all very sad stuff. I, too, remember going to Sheridan Village as a little girl and being amazed by the talking Christmas tree, and just the store in general. Coming from a smaller, neighboring town, Bergners in Sheridan Village seemed very cosmopolitan and big city to my little girl eyes! I thought the restaurant was amazing, and what a treat to get something to drink or eat while you were shopping! I miss those days…I don’t think that Grand Prairie, in general, seems to do a whole lot better. The bigger stores, like Bergners and Borders, etc., seem to do alright, but I never seem to see much traffic in the other stores when I am out there. MAybe it’s just during the times that I am there. Sadly, the place that seems to be on “an inexorable march to extinction”-in some ways- is Peoria itself! So much about the city’s character and ethic seems to have changed over the past two decades, and the effect it’s had on Peoria overall, from development to retail, seems more and more evident. I know there are still good things going on in Peoria, but the sad, heartache stuff seems to be what is more prevalent lately.

  • Ya know, I may have mis-spelled that name. It may have been Scandia but that was the name as pronounced. Of course I’m no Billy Dennis. I do have a spell checker.

  • Doesn’t anyone miss the smells of that place. I mean you could walk in through the wide open front (years ago) and over the grate with the air blowing down hard and into the A/C and when you hit the men’s department, you could smell the leather. So it seemed. I also recall a candy counter by the escalators that sold candy by the bag and expensive chocolate bars.

  • Emtronics, according to a 10/19/04 Journal Star article, “The Bergner’s had two restaurants until the late 1990s – a full service sit-down restaurant upstairs called the Villager, which later changed to Skandia and then Cream City Cafe, and a deli on the lower level called Peanut Butter Heaven.”

    And I forgot to mention that they’re apparently saving money on air conditioning now. When we went into the store yesterday evening, it was warm inside.

  • Yes that was it. Peanut Butter Heaven. I remember now. I remember while going to Thomas Jefferson, a few of us kids would hoof it to Bergner’s on a Friday and have lunch in the Skandia restaurant and get back in time for school. Of course you needed to have $3 to get a decent lunch.

    Oh and the wide open grate entry with the blowers is long gone too. They have doors now.

  • Frustrated

    C.J. – who owns Expo Gardens? In running my kids here and there, I drive Northmoor daily in the afternoon and evening. Several days last week, there were little or no cars in the afternoon and a slim group in the evening. I would love to see that property sold and developed as something else. It is such a prime location.

  • I think another reason why the fair doesn’t fair well (pun sort of intended) anymore as there are soooo many other things to do/attractions in the summer that didn’t exist when I was a kid. Of course, it doesn’t help their cause when they charge more and offer less.

    I remember “the smell”, too, Em! I remember mom circling and circling the parking lot trying to find a parking place to go Christmas shopping and we’d usually end up parking where Panache is now.

  • You know, having only been here for the last 20 years as a resident, I guess I do miss some of the nostalgia associated with Bergners and the Fair. Actually, I take that last one back. I was about 9 or 10 when we visited my grandma and grandpa here in Peoria (mom and dad were both from here), and I remember one fourth of July when we sat on the roof of my grandpa’s house at the corner of Wisconsin and Paris to watch the annual fireworks display at the Peoria Stadium. The next night, grandpa took everyone out to the Gold Lion for dinner and we followed up with a trip to the Heart of Illinois Fair. Now mind you, this was the 1960’s, and there were all sorts of rides and amusements there, including a freak show and all sorts of carnival attractions. Carver Lumber was where the Aldi’s is on War Memorial, and there was a dairy outlet on the corner on the other side, where Family Video now stands.
    I don’t remember ever hearing about anyone shooting at anyone in school, and I do remember being able to play with the local kids and climbing up in my grandmother’s mulberry tree to eat berries and make a mess of my clothes. I guess I could go on and on about a lot of memories, but that is what they are…memories.
    The clientele that would support the fare that C.J. mentions are no longer shopping at Bergners. As to the HOI Fair, well C. J., haven’t been in about 15 years, and definitely would not go in this heat. Maybe I’m getting too old, maybe I’m tired of the same old things. Believe me, a Ferris Wheel or Roller Coaster is the same now as they have always been.
    Oh, and if you want to get something to eat while shopping, head into HyVee’s. Their food court is exceptional and the selection is out of this world.

  • Sharon Crews

    Originally, I vowed that I wouldn’t shop at Bergner’s at Grand Prairie. I held out for a long time. As a first-year teacher, I worked at the then new Sheridan Village Bergner’s–and had bemoaned the loss of the downtown Bergner’s. I, also, ate many meals at the Bergner restaurant–both downtown and in Sheridan Village. I still usually give Sheridan Village Bergner’s my first try–but it has ceased to carry some brands and the wider selections now available at Grand Prairie.

    Also, I vowed not to go to HyVee’s but have tried to take turns between Kroger’s and HyVee. Friday I argued with myself as to which one to give my business. The main thing I wanted was hot dogs. I chose Kroger’s–the entire section was bare–all the hot dogs still in boxes that employees had just begun to open. I don’t know why they chose Friday at 4 p.m. to rearrange that meat section, but I left and went to HyVee.

  • Oh no! I loved parking in back of Bergner’s and entering from the level where you could go up to shoes or down to the salon! It reminded me of the old days shopping there with my mom. And I do remember the air blowing through the floor vents in front and the smell of leather, Emtronics. And the talking Christmas tree, even though it creeped me out, is a great memory.

    As for the fair, I can’t really say that I remember going as a child, but we lived in Chillicothe. I do recall going once to hear 38 Special play, I think.
    When I was in my 20s a group of us went a few years in a row and ate tons of fair food for lunch, which the boss would pick up the tab for.

  • shay

    The basement had a break room right off the toy department. I remember spending Saturdays down there taking manners classes called Blue Blazers And White Gloves by Marjabelle Stewart. I remember Milton Berle making an appearance there. Big time stuff for quiet little Peoria. I remember peanut butter heaven being a free standing kiosk upstairs with a white cloudlike roof with clear white Christmas lights simulating stars.

  • Bob

    I agree with Frustated. The property could be better used. How about relocate Taft there? Then they could put the fairgrounds on the riverfront, merge it with steamboat days,and add go carts. The museum would solve the fairs attendance problems. Everyone would be happy.

  • Anne C

    Bergner’s may want to rethink the situation before it puts all of its eggs in the Grand Prairie basket. The Shoppes will most likely be losing another anchor soon:

  • Marcus

    Frustrated and Bob: You may laugh but there is some pretty dense housing complexes not too far from there, its a large parcel away from the residences, its close to a school, and next to an undesireable bus depot. Where better to build new public housing in the more north parts of peoria.

  • outsidethebox

    Ahh…takin’ a cruise down Old Man(Woman)River…we love livin’ in the past sometimes don’t we?

  • Frustrated

    RE: Expo property. I was thinking along the lines of a sports complex/wellness complex. For a city the size of Peoria, there is no indoor sports facilities to host swim meets for example. Just like E.P has the ball diamonds, only host regional and state swim meets along with providing the citizens a top notch sport facility. Perhaps an indoor/outdoor tennis facility along with it. Morton is launching a big tennis complex — why not Peoria?

    I believe 5 Points in Washington has been a big draw for families. Peoria has nice housing on the North end, but no real draw to offset the high taxes and “perception” of inferior schools.

    I do not think it is in Peoria’s best interest for Expo to try and reinvent itself by having bigger and better tractor pulls, fairs, or race car driving . . . this property needs to be re-purposed.

  • Long Gone

    And remember when you could ride the city bus in Peoria and not get shot at? Gosh, those were the days.

  • Dick

    Bergners downtown store was made up of three floors of retail and remaining three floors housed the coporate offices. In January 1985 the company annu=ounced the purchase of the Boston Stores and the relocation of the corporate headquarters to Milwaukee. The doewtown store closing sale did not start until January 1986. It was at that time the second floor was closed off. The main floor and lower level remain opened until the store closed on January 31, 1986. I was the Operation and Personnel Manager and the lost person to turn off the llights and lock the door.

  • septboy

    My guess is the Sheridan Village store will become like the Madison Park store used to be– a closeout/discount version. My daughter got an outfit as a Christmas gift from the Village store & the size was wrong. We tried to exchange for a larger size, which they didn’t have. Went to GP & they didn’t even carry that brand of clothing.

  • septboy

    My guess is the Sheridan Village store will become like the Madison Park store used to be– a closeout/discount version. My daughter got an outfit as a Christmas gift from the Village store & the size was wrong. We tried to exchange for a larger size, which they didn’t have. Went to GP & they didn’t even carry that brand of clothing. I remember the music department that used to be where PBH ended up. I spent many breaks in PBH over my 4 yr career at the Village.

  • Bill Seipel

    Here’s a link to the Bergner’s talking Xmas tree:
    Bergners Talking Christmas Tree