Specialty stores thrive while mall continues to be distressed

University Mall, which once housed over 70 shops and stores, now operates just 25. 

Andrew Erbes, the owner of Gloria Jean’s Coffee, said his business will close its doors due to a lack of foot traffic, a decrease in sales and increase in the capital costs. 

“Our sales are down to about a quarter of what they were pre-pandemic,” Erbes said. “The economics of it no longer make sense.”


Gloria Jean’s, which has been in operation since 1993, is slated to be shuttered by September, Erbes said, and another store is not currently slated to take its place.

“It’s sad to see some shops that we are used to seeing not here anymore. Of course, it hurts to see them go,” Erkan Alkis, the manager of Embroidery Station, said. 

Embroidery Station, which personalizes items like hats, shirts, blankets and back-to-school gear, has been one exception to the decline businesses such as Gloria Jean’s experienced at University Mall, Alkis said.

The mall was forced to close on March 21, 2020 due to Gov. JB Pritzker’s COVID-related stay-at-home order, and reopened May 28, 2020

“When everything opened back up we actually made an increase in sales,” Alkis said. 

Rebekah DePalma, the general manager of Earthbound Trading Company, said the store took a financial hit due to COVID restrictions. 

“There were people who didn’t want to wait in the line outside of the store to come in, and people would see a line, so they would just keep walking.” DePalma said.


Earthbound is also a specialty store, and DePalma said sales rebounded and increased as COVID restrictions were lifted. 

Because Earthbound Trading Company’s items or Embroidery Station’s services may not be reliably found in other towns or online, they are able to attract customers instead of relying on foot traffic. 

“We sell a lot of crystals, stones, tarot cards, things like that,” Depalma said. “We have a lot of guests that come from Evansville, Cape Girardeau, Paducah, so they’re coming from outside of southern Illinois specifically to University Mall for certain stores.”

Alkis said that while malls across the country are in distress, he believes the owners of University Mall, Mason Asset Management and Namdar Realty, are invested in riding out the downturn. 

“They are investors. They’ve been through this turmoil,” Alkis said. “At some point, things are going to shift back.”

DePalma said she tries not to worry about what other stores may or may not be doing. 

“I’m more focused on my store, and helping the team in my store to succeed,” DePalma said. 

Erbes said he hopes other shops in the mall are able to avoid closing, and he encourages people to support local businesses by patronizing local establishments. 

“The mall and the businesses in it are near and dear to my heart,” Erbes said. “I grew up in this mall, and have strong family connections to it.” 

Staff reporter Joel Kottman can be reached at [email protected] on Snapchat at @joelkottman and on Twitter at @JoelKottman Staff reporter Jason Flynn can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @dejasonflynn. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter