Yellow Bird Stationery, Invitations and Gifts is the latest Plaza del Lago shop to express concern over the direction of the shopping center under new owners WS Development.
Shop owner Cindy Manhoff shared on social media an update from a recent conversation in which WS Development officials offered the gift shop a new and smaller space within the center.
“We were shocked!” reads the post, which also describes an initial meeting with plaza owners that “seemed to go very well and they regarded us as an anchor store. Last week’s meeting with them was a different story!”
A representative for WS Development declined to comment on negotiations with Yellow Bird and did not deny the details shared by Yellow Bird, a 40-plus-year-old Wilmette business.
Cindy Manhoff — whose family acquired Yellow Bird 34 years ago — told The Record that the initial meeting with WS Development was in May and the more-recent discussion occurred in early December when she called the developer in hopes of hearing an update on prospective new tenants. Instead, Manhoff said WS told her they wanted Yellow Bird to move to an interior space much smaller than the shop’s current footprint.
“I was just floored,” said Manhoff, who responded by posting a summary of the situation within the store and eventually online. The post also included a request for the shop’s customers to contact WS Development in support of the shop.
“My customers when they read the information were so upset. Some were at the register crying,” Manhoff said. “The support has been amazing. … I don’t know how many messages (WS Development) got. It had to be a lot.”
Plaza del Lago is a historic, 100,000-square-foot shopping center near Wilmette’s lakefront that claims to be the second oldest such development in the country. Formerly in an area dubbed No Man’s Land, the plaza was annexed into Wilmette in the 1940s and currently comprises more than 30 storefronts in spread between an open-air concept and indoor galleria.
WS Development purchased Plaza del Lago in 2022, not long after it acquired Edens Plaza on the west side of Wilmette, and committed to restoring and enhancing the shopping center. Improvements include aesthetic upgrades throughout with construction set for 2024 and a grand reopening tentatively scheduled for mid 2025.
The developer has also promised new “best in class local and national retailers” but has not announced any at this point. As for current tenants, at least seven businesses have left Plaza del Lago since WS Development took over.
Longtime Wilmette stores Hanig’s Footwear, Chantilly Lace, and Giggles and Giraffes/La Colonna moved to downtown Wilmette, while Rosati’s Pizza closed its plaza location and Char Crews closed entirely.
Amid public concern, WS Development sent a letter to the Wilmette Village Board in June that in part reads, “We ask for your patience while we finalize our plans and certainly while we undertake improvements to portions of the property and reopen the doors in 2025. The beginning of these projects is never the most fun part but what is to come from the newly restored Plaza del Lago is a place that we believe will make you all proud and that is what we strive to do every day.”
Plaza del Lago continues to be anchored by national chains Jewel, CVS and Starbucks and local stalwarts Convito Cafe and Market, Burhop’s Seafood, and Yellow Bird.
While Yellow Bird’s future in Plaza del Lago is up in the air, Manhoff said she wants the shop to remain in Wilmette.
Wilmette officials, including Village Manager Mike Braiman and Village President Senta Plunkett, met with Manhoff and Yellow Bird management on Monday to discuss the shop’s future. Braiman said that the Village is committed to keeping Yellow Bird in Wilmette, “whether that’s somewhere in Plaza del Lago or elsewhere in the community.”
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