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Struggles Exacerbated On Magnificent Mile With Gap, Macy's Leaving, But Advocates Say Reinvention Will Come

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's hard to imagine the city without the Magnificent Mile.

The grand and iconic stretch of North Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Oak Street is a huge draw for tourists, and it's a big boost to the city's bottom line.

But now with big stores like Macy's and the Gap leaving, CBS 2's Tara Molina was asking what the city is doing to keep North Michigan Avenue alive.

It will get worse before it gets better – that's the word from city officials on the state of the Mag Mile. But a store owner we talked to there said without help, she can't afford for it to get any worse.

The clock is ticking and store closing sales are on for the Gap at 555 N. Michigan Ave. and Macy's at the Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan Ave. They are the latest to announce they're leaving the Mag Mile.

And with storefront after storefront already empty, it's tough news for other flagships on the strip. But they aren't the only ones.

"We wonder if we're going to survive," said Miyanna Mochere, who owns Strides in Water Tower Place, which has been anchored by Macy's – formerly Marshall Field's – since it opened in the mid-1970s.

"Here in Water Tower Place, everything is closed," Mochere said. "Nobody is coming here anymore."

Mochere moved to Chicago from Kenya five years ago, and ultimately chose to open her business at Water Tower Place. But she said it is harder than ever to be the small business owner in a mall with seven levels of chain stores.

"We have begun to reassess if we need to stay open or close," she said.

Business is down 75%. Mochere said they can't afford to lose any more foot traffic, so they could be next.

"Possibly consider relocation," she said.

Enter Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), who is candid about how all this looks.

"When you have this ghost-town feel with tumbleweeds blowing down the street, people want to stay away," Hopkins said.

He calls this an already difficult year for the tax engine of the city.

"This area generates $1.7 billion in property taxes annually," Hopkins said. "So we need to revitalize the downtown area as fast as we can to get that economic engine restarted."

But he also said there will be some hard times ahead.

"It's a domino effect," Hopkins said. I'm afraid it's going to get worse before it gets better, but eventually, we will recover. Michigan Avenue will eventually bounce back. I have no doubt."

He added, "We need to reinvent the Mag Mile anyway, and we now have the opportunity to do that."

He said he and others are already at work to keep the Magnificent Mile magnificent – despite the shift to online sales.

"There's some light at the end of the tunnel," said Kimberly Bares, President of the The Magnificent Mile Association. "The impact of the pandemic has accelerated what we were already seeing."

But she added, "While it is hard to hear news that some of these beloved stores are closing, it is certainly not the end of the Magnificent Mile."

Mochere just hopes it's enough.

"I cannot afford to wait any longer," she said.

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