Babies 'R' Us to fill old Media Play store

Deborah Austin

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Media Play left its Rockford store vacant early last year — but soon, Babies “R” Us could be moving in.

The empty storefront, at 6449 E. State St. in the Forest Plaza shopping center, still carries faint outlines of the former Media Play lettering. The store closed in early 2006.

But city of Rockford records show that Indianapolis-based real estate company Simon Property Group, owner of the Forest Plaza shopping center, was issued a construction permit Nov. 14 for $208,500 worth of Babies “R” Us landlord work, including demolition work.

Babies “R” Us, a subsidiary of giant toy retailer Toys “R” Us headquartered in Wayne, N.J., is a specialty store chain with baby products including clothing, bedding, furniture, car seats and strollers. Launched in 1996, it has 259 U.S. stores.

Corporate spokespersons for Babies “R” Us and Simon Properties said this week they could not comment on future plans for a Babies “R” Us store at the site.

But this week, on the Simon Properties Web site, a Forest Plaza leasing brochure showed Babies “R” Us as the new tenant.

The brochure proposed demolishing the 53,954-square-foot space formerly occupied by Media Play, and constructing a 47,734-square-foot anchor store in its place. The Babies “R” Us store would occupy 32,624 square feet of the newly constructed space, with an unnamed junior anchor to go into the remaining 15,110 square feet.

The property has a fair market value of $7.35 million, according to the Winnebago County Supervisor of Assessment Office.

Forest Plaza stretches from the intersection of East State Street and Mulford Road on the west, to East State and Trainer Road intersection on the east. Tenants include Kohl’s, Michael’s, Petco and Bed Bath & Beyond toward the western portion of the shopping center. In the eastern portion, where the proposed Babies “R” Us space is located, there are more vacant storefronts. Tenants include a T J Maxx, and an OfficeMax store anchoring the easternmost spot next to the proposed new construction.

An Old Country Buffet, at 6403 E. State St. in the eastern portion of the center, closed in June 2006 and the space remains vacant.

The Media Play at Forest Plaza opened Nov. 9, 1992, the first of the chain. It was to serve as a prototype for the hundreds of stores that were to open nationwide, according to Rockford Register Star archives. But only 89 Media Play stores ever opened.

Competition from big-box retailers, online sellers and discount stores such as Wal-Mart resulted in declining sales for Media Play.

A previous tenant of the Media Play site was Ames Department Store. It was one of 74 stores Ames closed in 1990 while in bankruptcy protection.

Reporter Deborah Austin may be reached at 815-987-1341 or at