Ashland, Kentucky is a city of 20,000 residents located in the northeastern part of the state near the border of Ohio and West Virginia. It is the second largest city in this tri-state area and part of the Ashland-Huntington OH-KY-WV metropolitan area, which is home to nearly 300,000 people. Known primarily for heavy industry and raw materials processing, which had a successful run during the 19th century and into the first half of the 20th century, Ashland and the entire area have been in decline for several decades. Today, the area is supported by what is left of its manufacturing core, along with medicine and higher education.
The first major regional mall in the Ashland-Huntington metro area was the Huntington Mall, which opened in Barboursville, WV, in 1981. With four anchor pads and 100-plus stores, Huntington Mall opened as, and still is, the largest mall in West Virginia. Throughout its life it has been a successful, destinational center and has become surrounded by the region’s biggest and best collection of chains and boxes to date.
However, residents on the Kentucky side of the metropolitan area, including those in Ashland, were growing tired of making the 30 minute drive to Barboursville to go to Huntington Mall. So, in the late 1980s they embarked on not one, but two proposals for building enclosed malls in Ashland, Kentucky, at the same time. Hey, it was the 80s…
The first proposal for a mall in Ashland came in 1988 and was put forth as a joint venture between DeBartolo Corporation, Glimcher Realty Trust, and Crown American, on a pad near downtown Ashland. The site attracted interest from anchors Wal-Mart, JCPenney, and Allentown, Pa.-based Hess’s, and opened in October 1989. The mall was named Ashland Town Center and had 441,000 square feet of leasable space on one level.
The second proposal for a mall in Ashland also came in 1988, as developer Zamias Enterprises determined that Ashland could support not one, but two, regional malls, and put forth a proposal for an enclosed mall
Zamias leveraged the mall’s location, closer to the interstate, against its distance from a population center. They thought another mall would draw traffic from I-64 and thus would become profitable and, at the very least, hold its own against Ashland Town Center. This site attracted interest from Sears, Wheeling, W. Va.-based Stone & Thomas, K-Mart and Phar-Mor, and it opened in November 1989. Named Cedar Knoll Galleria, this mall was billed to be slightly larger than Ashland Town Center and it opened with 600,000 square feet on one level.
As the 1990s began, Ashland became the ostensible envy of teens everywhere, with over 1 million square feet of enclosed retail space in two malls, all for a town of 20,000 people plus environs. However, it wasn’t long before disparity developed between Ashland’s two malls. In fact, it started right out of the gate, as Cedar Knoll Galleria opened with an only 69% occupancy rate. While this is somewhat common for brand new malls, it’s typical for the occupancy rate to go up closer to 100% within the first year. Not so for Cedar Knoll Galleria; its fortunes only fell and fell, as occupancy dwindled as the years went on. Two anchor pads at Cedar Knoll Galleria were never built, and in 1999 the Stone & Thomas anchor became Dayton-based Elder Beerman as the latter purchased the former. Meanwhile, Ashland Town Center, in the middle of town, attracted shoppers and kept its occupancy rate high throughout the 1990s.
From 2001 to 2003, some energy came to Cedar Knoll in the form of Michigan-based hypermarket Meijer, and Minnesota-based discounter Target, both of whom wanted to construct a store at the mall. Unfortunately, though, Boyd County government prevented the deals from taking place by disallowing incentivization for the stores’ construction, and both stores went away. As a result, neither store has – as of 2009 – located in Ashland. However, Target eventually opened in Barboursville near Huntington Mall – about 30 minutes away.
In 2002, anchor Phar-Mor left the mall as that company went out of business, and a popular Italian restaurant closed about the same time after discovering Boyd County was a “dry” county – meaning no alcohol could be served there. Oops Also about this same time, the Food Court emptied out completely, and K-Mart closed during a round of bankruptcy purges.
Not surprisingly, in 2003 Zamias realized their folly and gave up the ghost, went bankrupt and put the nearly failed Cedar Knoll Galleria on the selling block. In 2004 the ailing property sold and the mall was renamed Kyova Tri-State Mall, a redundant portmanteau of the states Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. The new owners, Eggleston Associates of Cincinnati, realized the mall had some potential despite its lackluster history and made some necessary repairs. The roof was replaced, and portions of the mallway were restored to a usable condition.
The new owners also found tenants for the empty Phar-Mor and K-Mart anchor pads. In 2005, Steve and Barry’s opened in the former K-Mart space, and in 2007 a large, stadium-style theatre opened on the site of the former Phar-Mor. In addition, the restaurant liquor woes were solved in 2007 when Boyd County voted to allow liquor sales there.
Despite these boosts, however, Kyova Mall still remains a troubled facility, and as of early 2008 it had a 21% vacancy rate in smaller shops along the mallway. Some of the food court tenants have returned, though, and a popular ‘Build-a-Bear’ style stuffed animal factory opened in the mall. Also, as of late 2008, Steve and Barry’s closed, leaving a major anchor pad dark once again. In addition, 2008 saw a major revamp of downtown Ashland’s mall, with a small expansion and a brand new JCPenney store.
As of early 2009, the sinking economy doesn’t bode well for the continued success of Kyova Mall, even despite the addition of the theater. We’ll cross our fingers, though, that perhaps Target or Meijer (or someone) still might be interested in the empty anchor pad, and that this mall can get off the ground. The photos here were taken in July 2008; leave us some comments and let us know what you think.