Forest Fair Mall / Cincinnati Mills / Cincinnati Mall; Cincinnati, Ohio

Editor’s note:  The following write-up was based on a submission by reader and contributor “Jonah Norason” in December 2010.  It was summarily edited for clarity, and sparingly for content – I added some dates and a few contributory facts where appropriate.  Enjoy it, this is one of my favorites.  The pictures accompanying the post are mine.

The phrase “If you build it, they will come” was coined in the classic 1989 film Field of Dreams, and, for the most part, it holds true to form. A mall can be built in the middle of nowhere and succeed; however, sometimes this is not the case. The infamous Dixie Square Mall was successful for a decade before it went to hell. Forest Fair Mall, located in north-suburban Cincinnati, was never that successful. It had a few moments when it was a decent mall, but ultimately it failed again and again.

The era was the late 1980s. Shopping malls, long past the “climate controlled shopping cities” era of the 1960s, were glorified by TV shows and movies. And of course, value malls were built too, for those who wanted to spend less than at the higher-priced “real malls”. LJ Hooker, an Austrailian company, decided to team up with Cincinnati-based Hyper Shoppes Inc., which had created a new hypermarket called bigg’s and was interested in taking it nationwide. Hypermarkets were a relatively new concept at the time, combining supermarkets (grocery, butcher, bakery, etc.) with general merchandise (clothing, electronics, etc.). Their joint venture (Editor’s note:  How awesome would it have been if, when they teamed up, they called themselves Hyper Hooker?) was to construct a mall in Cincinnati that was both value and mid-range, featuring bigg’s, Dayton-based Elder Beerman, and Higbee’s, a Cleveland-based department store (you’ve probably seen the flagship in A Christmas Story when Ralphie asks Santa for a Red Ryder BB gun) that was to enter the Cincinnati market.

But somehow, along the way, enough just wasn’t enough. During Forest Fair’s planning process, the CEO of LJ Hooker, George Herscu, decided to add upscale tenants Bonwit Teller, Sakowitz, B. Altman and Parisian to the mall, creating a “supermall” template that would feature a larger mixture of tenants, and run the gamut from value-oriented to upscale. Herscu hoped malls like these would be built across the nation. However, there was a snag: the aforementioned upscale department stores Herscu planned didn’t want to locate in Forest Fair Mall, a blue-collar suburb of Cincinnati. In response, Herscu’s solution was to buy controlling shares of them, integrating them into LJ Hooker and forcing them to locate there.  Might makes right, but what results can you expect when you force the market?

Bonwit Teller was a posh New York department store with its flagship store in Trump Tower (the original flagship was demolished). B. Altman was was an old fashioned, established department store, also based in New York on 5th Avenue. Altman’s had a “reputation for gentility and conservatism“. Sakowitz was never even in that area of the United States, as it was based in Houston and had locations from Houston to Phoenix. Unlike B. Altman and Bonwit Teller, it never preferred malls. Parisian was a Birmingham-based store that had other locations in Ohio, but mostly was located in the south. Higbee’s did not show up, as it was bought by Dillard’s and pulled out of the project entirely.

The overzealous mall ran overbudget and was forced to open in phases. bigg’s and a few other stores opened in the eastern corridor in 1988. This was the “value” end of the mall, and shoppers could take shopping carts from store to store. In March 1989, the rest of the mall opened, and oh, what a mall it was! The “Y” shaped two level corridor opened with B. Altman and Parisian anchoring the two variant branches of the “Y”, along with a two-level food court. Elder Beerman rested on one outside corner of the mall, while Time Out rested on the other.  A full-service amusement park, featuring mini-golf, bumper cars, a carousel, a ferris wheel, and space for 200 inline stores rounded out the mall.

In addition, Sakowitz and a two-level store called Sports USA took up in-line space. The center of the Y had a sunken area for an amphitheater, and, on the east end of the lower level, the corridor ended with the Forest Fair 8, an eight-screen movie theater.

According to DeadMalls.com, Forest Fair Mall was “absolutely ornate… far more so than anything else in Cincinnati. It featured arched copper roofs (still on the mall!), enormous skylights with brass bars running across them featuring a dizzying amount of tiny light bulbs. Also at the time I believe there were many large fountains, and an enormous center court featuring an ornately detailed ceiling”.  The mall also cost $200 million.

Forest Fair’s grand opening extravaganza featured celebrities, including Phyllis Diller and country music group Exile.

Featuring everything from posh hundred-dollar suits to bananas, there was no end to the shopping possibilities at Forest Fair. Or was there?

Despite the visible Interstate-friendly location and optimistic outlook, Forest Fair was doomed before it opened, according to one analyst.

“Retail observers predicted Forest Fair — then Ohio’s second-largest mall — was doomed before it even opened in March 1989. They didn’t like its mix of value retailers in one wing and high-end stores in another. They argued its chi-chi department stores, B. Altman and Bonwit Teller, were too upscale and unfamiliar to the Cincinnati shopper.” –The Cincinnati Enquirer, 1999

Herscu was arrogant about his project, saying people would call him a “damn fool” if he failed. Indeed, within several months the mall lost its upscale anchors, about 50% of its stores, and filed for bankruptcy. How could this happen? For starters, the nearby median income was $36,921: not the demographic who could afford the fine retailers on the west end of the mall.

In addition to arrogance and misjudging the market, competition was another factor in Forest Fair’s failure. Two malls, located close to Forest Fair, launched impressive remodeling and expansion plans, causing a retail surplus in north Cincinnati. Tri-County Mall, located a few miles from Forest Fair along I-275, added a second level and anchor store McAlpin’s to round out a solid retail roster. Northgate Mall, also located just a few miles away from Forest Fair, in the other direction, finished an early 1990s remodel.  Both Northgate and Tri-County were the anchors to larger retail corridors featuring numerous strip malls, restaurants, and big box stores; Forest Fair had far fewer of these complementary stores nearby because it was between the other malls and their established corridors.

In addition, Kenwood Plaza, a strip center in an affluent part of northeast Cincinnati was torn down and rebuilt as a two-level enclosed mall called Kenwood Towne Center between 1987-1988. It had Lazarus, JCPenney, and McAlpin’s, and would become the Cincinnati area’s best mall.

The departure of upscale anchors rattled Forest Fair. Sakowitz closed and was replaced by Parisian. B. Altman closed its Forest Fair store and went out of business. Bonwit Teller was sold to the Pyramid Companies of Syracuse, New York in 1990, and the Forest Fair store closed due to unprofitability.  Parisian disconnected from LJ Hooker and kept the Forest Fair store open.  bigg’s and Elder-Beerman held on as well.

Unfortunately, LJ Hooker plunged into bankruptcy (guess he was a damn fool after all), and Forest Fair was sold in 1991 along with Herscu’s other two malls: Thornton Town Center, a small mall in the Denver area anchored by little more than a bigg’s and a large amusement area, and Richland Fashion Mall of South Carolina. Thornton has been demalled, while Richland Fashion Square has been renamed to Midtown at Forest Acres and is not successful.

The early 1990s were an empty, sad time at Forest Fair, culminating in a restructuring period after the mall was sold. According to DeadMalls.com, a bizarre chain of events occurred, consisting of marketing twists, gang wars, and a fire in the food court. However, there were some small victories during this period. The Bonwit Teller was gutted for a new concept, The Festivals at Forest Fair, which opened in 1993. The Festivals at Forest Fair opened inside the mall featuring entertainment and nightclubs. With stone tiles imported from India to invoke an “outdoor experience”, the entertainment district offered several bars, nightclubs, and other shops. The two-level section included America Live!, Gator’s Beach Bar, and America’s Original Sports Bar, among other venues.

The theaters also became a dollar theater, which, after a few name changes, remain today.

The Festivals entertainment district wasn’t as successful as planned, and the mall continued to limp along. A stalwart group of existing tenants and new anchors, including the addition of Kohl’s in late 1994 in much of the former B. Altman and a CompUSA in the bigg’s wing, brought the mall to 75% occupancy. It was nowhere near the success it was designed to be in 1989, nor the competition-crushing behemoth it was expected to be.

In 1996, Forest Fair was sold again to Gator Investments Group, a Miami-based company that promised to make it the mall it was designed to be. It was going to be hard work, especially since CompUSA and Parisian pulled out within months of each other in 1998.  However, Guitar Center signed on, and by 1999, Forest Fair Mall had secured a lease with the giant outdoor chain Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, which opened in the former Parisian space. Ambitious plans were drawn, and Gator started signing new tenants for the mall through Glimcher Properties Trust, their leasing agent. There were some significant losses, though, as the Time Out on the Court amusement park closed.

By 2001, the mall was on the slow road to recovery. The food court was nearly full. Media Play, a big-box retailer selling electronics, books, music, videos, video games, and DVDs, opened. Off Fifth, the outlet form of Saks Fifth Avenue, opened. Babies R Us opened (though it was temporarily occupied by Stein Mart Outlet prior to this). Berean Christian Stores signed on as another junior anchor. A nightclub complex opened next to Kohl’s (disconnected from the mall concourse) called Metropolis. It replaced the last Festivals nightclub, Bourbon Street, as the whole Festivals annex was gutted for Burlington Coat Factory, which filled in the rest of the B. Altman space. A large amusement area for children, Namco WonderPark, opened and functionally replaced Time Out. Showcase Cinemas opened in the former spot of the theme park with Ohio’s first Steve & Barry’s University Sportswear below. Moore’s Fitness World opened on the top level of the old food court. The mall was to feature a mix of off-price and mid-line stores; however, only off-price, value-oriented stores showed up.  This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it wasn’t the realized vision promised by Gator Investments.

Finally, by the end of December 2001, things at Forest Fair were looking up. The mall was going to be renamed to “Forest Fair Fashions”, and it was home to Ohio’s first Bass Pro Shops and its first Steve & Barry’s University Sportswear.

“We’re spending almost $15 million renovating almost all of the storefronts and putting in a grand staircase,” said Michael Dunham, senior vice president of leasing and Gator’s top executive at Forest Fair. “We’re putting in giant billboards below the ceiling with fashion graphics. The entire Kohl’s concourse will have hardwood floors.” (Cincinnati Enquirer)

In addition, the amphitheater was backfilled to allow for some cafés in the space.

Gator also hinted they planned to sign Just for Feet and an ice rink, but that never happened, because Gator Corporation lost interest in the mall after a dispute involving Polaris Fashion Place in Columbus. So, the mall got a new owner again.

Enter The Mills Corporation. The Mills built its fortune constructing huge, sprawling mega-malls in large metropolitan areas across the country. They were always branded the same and named [_____] Mills.  The first part of each Mills’ name was the name of the city, suburb, or state it was built in (Katy Mills, Gurnee Mills, Arizona Mills, St. Louis Mills, Grapevine Mills), or even a significant landmark or cultural/historical name (Franklin Mills in Philadelphia, Potomac Mills in Washington DC, or Opry Mills in Tennessee). One, Discover Mills near Atlanta, was even named after a credit card. These malls would often feature a floorplan that resembled a racetrack (with a few exceptions, Sawgrass Mills in Florida, the largest, was originally supposed to resemble an alligator). They all had big theaters, outlet stores, many anchors, entertainment, and one more thing: they were all one story.

The Mills bought Forest Fair Mall in 2002 and decided to convert it to its Mills prototype, giving it an extensive remodel. This was the first (and last) time Mills bought a mall to totally convert it; soon afterward, Mills began buying larger, big-ticket malls, adding their own unique spin of entertainment and dining. Also, rather than peacefully converting Forest Fair, Mills decided it would completely shut Forest Fair in order to gut it and embark on the remodel. Unfortunately, this required giving all interior tenants the heave-ho, including original 1989 charter tenant Nadler Mens Store.

By February 2003, the entire mall closed, save the anchors. Elder Beerman decided not to stick around either, leaving only bigg’s as the last original tenant. bigg’s, Steve and Barry’s University Sportswear, Bass Pro Shops, Wonderpark, Kohl’s, Burlington Coat Factory, Berean Christian Store, Media Play, Off 5th, Babies R Us, and Guitar Center remained for business as usual.

In July 2004, the inside of the mall reopened with great fanfare, as Cincinnati Mills. It opened at 75% occupancy, 93% occupancy by early 2005. It was probably the mall’s biggest success to date. The top level of the old Elder Beerman also became home to Cincinnati’s own Johnny’s Toys.

As with all of the other times reinvention was attempted, problems soon began to befoul Cincinnati Mills. Mills malls were starting to become known as places where trouble-making teenagers would hang out. So, Cincinnati Mills enacted a dress code and enacted a harsh rule of no groups more than three in the mall.

But, as it turned out, The Mills was a terrible manager as well, and major success did not materialize for long. Johnny’s Toys closed down and Steve & Barry’s took the entire former Elder Beerman, while the old Steve & Barry’s was sold to Urban Behavior. Stores began to trickle out. Media Play was the first casualty in 2005 and was not replaced.

Here’s a Cincinnati Mills mall directory from 2005, courtesy archive.org:

Meanwhile, The Mills itself had problems on its own and was bought by Simon in April 2007. Simon continued to keep The Mills malls as a separate unit, though Mills’ two other projects (Tewksbury Mills in Massachusetts and Candlestick Mills in San Francisco) were cancelled entirely.

The mall was two-thirds full in 2007, but mall officials believed the future was bright.

As always, they were wrong.

By May 2007, things began going south at Cincinnati Mills, beginning with the loss of bigg’s. The 245,000 square foot bigg’s, the largest tenant in the mall, was losing money. The lease was almost up, and bigg’s was not looking to renew it. In addition, the other Midwest hypermarket, Meijer, had opened way too close for comfort, and bigg’s had previously converted to a smaller “outlet” format.

As 2007 ended, the mall began to spin out of control. Wonderpark closed in March 2008 after the manager was discovered paying his employees (who were minors) to pose for sex videos. bigg’s closed in July, leaving the huge space vacant. Simon began discussing selling the mall.

The disappointing holiday sales of 2008 did not fare well for the mall either. Guitar Center and Urban Behavior high-tailed it out of the mall. Steve & Barry’s, which occupied the former Elder Beerman, went out of business as well. The structure once designed for 150 stores was now 40% vacant, emptier than ever.  Not that it looked bad, either. Due to the 2004 remodel, the condition of the mall was great, except for the total lack of stores and shoppers.

Simon dumped Cincinnati Mills in March of 2009, selling it a realty company called North Star Port Authority.  The “Mills” name was officially dropped, having not transferred with the sale of the mall, and the mall was renamed Cincinnati Mall. The new company had non-demolition redevelopment in mind, though some plans did indicate that the bigg’s end would be demolished. They managed to attract totes ›› ISOTONER Warehouse Clearance to the old Urban Behavior a few months later, only to have Off 5th move out a few months later for (get this) an outlet mall!

Cincinnati Mall, as you may expect, did not turn the mall around. The totes ›› ISOTONER Warehouse Clearance closed, Showcase Theaters was bought by Rave Theaters, but it pulled the plug on it before conversion (it closed in March 2010). The bigg’s wing is now closed entirely.

SOURCES:
This topic on UrbanOhio
CityData.com
DeadMalls.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Wikipedia article, which I helped contribute to prior to this article
Shopping Mall Museum

Editor’s note:  I visited Cincinnati Mall most recently in November 2010.  I arrived slightly after dark, around 6 or 7 at night.  My first assumption was that the mall was closed.  There were no cars in any of the lots nearest the mall entrances, the only cars I saw were located in front of Bass Pro.  Thinking I’d give it a try, I parked at one of the ghostly, empty mall entrances and walked up to the door.  The lights inside the mall appeared to be off, but I approached the doors anyway.  Surprisingly, the mall was unlocked, and I hesitated for a moment before entering.  Was I supposed to be here?  Is it really open?  The regular lights still appeared to be off, but nighttime lights were on, basking the interior of the mall in an eerie moonglow.

As I entered the doors, I noticed a couple people walking around in the dim corridor that approached Bass Pro, whose entrance was closed off to the mall.  I actually wondered if I was supposed to be in there because it was so dark, but I kept going after seeing others.  After walking down the corridor leading from Bass Pro toward center court, I noticed not one store was open except for Babies R Us, an anchor.  Nearing center court, the crux of the Y, I discovered something that gave me pause.  A Claire’s store was open on the lower level, in the dark.  Yes, in the dark.  Look at the photos, I did no camera tricks here; it was really this dark in there while open.  I had never encountered this before, and it was both creepy and alarming.  After reaching center court, there were some normal, brighter lights on, and a few more people milling around.

I continued past center court, and walked toward Kohl’s.  Darkness again.  The Kohl’s wing was just as dark as the Bass Pro wing, and parts of it were sealed off with rope.  Kohl’s had also closed off one of its entrances to the mall.  Coming back from Kohl’s to center court, I saw another store open in the darkness on the lower level, Payless ShoeSource.  Again, I’ve never seen anything like this before!

After reaching center court again, I haded down the third and last corridor which used to go to bigg’s.  I encountered the ‘Picnic on the River’ Food Court area on the lower level, which surprisingly still had Gold Star Chili in operation, but little else.  Auntie Anne’s and Game Stop were still open on the second level.  The info desk on the second level had been abandoned, and the entire upper level of the mall in this wing was fenced off from the former bigg’s store onward. In addition, throughout the mall, large portions of entire wings were sealed off.  Burlington Coat Factory and the Danbarry Dollar Cinemas were still open in addition to Kohl’s and Babies R Us, but I can’t imagine the interior stores in this mall can sustain much longer.

More recently, In January 2011, Cincinnati Mall has turned up in the news again.  According to the Cincinnati Enquirer and Columbus Business Journal, owners of the mall recently presented suggestions to revitalize the site from its current sorry state.  Some of the suggestions included a Candlewood Suites hotel, an agricultural museum (!?), a hockey arena, other entertainment venues, and an indoor mountain bike park.  At this point, the ideas are not solid plans, because none of the ideas carry financing deals.  Locals are probably cautiously optimistic, at best, because the site has changed hands so many times in the past decade.

At any rate, World Properties, the New York-based firm who has owned the mall since March 2010, hopes to have these non-retail entities in mall within the next 2-3 years.  They probably also hope the four current anchors don’t plan on leaving, so they can get retailers back in the mix as well.  The new owners, on paper at least, seem committed to the site and we hope they aren’t just blowing smoke.  After a string of absentee owners and bad decisions, hopefully an eclectic, creative mix of non-retail entities can achieve the balance needed for success here.  I think owners were wise to realize the site is not marketable as retail-only, and also considered the failure of the previous entertainment district, so adding more options is a worth at try, provided they can get financing for it.  We’ll keep an eye on the progress here, and, as always, feel free to leave your comments and reactions.

Elsewhere on the net:

November 2004:

November 2010:

39 Responses to “Forest Fair Mall / Cincinnati Mills / Cincinnati Mall; Cincinnati, Ohio”

  1. Wow, just wow. I’ve never sene anything like that in my life! Some people just fail at ecconomics 101.

    Great work Jonah!

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  2. A million thanks for posting this.

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  3. Here’s a commercial for Moore’s Fitness World in its original location, second floor of Time Out, circa 1998.

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  4. YES! Finally! I’m sending an email to you all for the 2002 photos that you can see on Deadmalls.com . Sadly, only the one-level Biggs wing at that point had the full decor of the original mall. The photos on Deadmalls of the two-level portions sadly had been decontented at that point due to the scaled back renovations that Gator Forest Partners did. (before Mills came in and turned it into a kitsch museum).

    The Hypermarket was also tried out in Eastgate on a much more modest scale- combining a ‘micro-mall’ with a Biggs. It wasn’t any more successful.

    “Time Out on the Court” was in front of the food court in the middle, where the “ShowCase Cinemas” most recently as (the ferris wheel was right in the court where you see the “Picnic on the River” area. There are some fairly ugly support beams running through there now from the Gator renovation.. I have no idea why they were added.)

    For those who miss the original decor, what’s left of its sister mall, “Richland Fashion Mall / Midtown at Forest Acres” does a convincing impression.

    One curious thing about the Gold Star Chili – it used to be oddly located on the 2nd floor as recently as 1998, where the former Showcase Cinemas now sits. There were stories that the original food court was on the 2nd floor, however I remember Moore’s fitness being next to it before they moved to make way for the movie theater.

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    Pseudo3D Reply:

    @alpha, you are referring to “Bigg’s Place” in Eastgate, which is scheduled to be a Jungle Jim’s International Market. Apparently said mall also had a Linens N Things.

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    Bobby P. Reply:

    @Pseudo3D, Never heard of LnT at Bigg’s Place, but apparently it had Marshalls. There’s also a Hobby Lobby that looks like it may be a former Builder’s Square.

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    Pseudo3D Reply:

    @Bobby P., I know because of a satire published in Cincinnati Magazine (see Google Books) about bigg’s. While the article is pretty useless, it does have a lot of neat photos.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=QB8DAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA90&dq=bigg's%20cincinnati&pg=PA90#v=onepage&q&f=false

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  5. Way to go Jonah! You sir are braver than me, I went to Carousel Mall in San Bernardino (another dead mall) and even though it was 10.00 AM and sunny outside and still opened I chickened out and didn’t go in and you go to this mall which still is open and the light were OFF!!!! And you went in! That’s brave, I would have hi-tailed it out of there in a heart beat, still hopefully they will be able to salvage the mall and do something useful with such enormous space.

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    Pseudo3D Reply:

    @Ed Fiesta Red Field, Unfortunately, I did not visit FFM, though I wish I had. It’s all researched. The pictures are Prange Way’s

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    Ed Play Gal Field Reply:

    @Pseudo3D, Well, pardon me for the mistake dude but whoever DID took them is braver than little ole me also thank God they put the report back, it was weird that it was only up for like one day and it vanish like that, i cried “CONSPIRACY!!!!” “The Mall owners cry foul and they took it down so people won’t see their big mistake!” :) Not really but glad to see those creepy pictures again, so to you Pseudo3D and whoever Prange Way is, thanks for the creepy pictures of the ZOMBIE MALL!!!!!

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  6. Also, for those who remember this mall in its earlier days, I believe the Bonwit Teller location was where Burlington Coat Factory is now. Was this also the location for the “Festival” area? (Essentially, Burlington Coat Factory took its place.)

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    Pseudo3D Reply:

    @alpha, yes, I’ve found out from my research that Bonwit eventually became Burlington.

    “Festivals of Forest Fair” (see PDF in article) did replace it in the 1990s.

    Sakowitz, however, was in-line space, and I’m not exactly sure where it was.

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    alpha Reply:

    @Pseudo3D, that’s what I thought.

    To Prange Way, there are two (minor) contradictions in the post- Parisian was an original anchor where Bass Pro Shops is. I don’t believe it replaced Sakowitz.

    Festivals and later Burlington Coat Factory was in Bonwit Teller (not B.Altman) , and B-Altman became Kohl’s.

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  7. Ah yes, every Cincinnatian’s favorite black sheep! I remember going to it when it was brand new and at that time, it was a pretty cool place. Its a shame they sunk all that money into it for the various remodels. The hardwood floors are really nice in there. IMHO, they just need to implode that durn place. It is as spooky walking around in there as the pictures suggest.

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  8. Wow. Those are some of the creepiest mall pictures I’ve ever seen. Great post – but man, my spine is still shivering at the thought of walking through those dark hallways on a November night…

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  9. This was an impressive history of a not-so-impressive mall. Observing the various trials and tribulations has been like watching a train wreck. Funny thing is that many long-time Cincinnatians I know have always called it Forest Fair Mall regardless of any sweeping changes. The original developer’s failure to take the demographics of the area and existing shopping venues into account was a huge mistake. Many folks don’t see FFM as a desirable destination despite its many face lifts. It was creepy walking around there in 1993. The November 2010 pictures demonstrate that the creep factor is still high. I am amazed that it has not been put out of its misery yet.

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  10. This is an amazing post. Kudos to Jonah for bravely entering a dark mall (despite the obvious threat of zombie attacks!) and taking such amazing pics.
    I love this site- while deadmalls was the first one I found, labelscar is by far and away the best- and has the most terrific pictures to boot.
    Keep the great posts coming guys, and I’ll try harder to catalogue some of our dead malls up here and get them submitted.
    Thanks again for this great post!

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    Pseudo3D Reply:

    @Karen, again, I did not not actually go into the mall. Prange-Way did. The italics are mine, but were edited significantly. I actually didn’t write the line “guess he was a damn fool after all”, either, or the line “Might makes right, but what results can you expect when you force the market?”

    And, of course, the Hyper Hooker comment, was not mine either.

    Prangeway:
    One request I make is that the phrases that aren’t actually mine shouldn’t be italicized.

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  11. EPIC FAIL!!! Is this place built on an Native American burial ground? This is what happens when arrogance and stupidity meet. Some place are just not meant to succeed.

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  12. Awesome job on this. I’m glad to finally see a decent presentation of the sister mall to Richland Mall that I covered. Richland Mall was super spooky itself, but it was a thrill to see such a gaudy, bizarre mall trapped in time like that.

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  13. Great post – and what a story. How many malls can say they singlehandedly took down so many storied nameplates and ruined so many reputations?

    While the mall was doomed from the start, I think the regional construction frenzy it started (Kenwood, Tri-County) is too often overlooked as a contributing factor. Glad that element was covered here. Also, the fact that the two local department stores whose corporate headquarters were based in Cincinnati (Shillito’s (Federated) and McAlpin’s (Mercantile)) didn’t take part had to have been a killer. It’s bad enough introducing foreign nameplates, but when they’re competing against people you know (and who your neighbors may work for), it’s even more difficult – especially in a place like Cincinnati that tends to have a bias for its traditional and established institutions.

    One thing I’ll add is that the B Altman was perhaps the most classy mall store anyone had ever seen. The really played up the gentility bit – imagine an anchor-sized Ralph Lauren boutique, complete with a giant crystal chandelier in the escalator well.

    Of course Kohl’s replaced all that with their standard bright colors/light wood motif when they took over the box. However they hadn’t touched the restrooms (at least last time I was there): they were still decked out in floor-to-ceiling marble and looked like something you’d find in a high-end resort. Walking out of the cookie-cutter Kohl’s into that was like being transported to a different time and place.

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  14. I hope this mall is in a low crime area because the thought of creeping around in the dark to visit the one or two remaining outlets is… well I shudder to think! Can you imagine what it’s like for the staff having to close them up at the end of the day – you hope the batteries on their torches don’t run out…

    It’s quite an attractive mall too, even if some of the fixtures do have a kind of odd ‘toytown’ quality to them.

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    Maggy Reply:

    @The Londoneer,

    It’s not in a bad part of town. However, I’d heard that there used to be a decent amount of crime that happened inside the mall. Not sure if this is still the case.

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  15. To Prange Way…
    So when you went in Nov 2010 when these pictures were taken…I mean, obviously it was open to patrons…but why were half the lights out? Was there a power outage? What was going on? Did you try going into the Claire’s? I am in complete awe at the idea of a store open to customers in a completely dark corridor. I simply can’t believe it. Are you sure the store was open for business?
    -Carmen

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    Prange Way Reply:

    @Carmen, There didn’t appear to be a power outage, and it looked like the lights were intended to be that low to save money. I was as shocked as you are, as it seems like having a mall open for business with such low lighting would not only make the remaining businesses angry, but become an insurance liability if someone got injured.

    Claire’s and Payless were definitely open for business, despite the darkness of the corridors. Only the center court area and food court wing of the mall had appropriate lighting.

    Maybe someone who goes there regularly (or works there) can shed some more light (bad pun not intended) on the situation. Are the lights always kept this low?

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  16. I have the feeling that if the proposed entertainment venues don’t go through as planned to resurrect this mall, then the only other option may be to redevelop it as an outdoor center and saving the few retailers that are left in the mall.

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  17. So was the original Steve & Barry’s (the one that later became Urban Behavior) previously another store?

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    Pseudo3D Reply:

    @Bobby P., I’m pretty sure it was the lower level of the Time Out on the Court area, but I could be wrong.

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    Alpha Reply:

    @Pseudo3D,

    Steve & Barry’s first opened up where Time Out on the Court was (with the Cinema moving where Moore’s and the ‘other’ food court was right above it.).

    They seemed to move back and forth about 3-4 times between there and the former Elder Beerman if I remember right.

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  18. I visited this mall on tuesday. Four stores inside are open. The mall is so ornate, so nice… its ashamed that its completely dead.

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    jesssickles Reply:

    I have more photos if anyone wanted to see more…

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  19. This mall was the most spectacular mall when it first opened. They would fill the center with sand in the summer and adorn it as if it were a beach w/life gards and all. My daughter was born in 85 and we spent countless hours there. It was so sad to see it decline. But you could see that it was not setup to be successful in the area where it was built.

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  20. It looks like the mall is coming back to life as a mixed use center. Some leases, including one for the former bigg’s, are being signed.

    http://cincinnati.com/blogs/developingnow/2011/11/17/cincinnati-mall-gets-ice-rink/

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  21. Malls holding their own against lifestyle centers, outlet malls
    Outlet malls, enclosed malls growing slowly, data shows.
    By Eric Schwartzberg, Staff Writer
    Updated 11:26 AM Monday, November 28, 2011

    It’s been nearly 20 years since a new enclosed mall has opened in the Dayton area. But the notion that lifestyle and outlet centers have hastened the death of enclosed malls is false, a shopping center industry official said.

    While it’s true that far more lifestyle centers such as The Greene in Beavercreek and outlet centers such as the Cincinnati Premium Outlets in Mason have built in the past decade, malls still vastly outnumber their rivals and have held their own in many cases.

    “The real hot trend was the open air center, the lifestyle center, in terms of what was being built. However, the regional malls and super regional malls are still continuing to fare quite well,” said Jesse Tron, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers.

    Tron noted that existing malls such as the Dayton Mall in Miami Twp. and the Mall at Fairfield Commons in Beavercreek are benefiting from the overall lack of new mall construction as retailers begin to expand operations after the recession.

    “There’s very little new development in the pipeline, which means that those expanding retailers are going into current space, therefore reducing the vacancy rate,” Tron said.

    While the vacancy rate varies from location to location, the malls’ vacancy rate nationwide was about 7 percent in the third quarter, he said.

    At the Mall at Fairfield Commons, 99 percent of the mall’s 1.1 million square feet of retail space is occupied and only four spaces remain unfilled, according to general manager Bruce Goldsberry. Yoogurt, Toys ‘R’ Us Express and Rue 21 are two of the mall’s most recent additions.

    “We’re pretty solid here,” he said

    At the 1.4 million-square-foot Dayton Mall, where an expansion took place several years ago, 95 percent of retail space is filled, according to Dave Duebber, general manager. Self-serve frozen yogurt shop Tutti Frutti opened Nov. 11 and Little Treasures opened earlier this month, and DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse is locating it to a larger space inside the mall by early spring.

    Tenants at the mall usually sign 5- to 10-year leases, but shorter term leases are not unheard of “mainly just because you’re not locking in, (they’re) seeing how the economy goes, how the concept goes,” Duebber said.

    Middletown’s Towne Mall doesn’t appear to be doing as well with only 20 businesses open in a space designed to hold 55. Calls to the mall’s management were not returned.

    After several ownership changes, the mall, originally known as Forest Fair Mall and Cincinnati Mills, is jettisoning traditional mall concepts and recruiting more mixed use tenants.

    “The name ‘Mall’ will be gone,” said Karla Ellsworth, head of redevelopment and acting general manager for the center. “We’ll have some retail but we are not a mall. We don’t want to be associated with a mall.”

    Ellsworth launched the first step in her overall development plan Wednesday with news that Cincinnati Sports Zone had inked a 25-year-lease to construct Cincinnati Sports Zone, a new ice arena, inside the former bigg’s.

    About five new yet-to-be-named tenants are expected to open in the mall early next year, Ellsworth said.

    While the rate of occupancy varies from location to location, construction of new enclosed shopping malls nationwide has leveled off and decreased slightly, according to Jesse Tron, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers.

    That bodes well for existing shopping malls, Tron said.

    “There’s very little new development in the pipeline, which means that those expanding retailers are going into current space.”

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  22. Has anyone found a Grand Opening flyer for the original Forest Fair mall. I have been searching for historic docs of this mall since I visited last week and haven’t found anything.

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  23. I grew up near this mall and clearly remember it’s opening when I was 15. It always was huge, out of place and with unfamiliar retailers. One of the things I remember most about the opening was the Movie Theater just under the entrance to the Bigg’s wing. Originally, the facade of the theater was built of glass blocks with red and blue neon lights behind them that flashed on and off quickly. This triggered at least half a dozen people to have epileptic seizures, so they had to stop the flashing. I’ve always felt it was an omen of the future for the mall.

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  24. If it’s still open and dark like in the pics, it would definitely make a great location for an intense epic laser tag battle, like a bring your own gear event.

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  25. I have been going to Forest Fair Village (formerly Cincinnati Mills, etc.) on a regular basis over the past year. It’s a great place to walk, especially if it’s too hot, cold, or rainy outside. I go mainly because my daughter has been learning to walk, and it’s easiest for her to do it in a place with smooth surfaces and relatively little traffic and few distractions.

    Currently, I think only two entrances (1 and 5) are closed, and most of the walking areas are open, the exception being the upper level walkways in the Kohl’s wing, which I think were roped off before I started going to the mall. This leaves both lower wings and two upper wings, as well as the center court and food court, for walking — a great deal of space.

    Since I started going, there have been a few changes. Burlington Coat Factory has moved out (to a location near the Tri-County Mall, several miles to the east). Bass Pro Shops has announced it will be moving out in 2015 (to West Chester, several miles to the northeast). Bee Fit (a fitness center) has opened across the hall from the old Bigg’s.

    Here’s a current list of tenants, in approximate order of how often they appear to be open.
    Kohl’s
    Bass Pro Shops
    Babies R Us
    Danbarry Cinema
    Susan G Komen for the Cure (nonprofit)
    Goldstar Chili
    Oyishi Japan (made-to-order Japanese food)
    Footlocker
    Bee Fit
    Bee Active Adventure Zone
    Ohio Arcade Legacy
    Reed Academy of Martial Arts
    Denno’s International Gifts
    Team 1038 Robotics
    Euro Bungee (Saturday and Sunday afternoons only)
    Cincinnati Baseball School (appointment only)

    In addition, the mall has a free indoor playground (formerly known as PBS Kids Play Area) that my daughter loves. And the mall hosts Rhea Lana (children’s clothing consignment sale) events about twice a year.

    My only complaint about the mall is that its roof hasn’t been maintained very well, and there are numerous small leaks. The current approach seems to be to put trash cans or mop buckets out when it rains in order to catch the water before it does damage to the floors. This means that walkers need to pay a bit of extra attention to their surroundings.

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  26. I really enjoyed reading this. I grew up in one of the cities (Fairfield) for which the Forest Fair Mall was named (how cute, huh? “Forest” for Forest Park and “Fair” for Fairfield). Not sure if it is still there, but there used to be a line along the floor in the mall dividing the two cities. It also made things interesting since Forest Park was in Hamilton county and Fairfield was in Butler county.

    Yeah, the mall has almost always been full of fail although I do have some decent memories of working there, first in high school at the frozen yogurt store with my friends and later at the America Live! bar complex at America’s Original Sports Bar. Like pretty much every other venture on the property, America Live! failed as well; I remember one day showing up for my shift only to find the joint padlocked shut!

    Great story – loved the trip down memory lane.

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