The year was 1976 and the retail boom of building enclosed malls was near its peak. Cleveland was no exception; even during a period of economic despair they joined the rest of America’s retail building boom, and embarked upon building behemoth retail centers across the metropolitan area. The largest of these ever to be built, even as of 2007, was the Randall Park Mall in the tiny southeast suburban village of North Randall.
Randall Park Mall’s location in the village was strategically planned. The mall is located on Route 8/Northfield Rd but also adjacent to the intersection of two interstates: I-271 and I-471, which together make a rough southern belt around the city of Cleveland. Its location is also one of the most centrally located malls in northeast Ohio, between Cleveland, Youngstown, and Akron.
When it opened, Randall Park Mall’s anchors included Sears, JC Penney, May Company, Higbee’s of Cleveland, and Horne’s from Pittsburgh. Another Cleveland-based department store chain called Halle’s had an option to build at the mall but went broke before they got a chance to exercise it in the early 1980s. No matter, though, because Randall Park Mall’s fortunes fell flat during the same time period. In 1978, only two years after Randall Park opened, an upscale mall called Beachwood Place opened nearby which stole many upscale shoppers from Randall Park. Beachwood Place is successful even today. Also, a few high profile crimes in the late 1970s and early 1980s including a murder and a well-publicized race riot kept shoppers away. The mall continued to spiral downward and by the late 1980s most of the original top-tier retailers had egressed the mall for warmer economic climes in nearby centers. Higbee’s became Kaufmann’s (Now Macy’s as of 2006) and Horne’s closed up shop.
By the late 1990s, Randall Park Mall was in perilous decline. JCPenney’s 200,000 square-foot mammoth of a store converted to a JCPenney Outlet, and closed just three years later in 2001. Dillard’s also closed, and many of the mall’s in-line stores changed from national chains to mom-and-pop stores, or worse yet became completely vacant. The north end of the mall, where JCPenney and Dillards once sat, became especially vacant, and looks and sounds more like a cave than a shopping center. The Horne’s location eventually became a Burlington Coat Factory on the upper level and a local furniture store flavor-of-the-year on the bottom level. Also, a Magic Johnson theatres opened in the mall. Other nonstandard mall tenants such as a Church and a Jeepers entertainment-based restaurant for children opened in vacant store slots as well.
But why did Randall Park, Cleveland’s largest mall, fail? It is strategically located in northeast Ohio at the intersection of two major interstates, and has five anchor spaces as well as spots for many national retailers. The answers are most likely in the changing demographics of the area immediately surrounding the mall, and also in the normal evolutionary cycle of retail. As urban sprawl extended away from the core of Cleveland, it brought new retail with it farther and farther out. Because metro Cleveland’s population on the whole is relatively stagnant, the inner-core retail like Randall Park and Euclid Square Malls suffer while newer retail lifestyle centers like Legacy Village and Crocker Park.
So what’s next for Randall Park Mall? I predict a slow, protracted continuation of its demise, followed by an attempt at mixed-use, and then either complete renovation and repurposing or blight. It’s rather sad to see it fallen from its glory and in such a state as it is today, but such is the nature of retail. In 2007 the Ohio Technical College announced plans to tenant the entirety of the 200,000 square-foot vacant former Penney’s space.
The pictures here were taken in June 2005. Bonus points to anyone who can tell me what the largely abandoned huge building is near the entrance to the mall; it’s really scary.