Case Study: Toledo, Ohio


Toledo, Ohio, is the largest metropolitan area in northwest Ohio and the fourth largest city in the state of Ohio, with a 2005 estimated population at just over 300,000 residents. However, the extended metropolitan Toledo area has about 620,000 residents, drawing from nearby suburbs, Bowling Green, and the northern suburbs of Toledo up to Monroe, Michigan.

What moves Toledo? The manufacturing industry in Toledo has always been the driving focus of the economy and creates a blue-collar economic base for the region. Glass production has always been the most important industry in Toledo, so much so that Toledo has always been called the Glass City. In addition to glass, the other major industry is auto production. With close proximity to the world’s motor capital, Detroit, the three major automakers have a major manufacturing presence in the Toledo area.

Like other American manufacturing centers, Toledo has fallen on difficult times over the past few decades. The manufacturing base has been depleted as the global economy has taken these jobs out of Toledo and out of the country. Many people have left the Toledo area, evidenced by the stagnant population growth since the 1970s. Many who have stayed have moved outward from the older parts of the city and into suburbs, creating newer, sprawling developments farther and farther away from downtown while the areas around downtown become mired in decay. This is not unique to Toledo or an uncommon practice in America’s cities at all, but it helps set the stage for why the retail climate is the way it is.

Poised for significant change in the near future, Toledo’s retail landscape is worth a closer look. One large, enclosed regional mall located on Toledo’s northeast side has already bit the bullet, closing in early 2005 after years of rapid decline. Two beleagured, older malls in the east and southwest of the Toledo area are in a similar rapid decline while plans for redevelopment are sketchy at best. Meanwhile, two lifestyle centers, one of them over one million square feet, are opening in southwest suburban Maumee and Perrysburg. And to top it all off, a large, but very successful enclosed mall anchors the big-box melee of retail on the city’s northwest side. Further afield, there are also two retail centers in fringe areas of metro Toledo. The first is a small center in Bowling Green, about 20 miles south of downtown Toledo, and the other is in Monroe, Michigan, about 20 minutes northeast.

Here’s a bit more detail about the major shopping centers in Toledo. Look for more detailed articles about each individual mall to come. Each number below refers to the corresponding location with that number on the map above:

1. Westfield Franklin Park Mall – Opened in the mid-1970s, this is currently Toledo’s only successful enclosed mall. Franklin Park was recently acquired by Westfield America and is anchored by JCPenney, Macy’s, and Dillard’s. It is the ‘destination mall’ for the metropolitan area, and of many upmarket and trendy stores this is their only Toledo location. It was expanded and renovated in May 2005 to increase the total square-footage of the mall by 40% to over 1.2 million square feet of selling space. Franklin Park also has a new 16-screen Cinema De Lux movie theatre, Borders, and several destination chain restaurants.

2. North Towne Square/Lakeside Centre – This is the one that bit the dust in February 2005, after years of declining sales. North Towne Square opened in 1980 and was Toledo’s newest enclosed mall. Located in northeast Toledo, its trade area was usurped by the dominant and nearby Franklin Park and the declining economy of the immediate area. Near the end, the moribund mall only had about 20 retailers, most of them local, and no anchors because the last one fled in 2002. During its final year, North Towne Square was renamed Lakeside Centre in a last-ditch effort to promote its proximity to Lake Erie, but it had no positive result.

3. Woodville Mall – The only mall on the east side of the Toledo area, this is one of the enclosed centers that is currently open yet failing. Opening in 1969, it was successful until at least the 1990s when its age began to show and it received very little updates or renovations. However, unlike North Towne Square, the anchors have remained open at Woodville Mall and are vital to its continued success. Despite them, though, stores have emptied out of Woodville Mall at an alarming rate and as of 2006 there were sketchy plans for renovation which would demolish some or all of the mall.

4. Southwyck Mall – calls Southwyck a “dead mall museum” and I think that’s an appropriate summation of this one. Its current lone anchor is Dillard’s, who also interestingly owns a majority stake in the mall itself. The dated decor of this beleagured center hasn’t been fashionable for years, but some local stores and a few national chains have held on. Recently, plans call for the remaking of Southwyck into an open air urban village with a residential component, a college campus, and some retail. This would, of course, require demolishing the dead mall museum that’s currently there, and is supposed to take place sometime in 2007.

5. The Shops at Fallen Timbers – Holy Toledo, this has been a contentious project from the start. Originally planned to be built as a gigantic enclosed mall around 2000 or 2001, this contentious and hotly debated development has stalled multiple times and changed architectural forms several times. It will, however, finally open in 2007 as a 1-million-square-foot open-air lifestyle center anchored by Dillard’s and other destination chains and restaurants.

6. The Town Center at Levis Commons – Just across the river from the Fallen Timbers site in Perrysburg, this 350,000 square-foot lifestyle center also contains upscale destination stores, but intentionally markets to women. Think AnnTaylor, Coldwater Creek, and J. Jill, for starters. It is opening in phases, and the first one opened in 2004. The next phase will expand the retail and add residential units to the center and double its size.

There are also two malls in the Toledo area off the map above. They are:

7. Woodland Mall – Located in Bowling Green, about 10 minutes south of Perrysburg along I-75, this little enclosed mall is anchored by Elder Beerman, Dunhams Sports, and Sears. It opened in 1987 and has space for 60 mall stores, most of which are local, with 270,000 total square feet of retail space.

8. Frenchtown Square – This enclosed mall is located about 20 minutes northeast of downtown Toledo along I-75 in Monroe, Michigan. It opened in 1989 and is currently anchored by Elder Beerman, Sears, Steve & Barry’s, and Target and has about 75 smaller stores.

As you can see, metro Toledo is a victim of unchecked growth in the form of urban sprawl fueled by a poor economy. But why did this happen? The beleagured or closed malls fell victim to poor management decisions and shoddy upkeep. They aged to the point where they were no longer attractive to the average shopper, who decided to drive a little farther to spend his or her dollars. This is evident in the continued success of Franklin Park Mall, and the decisions to build two new lifestyle centers, totalling over 1.5 million square feet of new construction, before focusing on fixing the existing suffering enclosed malls. Why is Toledo choosing to build extensive new retail developments when one large enclosed mall is sitting shuttered and two more are on their way? This is especially relevant given light that Toledo is not experiencing any population growth. There are plans to redevelop two of the three malls that have failed as enclosed centers, but these plans came only after two new lifestyle centers were being constructed. Can an area with mostly stagnant growth support all of this new development while refurbishing the retail that has already failed? Time will tell.

14 Responses to “Case Study: Toledo, Ohio”

  1. Frenchtown is kind of a B+ level mall. Most of their food court is dead (Wendy’s, Sbarro’s, Arthur Treachers, etc. have left). I can tell you that at Frenchtown Square, Elder-Beerman has two locations, one a Home Store. The Home Store was carved out of former mall space and a former OfficeMax. Steve & Barry’s at Frenchtown used to be JCPenney, and Target was Hills until 1993.


  2. Most of these malls seem like a nirvana for dead and or vintage mall enthusiasts. It’s a shame Ohio is distant from Connecticut. Might have to expand the horizons, take some big trips this Summer!


  3. I love these case studies, keep up the good work!!


  4. Ditto here. In fact, the last one really made me want to go to Carousel Center one of these days, if I EVER make it to NY state. 🙂

    Good choice with doing one about Toledo, since I’ve heard about the troubles of Southwyck Mall and (defunct) North Towne Square.

    Hopefully eventually, one can do a report on some of the small malls in mid-size towns in central and north-central Illinois(i.e. Mattoon’s Cross Country Mall, Sterling’s Northland Mall, Peru’s Peru Mall, and Effingham’s Village Square Mall). It seems from what I’ve read on these malls, only Peru seems to be thriving. The one in Effingham is really facing tough odds for survival, since it’s not in a easily accessible part of town(and has a higher # of vacancies than the othermentioned malls do). Anyway, just suggesting an idea for what I think would make an interesting, and unique case study.


  5. (dumb me) I should add that I really enjoyed reading your case study on Toledo’s malls. And nice job for remembering to account for the malls just outside of the Toledo metropolitan area too(Monroe, MI + Bowling Green, OH).


  6. Milwaukee would be another great case-study. That area alone had at least 8 functioning malls at the peak of enclosed malls in the 1970s-1980s.

    – Southgate (open: 1954 as strip / enclosed: 1976 / closed: 1998)
    – Bayshore (open 1956 as strip / enclosed 1976 / Still open. Conversion to ‘lifestyle’/’town square’/ enclosed center recently completed. )
    – Mayfair (open 1956 as open-air mall / enclosed: 1974 / expanded twice (1986 / 2002 ) Still open )
    – Capitol Court (open 1956 as open-air / enclosed: 1970s / Closed and Demolished in early 2000s, land redeveloped into new big box / strip center)
    – Brookfield Square (open: 1968 as enclosed mall / remodel/expansion: 1996-1997.)
    – Southridge (open: 1970 / expansion (food court): 1990 / remodel: 1995-1996 / remodel 2: 2003 after Mills Corp. buyout. Still in operation.)
    – Northridge (open: 1973 / remodel: 1988 / Closed: 2002. Dead mall)
    – The Grand Avenue (A collection of 7 buildings linked together by skywalks and buildouts. Opened in several phases, starting with the Plankinton Building in 1919, and finishing in August 1982 with a new 3-level mall built out behind the Woolworth, Majestic, and First Bank buildings. The original Boston Store and Gimbles buildings are connected, directly and via skywalk, respectively. This mall really needs its own entry. for a better explaination.)

    There were also tons of strip malls and little enclosed community malls that dotted the entire region. If you encompassed the entire 5-country area (Ozaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Racine, Milwaukee), you would expand into:

    — County Faire Mall (later Manchester Mall)
    West Bend
    — Westfair Mall
    — Washington Mall (later Paradise Mall)
    — Washington Square Mall
    — Racine Mall Shopping Center
    — Westgate Mall
    — Regency Mall

    I’m not sure if the city of Waukesha, and the western-most suburbs of Delafield, Occonomowoc, et al, ever had any enclosed shopping centers to speak of that maybe were converted to outdoors in the 1990s.

    This hefty listing (and I didn’t even bother including the few dozen major strip centers, ‘lifestyle’ centers, or big box projects) ranges from still open, to forever gone, having been torn down and put to different uses.

    I do know there’s a huge new mall project slated for the Delafield area that’s to be at least a million square-feet in size. But that’s a new project…..this blog’s about days gone by. Still, it’s amazing how much retailing has evolved in the past 50 years. I read blogs like this, and sister blogs ‘Malls of America’ and that ‘Caldor’ one, and you get a wide idea of the various eras.

    Been keeping up with this site now since May this year. Keep the great work up.

    Oh yes, and I have something to contribute. Whom do I contact?


  7. I would e-mail the two guys in charge, their email addresses are here:


  8. I find reading about Toledo’s dead malls interesting, since the two I used to go on vacations as a kid are among the dying (Southwyck and Woodville), while my parents used to like North Towne. Oddly, I’ve never been to Franklin Park!


  9. I anticiapte Towne Mall in Middletown to become officially ‘dead’ by this time next year. If you are unfamiliar with Towne, look it up. It’s been pretty dead for years, home to an out dated Dillard’s, Elder Beemen, Off-Brand shoe store, and Dollar Tree. Bad signs. In fact, I can’t remember if it was Macy’s or J.C Penny, or was it Dillard’s? Any who, my brain is at loss for specifics at the moment, however one of these three anchors recently closed. The mall is a complete ghost-town and Middletown is a fairly low income run-dwon sort of area, with a few exceptions, and the mall reflects this. In logical terms, I suppose a facelift of the Towne would be good to bring Middletown ‘back to life’ so to speak, but since I adore dead mall’s (not for shopping, of course) I will be upset once the impending reality sets in and Towne is restored. But anywho, this really doesn’t relate to these mall’s per-se, just throwing a good future dead mall out there.


  10. If you went to the Toledo Science Center, if you go into the basement, there are stores that look like it was once a mall which it was. The Portside Festival Marketplace is what it was called existing as a mall from 1984 to 1990. Yet this area failed as a shopping center and lasted 10 years as COSI, then closed in 2007 even though it reopened again as TSC.


  11. Interesting case study on Toledo. I cannot help but note that one of the larger shopping centers in Toledo is not in your list of major Toledo shopping centers. That would be Westgate, at Central and Secor. Westgate was a “lifstyle” center before that term even existed. It was never an enclosed mall and actually straddles two sides of Central, just west of Secor Road.

    On the south side of Central was a 1950s-era L-shaped strip center, with the multi-level Lion Department store at the bend of the L. This strip was torn down a few years ago and replaced with another strip center, albeit brighter and shinier, and absent any department store anchor. Toledoans can correct me if I am wrong, but the last I saw of this new Westgate strip, it seemed fairly bustling.

    On the north side of Central are two stand-alone department stores, a Sears with a 1950s vibe that now seems fashionable again, and an Elder Beerman Store that used to be a Macy’s and before that LaSalles. There are other retail outlots on the north side of Central, but I don’t believe that there’s really a strip of stores on that side. I believe both the Sears and the Elder Beerman remain open for business.

    Although near the Franklin Park Mall (Toledo’s one indisputable thriving mall), Westgate seems to be holding its own. There’s not much room for expansion around Franklin Park, so presumably the Sears and the Elder Beerman will stay put, as long as they maintain a presence in West Toledo. And why not? The residential areas around Westgate are middle class and upper middle class (especially to the south and west and in the area near the University of Toledo) and provide a decent base of customers for Westgate.


  12. A few updates from the Toledo area. Southwyck is now history, and Larry Dillin, who was supposed to rebuild the area, is barely making tax payments on the successful Levis Commons complex. Fallen Timbers has been open for about a year and half, and appears to be successful even though they lost their Starbucks about a year ago when the company downsized. I have never been to NorthTowne or Woodville, so I don’t know their current condition. Westgate is doing quite well, likely because of the new construction on the south side of Central that includes a Costco, FreshMarket, Five Guys Burgers, Starbucks and others. Franklin Park remains the area’s major mall, and is doing quite well.

    Outside of Toledo, the Woodland Mall in BG (where I reside) still plugs along in its original glory. Locals call it the “sMall”, and even though the Steve & Barry’s closed over a year ago, the Elder Beerman, Sears (appliances only) and Dunham’s appear healthy.

    Lots of people still mourn Southwyck; there was really no reason for the mall to go under except that Owens Illinois was moving their headquarters to suburban Perrysburg, and developed Levis Commons (named after a former company president) on the huge parcel they owned there. With the demise of Southwyck, that entire are of SW Toledo and north Maumee is hemorraging, with no end is sight.

    I would also note that Metro Toledo, like many Great Lakes urban areas, is not losing people so much as it is it not gaining new arrivals. Great Lakes metros tend to hold their populations better than other cities (losing a smaller percentage to outmigration than others), but do not replenish those populations like the Sun Belt cities do. Places like Toledo keep a lot of their ‘old blood’ but don’t get enough of the new stuff.


  13. And another update to the Toledo region: Frenchtown Square has been known as the Mall of Monroe since 2009 and here’s a few more updates from this particular mall: Steve & Barry’s went down with the rest of the chain in 2008-09, Sears was a victim of the massive early 2012 store closings and Elder-Beerman has just been rebranded as Carson’s (short for Carson Pirie Scott).


  14. Woodville Mall has joined the other 2 closed properties and are vacant lots. Several attempts to redevelop the Southwyck area have failed with the blow to the economy and drying up of credit in 2008. Levis Commons is popular despite the fact there are no anchor department stores. Costco, though, will join the area soon and will undoubtedly draw people. Fallen Timbers continues to draw people, although stores come and go. Franklin Park has continued to be the lone major enclosed mall and has had very few vacancies since the mid-2000s remodel.


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