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

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.

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, 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, 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

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.

This topic on UrbanOhio
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:

River Valley Mall; Lancaster, Ohio

Over the past 23 years, River Valley Mall has anchored the retail strip on the northeast side of Lancaster, and has spawned a critical mass of big box plazas and chain restaurants along the Memorial Drive corridor. Along the mall’s ring road are a Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant, Best Buy, Applebee’s, IHOP, Office Max, Target, Red Lobster, and Hobby Lobby. Directly across the street from the mall are even more restaurants and chain stores, including Bob Evans, White Castle, Taco Bell, Olive Garden, Hampton Inn and Pier One Imports.

Lancaster, Ohio is a small city in central Ohio, located about 30 miles southeast of Columbus.  With a population of about 40,000, Lancaster has grown significantly in recent decades as it has transformed from a mostly rural community to Columbus exurb.  Suburban sprawl now exists along the entire corridor between Columbus and Lancaster, and US 33 was recently upgraded to an expressway between the cities.  Lancaster was recently featured in the book The 100 Best Small Arts Towns in America due to an active fine arts community and an annual music festival, drawing artists and musicians from around the world each summer.  Aside from an active, historic downtown that has recently been revitalized, most of Lancaster’s modern retail is located along the Memorial Drive/Business 33 strip to the northeast of downtown, and this strip itself is anchored by River Valley Mall.  Opened in October 1987, River Valley Mall was originally anchored by Columbus-based Lazarus, Youngstown-originated Hills, JCPenney, Sears, and Dayton-based Elder-Beerman.  River Valley Mall has 80 stores and 569,461 square feet of retail space in total, with 308,877 square feet in the anchor stores.

Over the past 23 years, River Valley Mall has anchored the retail strip on the northeast side of Lancaster, and has spawned a critical mass of big box plazas and chain restaurants along the Memorial Drive corridor.  Along the mall’s ring road are a Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant, Best Buy, Applebee’s, IHOP, Office Max, Target, Red Lobster, and Hobby Lobby.  Directly across the street from the mall are even more restaurants and chain stores, including Bob Evans, White Castle, Taco Bell, Olive Garden, Hampton Inn and Pier One Imports.  Strip malls also exist around River Valley Mall, including the Hocking Valley Mall down the street anchored by Kroger and K-Mart.  Was this ever enclosed?

Although there have been several anchor changes at River Valley Mall, the interior of the mall remains largely the same as when it opened.  In 1999, Hills became Connecticut-based Ames when Ames bought Hills.  Then, in early 2002, Ames closed their River Valley Mall store in one of the last rounds of closures before the entire chain folded.  This anchor remained dark until 2006 when it was filled by Steve and Barry’s, who closed at the end of 2008, leaving it dark once again.  As of April 2010 it is still vacant.

River Valley Mall’s eastern anchor, which opened as Lazarus in 1987, became Lazarus-Macy’s in 2003 and finally just Macy’s in 2005 when parent company Federated decided to use the more popular, nationally-known Macy’s nameplate, phasing out Federated’s regional names in the process.  A couple years later, Federated decided this Macy’s was not profitable enough and closed it in 2007.  However, in March 2010, River Valley Mall’s owner Glimcher announced that a Dick’s Sporting Goods would open in the former Macy’s space in November 2010, giving the mall four out of five anchors.  A Dunham’s already operates as a mini-anchor in the mall, and they can’t be happy about this at all.

The Dick’s Sporting Goods opening will also help the perception of many that River Valley Mall is struggling, according to a spokesperson for River Valley’s management.  In recent years, a number of vacancies have popped up in the mall, perhaps a result of the economy, the mall’s lack of recent renovations, competition from better malls in Columbus, or a combination of all of these factors.  Despite this, though, mini-anchor Old Navy opened in mid-2009 inside the mall, and the mall continues to mostly thrive with mid-level stalwarts like Victoria’s Secret and American Eagle, as well as a ten-screen Regal Cinemas.

The decor and layout of River Valley Mall is decidedly of its era – the late 1980s.  The white latticework ceiling pattern, reflective ceiling tiles, lack of kiosks and full-size fountains are a time warp in today’s era of carpeting, comfy seating, warm colors and kiosks.  The layout is uniquely complex for a one level mall, and features a neat loop around the food court area where the mall turns.

I visited River Valley Mall in August 2009 and took the pictures featured here.  If you have any stories to fill us in on regarding River Valley Mall’s history or just some thoughts to add, feel free to leave a comment or two.

Randall Park Mall; North Randall, Ohio

Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OHRandall Park Mall is the largest mall in metropolitan Cleveland, Ohio. Commonly considered a “dead mall,” the center is almost completely vacant.

Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH

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.

Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OHWhen 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.

Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH

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.

Randall Park Mall outlot in North Randall, OH Randall Park Mall outlot in North Randall, OH Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH

Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH

Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH

Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH

Randall Park Mall directory in North Randall, OH Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH

Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OH Randall Park Mall pylon in North Randall, OH

Westland Mall; Columbus, Ohio

Westland Mall Lazarus in Columbus, OH

Tucked away on the west side of Columbus on the corner of Broad Street/U.S. 40 and the I-270 belt, Westland Mall has without a doubt seen better days.  Opened in 1969 as an outdoor mall, Westland was enclosed in 1982 and has not been renovated since.  As such, it has fallen victim to the flight of many-a-store in recent years, especially considering the tight retail competition in the Columbus market.

When it opened, Westland was anchored by Sears, Columbus-based Lazarus, and JCPenney.  Only Sears has held its ground; JCPenney closed in 1997 for new digs several miles up the road at The Mall at Tuttle Crossing and Lazarus, which became Macy’s recently, closed earlier this year citing underperforming sales.  Other national chain stores have departed in recent years as well, such as The Limited and Express.  In addition, the Woolworth’s mini-anchor which closed in 1997 with the rest of the chain was replaced by a Staples which denied mall access.  Whoops.  Since 2000, many more stores have departed, and on a Columbus Dispatch reporter’s recent visit to the mall the Dollar store was the busiest retailer in the whole place.  Whoops again. 

Westland Mall in Columbus, OH Westland Mall Lazarus in Columbus, OH

So what really happened at Westland?  Several sources suggest that tight competition was a major factor in Westland’s demise.  Between 1997 and 2001, Columbus saw more large retail destinations open than in any other market, with the opening of two large enclosed malls, The Mall at Tuttle Crossing and Polaris Fashion Place, and one large outdoor center, Easton Town Center.  Malls like Westland, and others which have recently failed like Columbus City Center and Northland Mall, all fell victim to this shiny new competition at an alarming rate. 

The opening of all three of these new centers also signified a greater shift geographically in the economic prosperity of Columbus, pressing greater emphasis on the large sprawling swath of suburbia north of downtown and leaving the other parts of town struggling.  Just by looking at a map of Columbus, it’s easy to see the recent growth has pressed northward at a rate two to three times the rate of other directions.  This is where much of the money is in Columbus, and also has much to do with the location of OSU in this direction.

Westland Mall in Columbus, OHToday, Westland Mall is a ghost town, a retail relic and a living history museum to the ‘dead mall’ phenomenon visible across the entire country.  The Broad Street retail strip around it is dated and functional, but the mall has definitely outlived its original stay as the anchor for this side of the trade area.  A massive renovation and repurposing will have to take place before it is viable again.  The mall’s website indicates they are courting ‘value’ tenants to make Westland into a ‘value-oriented’ mall, and while this may solve the immediate vacancy issue it is really only a stopgap solution as the center continues to age rather ungracefully. 

But for now, enjoy the photos and if you’re in the area take a visit to one of the area’s best-preserved dead mall museums while it lasts.  It won’t be long before they give up the ghost and try again.  The pictures here were taken in March 2004.

Westland Mall Broad Street in Columbus, OH Westland Mall in Columbus, OH Westland Mall in Columbus, OH 

Westland Mall in Columbus, OH Westland Mall in Columbus, OH Westland Mall in Columbus, OH

Westland Mall in Columbus, OH Westland Mall in Columbus, OH Westland Mall in Columbus, OH

Westland Mall in Columbus, OH Westland Mall Staples in Columbus, OH Westland Mall Broad Street in Columbus, OH


Woodville Mall; Northwood, Ohio

Woodville Mall pylon in Northwood, OH

The only mall on the east side of the Toledo area, the 800,000 square-foot Woodville Mall opened in 1969 as a result of a population boom in the area. Located about a mile east of I-280 off Woodville Road in Northville, Woodville Mall is anchored by The Andersons, Elder Beerman and Sears.  In addition to the anchors, there is space for about 100 stores; however, presently less than 20 stores are open for business.

What went wrong?  Just as with Southwyck Mall across town, Woodville fell victim to poor management, changing demographics, and competition.  The main retail area in the Toledo area is currently clustered across town surrounding Franklin Park Mall on the northwest side.  In addition, two outdoor centers with retail space totalling over 1.5 million square-feet are emerging in southwest suburban Perrysburg and Maumee.  The area surrounding Woodville mall is holding its own, but is not currently experiencing major growth.  Many of the retail areas surrounding the mall are over 20 years old and are not aging gracefully.  This includes Woodville Mall itself. 

Woodville Mall Directory in Northwood, OHConsidering Woodville’s last renovation was in 1987 by then-owner and mall giant Simon Property Group, the mall is almost 20 years out of date and it shows.  The floor throughout the mall consists of relatively well-kept yet out of date tiles in the center of each relatively wide hallway.  However, along the edges of each hallway on either side of the tile is a horrendously tattered, faded dark green carpet.  In many areas, the carpet is worn completely bare or ripped.  This can’t be enticing shoppers, and is probably indicative of the current owners lack of commitment to keep the enclosed mall viable.  Other design features of the mall including dead storefronts of wildly varying conditions (including a very old wooden facade with a Orange Julius labelscar!) and sparsely decorated interior spaces.  There are a few planters and palm trees, but much of the open area of the mall feels too empty and almost deserted, especially with the lack of kiosks that most malls seem to have in spades these days.  Toward the west end of the mall, the Food Court is also interesting with its bright 80s decor, yet it too is sadly mostly empty these days.  In many ways the condition of Woodville could be considered comparable with that of Southwyck; however, Woodville has retained all 3 of its anchors while space in the mall has suffered, and somewhat of the opposite is true for Southwyck.

Woodville Mall center court in Northwood, OHThe absolute best design feature of Woodville Mall is its center court.  The walls surrounding the warehouse-style high ceilings have been painted in shades of periwinkle and light blue with a stippling technique to mimic the sky.  Furthering the sky illusion, several large “clouds” hang from the ceiling suspended in mid air.  Back on the ground, there are all these rows of inappropriate-looking, tall, purple bars with white latticework on top.  I have no idea what they are.  There is also an elevated gazebo made with the same purple bars and it has a white latticework roof.  At least I could figure out what that was.  In addition to all that, there are all these random white tables and chairs strewn about on the ground that don’t seem to be used, but I suppose it’s better than having nothing there at all. 

As with many enclosed malls which have rapidly gone downhill, it wasn’t this bad until recently.  In September 2005, Simon Property Group of Indianapolis sold the failing mall to two California businessmen, Jack Kashani and Sammy Kahen for $2.5 million.  The pair also purchased the beleagured, large North Towne Square/Lakeside Center on Toledo’s north side, which was, if you can even imagine, the worst of them all in terms of occupancy with only a few stores open.  Not surprisingly, they shuttered that mall in February 2005. 

Woodville Mall Food Court in Northwood, OHSo, what’s next for Woodville Mall?  In October 2005, the Toledo Blade reported the new owners hired Krone Group LLC, a retail consultant from Cleveland, to hammer out plans for revitalization.  The plans initially included some lofty goals, and a long-range plan to retenant the existing mall while bringing in additional new office space, an indoor ice rink, a new movie theatre, residential units, and even constructing new access roads to the north.  Not surprisingly, none of this materialized, and in June 2006 the owners released a more vague, scaled-back plan to the Northwood town council.  They said they were studying several options, but most likely would be tearing down the nearly empty mall except for the three anchor spaces which remain economically viable.  As of November 2006, several months have gone by with more stagnant inaction on the project, leaving us to wonder what – if anything – will actually take place on the site.  

When the annoucement was made that the owners were likely razing the mall, many locals expressed their opposition.  Most of the people interviewed by both the Toledo Blade and on the blog preferred the enclosed mall to an outdoor development, especially considering 2 outdoor centers are emerging in Maumee and Perrysburg as well as the eventual redevelopment of Southwyck.  Holy Toledo, what a mess.  I took all the pictures featured here in July 2006.  As usual, comments are appreciated.

Woodville Mall in Northwood, OH Woodville Mall Elder Beerman in Northwood, OH Woodville Mall Orange Julius Labelscar in Northwood, OH

Woodville Mall in Northwood, OH Woodville Mall The Andersons in Northwood, OH Woodville Mall in Northwood, OH

Woodville Mall Center Court in Northwood, OH Woodville Mall in Northwood, OH Woodville Mall Center Court in Northwood, OH

Woodville Mall in Northwood, OH Woodville Mall GoodYear Tires in Northwood, OH Woodville Mall in Northwood, OH

Woodville Mall in Northwood, OH Woodville Mall in Northwood, OH


Southwyck Mall; Toledo, Ohio

Main Pylon at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH

There are many reasons enclosed malls fail.  Competition, changing demographics, poor management, anchor woes, and strategic location are all reasons for a downward swing.  Southwyck Mall in Toledo, Ohio is a rather unique tale of failure in that all of these devices contributed to its eventual demise, one after another.  What began as a popular hub of retail activity eventually became, through these devices of failure, a dead mall museum.  Still open for business as of the date of this article (November 2006), Southwyck’s days as a viable enclosed mall have definitely passed and its days of being open for business at all are numbered as well.   

Television Directory at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OHOpening in 1972 to immediate success, Southwyck was one of four major enclosed malls in Toledo.  Once a thriving mecca for shoppers from the surrounding areas of Toledo and beyond, Southwyck has lately fallen into disrepair.  The decor of the center is very dated, yet it seems at least one renovation has taken place since the 1972 opening; however, it was not recent.  The grand center court is flanked by a beautiful carousel, under a very 1970s looking bubble ceiling which extends very high, yet has several dirty or discolored tiles.  Decorative light fixtures throughout the center are an attempt to recreate an old English, perhaps Victorian, feel to Southwyck.  Many of the storefronts, including the closed ones, are extremely dated.  Beautiful fountains are still in operation throughout the mall but repairs seem necessary.  The Montgomery Ward anchor, which was abandoned in 2001 with the chain’s closure, remains fully signed on the inside and out.  Another interesting decor element of Southwyck was the haphazard, somewhat random placement of very colorful kites, some with very long streamers, placed throughout the mall along the ceiling. However, the most interesting feature of Southwyck to me were the directories.  Each directory is a kiosk made up of at least one television, displaying one of two things.  Some displayed early 1980s-looking computer graphics listing the store directory and mall happenings directly on the TV, while other televisions were broadcasting CNN live or Channel 24, the local NBC affiliate for Toledo. 

There were originally three anchors to Southwyck.  From the south to north, they were: Montgomery Ward, LaSalle, and Lion.  LaSalle and Lion were Toledo-area department stores and as was the case for many malls across America, they made the trek from downtown to the enclosed malls when they opened to try to get a piece of the action.  LaSalle folded in the early 1980s and Southwyck’s middle anchor became Lion’s Store for the Home.  Lion, Southwyck’s northern anchor, held on under the helm of Mercantile Stores until 1998 when it was sold and converted to Dillard’s along with the middle anchor Home Store.  In 2001, Southwyck experienced its first anchor closure as the Montgomery Ward chain folded.  In 2003, the middle anchor space also became empty as Dillard’s closed the Home Store.  Dillard’s does, however, continue to operate as the south anchor at Southwyck and owns a great deal of the mall itself; however, in 2007 Dillard’s plans to open a new location in a 1 million square-foot lifestyle center called Fallen Timbers only a few miles from their current location at Southwyck.  What will become of the embattled, beleagured Southwyck in the near future is anyone’s guess as the mall’s owners, developers, and the city of Toledo evolve their decisions.Original 1972 Store at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH 

But it wasn’t always this way.  From when it opened until at least through the 1990s, Southwyck was a viable retail center with three full-sized anchors and one mllion square feet of retail space that was mostly full.  Within this decade, however, the bottom fell out as several devices of failure worked on Southwyck and hollowed it out to a shell of its former self.  First, the closure of Montgomery Ward in 2001 left a gaping hole at the south end of the mall.  This wasn’t the mall’s fault, per se, as Montgomery Ward closed all their stores at that time.  Although the mall initially held its own after the closure, just two years later in 2003 the middle anchor, Dillard’s for the Home, closed.  This left only Dillard’s, the north anchor, remaining.  In addition to suddenly losing anchors, the mall’s vacancy rate also increased rapidly since 2000.  Prior to 2000, the mall was basically holding its own and hopeful for a revival.

Such a revival was proposed in 2002.  As Montgomery Ward shut its doors in 2001 and stores started leaving with it, Toledo Councilman Rob Ludeman proposed giving Southwyck enterprise zone status in order to lure stores with loans and tax abatements.  In addition, Toledo mayor Jack Ford attempted to woo anchors and retailers away from the proposed Fallen Timbers development, specifically Sears in 2002.  Also, in 2003 Westfield America expressed interest in purchasing the mall and redeveloping it.  Unfortunately, as with all efforts to redevelop Southwyck, nothing came to fruition. 

Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OHWhat else went wrong?  Poor management has plagued a successful revival for the struggling Southwyck for at least the past several years and the owners can’t be spared some of the fault.  Southwyck is currently owned partly by Sherman Dreiseszun, a curious Kansas City businessman who currently owns stake in several beleagured shopping malls across the country, and partly by Dillard’s, the lone anchor left in the mall.  Both entities have allowed Southwyck to falter and have failed to provide updates or renovations of any kind to the mall in the past several years, causing shoppers and therefore stores to flee.  In early 2005, the city of Toledo set a deadline of March 1, 2005 for the owners of Southwyck to get their act together and secure a path to renovation or they would take further steps to intervene and do whatever it takes to make Southwyck viable, somehow.

In July 2005 the owners of Southwyck announced they had hired local developer Larry Dillin, responsible for opening nearby lifestyle center Levis Commons, to head up the redevelopment for Southwyck.  By November, Dillin announced his plans.  In a massive renovation, the current enclosed mall would be demolished and in its place, a lifestyle center would essentially be put in place with 2 anchor stores, 4 box stores, a number of smaller retail pads and restaurants, office space, and luxury apartments.  In September of 2006, Dillin held a town meeting outlining progress since he announced his plans.  He essentially said nothing had happened in terms of progress, but did reveal that Dillard’s is committed to retaining a full-service store at Southwyck and will not leave for the new Fallen Timbers development. Center Court at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH

As of November 2006, another roadblock has presented itself in terms of funding from the city of Toledo, which is necessary for redevelopment to occur.  The mayor of Toledo has redirected the funds marked for Southwyck redevelopment toward a different redevelopment in downtown Toledo.  However, current mayor Carty Finkbeiner promised the money would be back in the budget in 2007.

Now that we’re up to date, let’s bring it all together.  Southwyck’s failure was originally caused by anchor woes and poor management.  Despite being in a strategic location amid other successful retail along a popular retail corridor in south Toledo, Southwyck has never renovated or repositioned itself to become attractive to shoppers as Toledo’s only successful mall Franklin Park has.  In addition, several failed attempts at renovation in the past few years were thwarted by competition from a nearby 1 million square foot outdoor mall opening next year, and a large lifestyle center which opened last year and continues to expand.  In 2005, the city of Toledo stepped in on official terms and demanded that redevelopment of the near-blighted property commence as soon as possible, coercing the owners to hire a local developer.  In an ironic twist, the developer is also the developer responsible for one of the lifestyle centers and part of Southwyck’s competition.  The developer drafted extensive plans for renovation, but the stimulus seems to be lacking for getting started on the project.  Some questions to consider:  Why are 2 new developments totalling 1.5 million square feet of retail space being built when Southwyck and 2 other Toledo-area malls have failed?  Why did the city step in to aid redevelopment, only to abandon ship and redistribute the funds for redevelopment to another project?  And lastly, will redevelopment ever occur, or will Southwyck simply die off and close up like so many other malls? 

Below are some photos of Southwyck taken during Summer 2005.  As usual, feel free to add your own thoughts on this complicated and contentious story.

UPDATE 11/28/07: Last month, the final anchor at Southwyck, Dillards, packed up and moved to newer digs in a “Lifestyle Center” called the Shops at Fallen Timbers in nearby Maumee.  Meanwhile, the city of Toledo is still attempting to purchase the entirety of Southwyck for re-development.  According to the Toledo Blade, the lag time for re-development is due to the odd way in which the mall is owned.  The city recently negotiated a purchase price for the recently vacated Dillards store, which is owned by a Texas firm, but because the rest of the mall is owned 50/50 by Dillards (ironically) and a Kansas City partnership, the city must negotiate with each party separately.  And, it seems Dillards, which never owned its original store at the mall to begin with, has been unwilling to agree on a purchase price with would-be redeveloper Larry Dillin.  Interesting stuff, and we’ll keep an eye on it.  But for now, without an anchor the mall will fast become a sinking ship.  How many stores are even operating inside? 

UPDATE 2/8/08: The following editorial appeared in the Toledo Blade, and I couldn’t agree more:

Article published Thursday, January 24, 2008Be involved in future of Southwyck  On a recent outing to the Shops at Fallen Timbers, I conducted an unofficial poll of the “unique shopping experience” offered by this mall. 

I approached a number of people to ask for their opinion of the new shopping mall, and received pretty much the same response from all those I questioned: “I hate it, I prefer indoor malls, it’s too cold and windy to have to go from store to store outdoors, put on my coat, take it off, etc.” 

A while back, I attended a neighborhood meeting at which developer Larry Dillin gave a presentation on the future of Southwyck Shopping Center. Mr. Dillin brought with him the artist’s rendition of what Southwyck would look like once he gets his hands on the property. I asked how he came up with his statistics about outdoor malls, why we need them, and why he eagerly promotes them. I recall Mr. Dillin responding that “indoor malls are a thing of the past.” Where did Mr. Dillin get his information? Has anyone taken the time to conduct a survey of the residents of Toledo? 

I believe it to be in the best interest of Southwyck-area residents to be involved in Southwyck’s future and not leave it up to some developer who has a distorted vision of what he thinks is best for the area. Southwyck could once again draw shoppers if anchor tenants could be enticed by lower rent, promoting the conveniences of indoor shopping vs. outdoor malls. 

If indoor malls are a thing of the past as Mr. Dillin claimed, why is Westfield Franklin Park expanding again? Are we going to sit idle and allow Southwyck to fall under the wrecking ball? 

James H. Marshall

UPDATE 5/13/2008: On May 8, the city of Toledo issued a notice to Southwyck owners that they had 72 hours to clean up toxic black mold and potential asbestos contamination, or the city would close the mall on May 12.  As a response, the owners stepped up and replaced the mold tiles, and put up a fire wall to seal off the asbestos in the former Montgomery Ward store.  Mesothelioma anyone?  It was also revealed that Southwyck currently has only 6 stores open, and that persistent developer Larry Dillin is still trying to buy the mall and will be marketing it at the International Council of Shopping Centers convention this year.

UPDATE 8/26/2008: Southwyck Mall officially closed June 30, 2008.  The owners took care of the mold issues which kept the mall open for business a bit longer.  According to Toledo’s mayor, both owners are on board and with the aid of an EPA loan for asbestos removal, the mall should be demolished by December 31, 2008.  Developer Larry Dillin was also quoted recently as saying the development to replace Southwyck should be complete by 2010.  Let’s not hold our breath. 

UPDATE 1/4/2009: The three owners of Southwyck have finally agreed upon a demolition timetable.  Demolition will start during the first quarter of this year (2009) and be complete by midsummer 2009.  As of now, no plans for redevelopment have been solidified.

Dillards at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Center Court Coney Island Restaurant at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Center Court Bubble at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH  
Center Court Carousel at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH
Former Montgomery Ward at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Dillard's and Former Dillard's Home Store at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Former Dillard's/Lion Home Store at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH
Former Dillard's Home Store and Former Montgomery Ward Dillard's at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH
Center Court at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Former Montgomery Ward Wing at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH
Former Montgomery Ward at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Former Restaurant at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH
Carousel at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Sophisticuts and Dillard's at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Dillard's at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH
Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Former Wicks 'n Sticks at Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH
Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH Southwyck Mall in Toledo, OH















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.

American Mall; Lima, Ohio

American Mall pylon in Lima, OH

American Mall opened in 1965 along West Elm Street on the west side of Lima, Ohio.  Anchored by northwest Ohio-based full-service department store The Andersons and Value City, American Mall is listed as having about 450,000 square feet according to the International Council of Shopping Centers directory

The design of the indoor portion of the mall is a straight shot from the western anchor The Andersons to Value City.  Until 2003, a Phar-Mor location anchored near the middle of the mall but it closed when the entire chain folded.  According to, there are also a handful of other stores and a Regal Cinemas. 

American Mall’s decor is rather spartan with some interesting features.  First, the floor is an M.C. Escher-like black and white checkered design throughout the mall.  Second, the ceiling is encircled by an inlay of lights that emanates this green orb-like glow onto the ceiling and the sides of the mall.  It’s really unique and kind of creepy, like you’re inside the set from some extra-terrestrial themed movie or something.  The seating and decorations are also very old, and there are small plants and trees throughout the length of the mall.  Another truly unique feature of the mall are the Television kiosks.  There were two of them when I visited in the Summer of 2005; one featured CNN and another featured WLIO-TV 35, the local NBC affiliate.  Kind of neat, huh?

As of recent, there is speculation that the Cafaro company who owns and manages the mall is going to shutter the mall and convert it into a lifestyle-type center, much like Easton Town Center in Columbus on a smaller scale.  The mall has been on relatively hard times in recent years, with a large rate of vacancy.  The stores actually in the mall number relatively few and of them, even fewer are national chains.  One of them is actually called Butterfly Love and appears to sell T-shirts and knick-knacks, and has a very homemade-looking sign.  Competition from nearby Lima Mall, which has all the traditional mall stores and department store anchors Macys, JCPenney, and Sears, has taken a great deal from American Mall.  More simply put, Lima, with a population of 40,000, cannot support two enclosed malls.  Perhaps the original developers thought Lima would be able to support two of them because of its distance from larger cities.  Lima is a little over an hour from Toledo, Dayton, and Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Too bad it didn’t work.

The pictures below were taken in June 2005.  As always, any and all comments are appreciated.

American Mall in Lima, OH American Mall TV kiosk in Lima, OH American Mall Value City in Lima, OH

American Mall in Lima, OH American Mall Butterfly Love in Lima, OH American Mall The Andersons in Lima, OH

American Mall TV kiosk in Lima, OH American Mall crazy green ceiling orb in Lima, OH American Mall in Lima, OH

American Mall Value City in Lima, OH American Mall former Phar-Mor in Lima, OH American Mall Andersons in Lima, OH

Rolling Acres Mall; Akron, Ohio

Rolling Acres Mall in Akron, OH

Rolling Acres Mall is a sad, forgotten behemoth of a mall located in the southwest corner of Akron, Ohio.  Due largely to renovations at other Akron-area malls, the nationwide trend away from enclosed dinosaur malls, and possibly the region’s downfall as a whole, Rolling Acres Mall has fallen on some very hard times recently.

Rolling Acres Mall opened with huge fanfare in August of 1975.  During the grand opening, Sears opened with 21 other stores in its court on the north end of the mall.  Before long, JCPenney and Montgomery Ward followed suit and opened their anchor stores onto the mall.  Around this time, the mall featured typical mod 70s decor, a funky yellow “bubble elevator”, and a large aquarium in front of Wards.  Sunken seating areas on the upper level would later be removed to give a more open feel to the center.  It sounded like a great place to be, and it was.  It quickly became the dominant center in Akron, which also boasted two previously-existing malls: Summit Mall and Chapel Hill Mall.

In 1978, a major expansion of the mall took place, adding a food court, in-line mall space on a new lower level at the south end of the mall, and O’Neil’s department store.

The mid 1980s saw continued success of Rolling Acres Mall through more popular national chains, and space in the mall was premium.  Montgomery Ward closed, but it was replaced by Higbee’s which eventually became Dillards (and remains today).  Also during this time the mall’s decor was updated, replacing some of the mod 70s colors with the pink and teal colors popular during the mid-1980s.  The food court was renamed Picnic Place and remodeled with a vague Victorian-era look, which looks odd amid the rest of the mall’s design.  It remains today.

During the late 80s and 1990s, a changing national retail landscape combined with extensive renovations and repositioning at other centers around Akron sealed the mall’s fate into the sad state it is today.  Stores that once flanked Rolling Acres like Merry Go Round, County Seat, Petrie’s, and Chess King all folded at the national level, leaving holes at Rolling Acres.  In 1997, Summit Mall in the now-booming retail area around northwest Akron got an extensive remodel and repositioned itself to receive the popular stores that would replace the ones that closed at Rolling Acres.  It was around this time that the area around Rolling Acres experienced decline as well.  Across the street are several dead plazas including one that was a Child World location.  It was also around this time that JCPenney became JCPenney outlet, and Rolling Acres received its final addition: a Target store connected to a new, small wing off the food court in 1995.

Today, the mall’s condition is pretty bleak.  Although the mall isn’t completely dead, I’d say it’s running with less than half a tank.  In 2006, Target left the mall and opened in a new strip center 7 miles to the west in Wadsworth.  The rest of the anchors remain; however, time will tell if Macy’s will keep the store during the conversion from Kaufmann’s, or for very long thereafter.  As with many dead malls, a fan base has developed around the mall and its current condition.  In fact, someone even created and maintains a myspace page as well as a fan site for the mall.  This is, of course, not to be confused with the mall’s official website.  All the pictures posted below are mine and were taken during the summer of 2005.  As always, please leave comments about updates and/or corrections; they’re much appreciated.

UPDATE 1/28/07: The sale of the former Dillard’s and Target locations are underway.  An auction will be held to sell the former 125,000 square-foot Dillard’s store on February 7, and the 98,000 square-foot former Target store will be purchased by Akron Commercial Development LLC by the end of this week.  The Akron Beacon Journal reports that although speculation has emerged concerning the conversion of Rolling Acres Mall to a mixed-use hybridized retail/office center, these former anchors will be retail.

UPDATE 6/25/08: I just went to Rolling Acres on Sunday and it’s in really sad shape.  All the info Mary has provided (in the comments) is accurate.  None of the escalators are operating, so you have to take stairs between the lower and upper levels.  Both JCPenney Outlet and Sears are open and have access into the mall during business hours (though JCPenney only opens to the upper level).  The fountains are off, and the mall directories are at least a couple years out of date, though they indicate Macy’s as an anchor.  Macy’s came to the mall in September 2006 when they ate Kaufmann’s, and then closed in February 2008.  There are numerous issues with the degradation of the flooring, as many of the tiles have chipped off and have just been left as is.  The ceiling has numerous leaks, as well as many spots on the floor beneath them.  I thought this place was in bad shape when I first came here 3 years ago, but man, it’s incredible that the mall is even still open in this condition.  Keep us posted on the deathwatch!

UPDATE 3/31/12: The Rolling Acres Mall is now closed permanently. The mall itself died with a whimper in October 2008 when the power company cut off electricity due to non-payment. Sears and the JCPenney Outlet Store continued to operate while the interior of the mall was sealed and left to rot. Three years later, in 2011, Sears and JCPenney Outlet both left the mall entirely, leaving the center 100% abandoned.

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