Cincinnati Mills / Cincinnati Mall / Forest Fair Mall — Cincinnati, Ohio (my first really dead mall!)

MallExt5 Several months back a friend that I have made online through a retail history focused group on Facebook had talked to me about Cincinnati Mills mall.  He wondered since I lived in Kentucky if I knew anything about the mall.  I’m pretty well versed in Cincinnati.  I’ve traveled to the city since I was young.  I know my way around town pretty well., but this mall was greatly a mystery.  Upon thought and review, I remembered once in about 2005 or so, I had a job interview in Warsaw, Kentucky.  I came up the night before and spent the evening in Cincinnati.  I remembered going to the Bass Pro Shop store at this mall. Eureka!  I had been to this mall.  I honestly thought that until last Wednesday when I actually went to the mall.  I remembered being in the Bass Pro Shop, but the mall was a complete blank, and with the decor and design of the floor plan, I know I would have remembered this mall.  I’ve recently became very interested in retail history and especially retail abandonment.  What makes  these super regional multi million dollar shopping malls so undesirable that they are left nearly abandoned?  Cincinnati Mills is a perfect example of over saturation in the retail market. mall10 To give a  little back story about Forest Fair Mall I submit the following from the mall’s wikipedia page:

at the junction of Interstate 275 and Gilmore Road (Exit 39). Currently, Cincinnati Mall is a two-story enclosed mall comprising less than 10 stores and services, as well as a food court and a movie theater; anchor stores include, The Screens, Kohl’s, and Babies R Us.   It is considered to be a dead mall. The mall also features a large arcade in the basement, called Arcade Legacy. Developed by Australia-based real estate franchise L.J. Hooker, the mall opened as Forest Fair Mall in phases between 1988 and 1989. At first, it featured three upscale department store chains which had not previously operated in the Cincinnati area: Parisan, B. Altman, and Bonwitt Teller Maryland-based management firm Mills Corporation purchased the mall in 2002, forcing out the few remaining non-anchor tenants before closing off the entire mall for renovations. In 2004, the property was re-opened as Cincinnati Mills, a discount-oriented mall. North Star Realty of Georgia purchased the mall in 2009.  It originally had a carousel which was later removed.

Now for some raw numbers that highlight the massiveness of this facility and the dramatic changing of hands this facility has been through in its relatively short life.

Ownership shifts have been common in the history of the shopping mall that straddles Forest Park and Fairfield.

Including:

George Herscu’s Retail Projects of Cincinnati Inc. (1986-1991)

FFM Limited Partnership (1991-1996)

Gator Investments (1996-2002)

Mills Corp. (2002-2010)

World Properties (2010-current)

When the mall opened in 1989 it was the second largest shopping mall in the entire state at 1.5 million square feet.  1.5 million!  To put that in perspective:

Fayette Mall in Lexington:  1.2 Million Square Feet West Town Mall in Knoxville:  1.3 Million Square Feet Great Lakes Crossing in Auburn Hills:  1.4 Million Square Feet Hanes Mall in Winston Salem:  1.5 Million Square Feet Any of you who are familiar with any of the above mentioned facilities know that these are some very large shopping malls.  Originally when the mall was in the planning stages in the mid to late 80s the vision was to have a place where a regional hyper market ( Biggs) could be located and also mid range department stores.  The mid range department store in mind for Forest Fair was Dayton based Elder-Beerman. Somewhere along the lines the developers didnt think that was enough, so they wanted to go bigger, louder and more upscale with the remaining anchor tenants bringing  Bonwit Teller, Sakowitz, B. Altman and Parisian to the mall, creating what he hoped to be a template for malls featuriing value based shopping right along side mid range and high end department stores. mallbanner1 The only problem with this thought and plan was that Forest Park and Fairfield, the suburbs which this mall lies right on the border of, are both very blue collar neighborhoods.  The upscale tenants targeted did not want to locate in forest fair and showed no interest in signing on to the mall.  In response the CEO of LJ Hooker, George Herscu, dediced that he would just buy a controlling interest in the aforementioned upscale department stores, forcing them to locate at Forest Fair Mall.  MallExt By 1991, B. Altman had went out of business and closed their location at Forest Fair.  Bonwit Teller was sold to the Pyramid Companies of Syracuse and the Forest Fair store closed due to unprofitability.  Parisian,bigg’s and Elder-Beerman were left as the sole anchors of the gigantic center.  In 1991 LJ Hooker filed for bankruptcy and the roller coast ride for Forest Fair Mall was just underway.    By 1994 Kohls had located in the old B. Altman space, where it remains today.

Former B. Altman
Kohls originally opened here in late 1994.

Flash forward to 2003, a couple of ownership changes and abrupt closings, including the removal of the  Ferris Wheel and the entire mall has closed down save for the anchors which were 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.  At this time Elder-Beerman got out while the getting was good and closed their store, leaving biggs as the last original anchor tenant. MallExt10 Sometime around 2008, after being acquired by Simon, began to spin out of control into obscurity.  Within a matter of 18 months,  biggs, which was the largest tenant at nearly 250,000 square feet,  Guitar Center, Urban Behavior, Steve and Barry’s, had all closed and the mall sat at 40% vacant.

formerly Elder-Beerman.  Steve and Barry's closed in 2008.
formerly Elder-Beerman. Steve and Barry’s closed in 2008.

So, as you can tell just by reading the information and  the wikipedia article alone the mall has had a very rocky history and the wikipedia page isnt entirely up to date as the Screens (the discount movie theater) has since closed for business. mall16 Best I can figure out the theater closed sometime in the last 6 months or so. mall14 It’s really a shame to, since the theater is in such a great location but to be honest, is a discount cinema going to drive much traffic into a shopping mall? mall15 While I was inside the mall I counted 5 stores that were open for business.  Babies R Us, Outdoor World, Kohls and 2 local shops. OutdoorWorld3 Outdoor World at Forest Fair Mall was Ohio’s first location for the chain, as was the Steve and Barry’s at Forest Fair.  Outdoor World, as did Kohls, has sealed their entrances to the mall corridor. OutdoorWorld2 The lower level of Outdoor World.  Outdoor World is scheduled to leave the mall in the coming months as they have a new facility under construction that is to be completed sometime in 2015. Off Fifth Ave2 In this picture you can plainly see the Saks Off 5th label scar. Off Fifth Ave Sak’s Off 5th closed here in 2009 and relocated to the Cincinnati Premium Outlets on up the road off of I75 neighborhoodB The mall was divided into neighborhoods.  Each neighborhood had their own theme. MediaPlay Former Media Play location at Cincinnati Mills.  Media Play closed here in 2005 and this space has been vacant since. mallfoodcourt The remains of the Food Court.  Gold Star Chili sounded so good, but I really dont think I was going to get any kind of service at this location today.  You have to wonder what makes some places just leave their signs up when they close?  It’s almost as if they just turn the lights off one night, not to come back at all. mall21 One of the final inline stores to go, Claires.  They must have followed Gold Star’s lead and just turned the lights off one night. mall20 this Claire’s was located on the bottom level where the Y of the building footprint came together. mall19 There were several people in the mall walking for exercise.  At 200 million dollars this has to be among the world’s most expensive walking tracks. mall18


mall17 rows and rows of unused store fronts. mall13


mall12 You won’t get a lot of information at this desk. mall11 Nor will you get much service out of the elevator which has been locked and marked as closed. escalators3 Escalators are turned off as well. escalators2 So expect to do some climbing. Kohls_-_Cincinnati_Mills_Mall_(9762496114) You won’t enter this Kohl’s through the mall.  The doors are locked. mall9There is a small maintenance crew still working at this mall though, as proof by the yellow buckets and wet floor signs in front of the former Claire’s mall4


mall7 Babies R Us and the two local inline stores were the only three businesses that I saw which used the interior mall corridor. babiesrus You have to wonder what Babies R Us and Kohl’s intentions are at this mall once their leases expire. escalators


Bonworth Bon Worth has went the way of Gold Star Chili and Claire’s. mall2 Not sure what this store front use to house, but I do enjoy the style it has. mall1 More walkers utilizing southern Ohio’s most expensive walking track. mall3 More store fronts.  Empty of course. basspro Outdoor World opened here in 1999 replacing Parisian which had closed their location here in 1996. MallParkingGarage even the mall parking garage is closed for business here. MallParkingGarage2


MallExt11LabelScar On this picture you can plainly see the ghosts of Showcase Cinema, Guitar Center, Biggs and Johnny Rockets. MallSign The other theater at the mall, yes there were at one time two, is still alive and well. MallExt9 Former Elder-BeermanMallExt8


MallExt2 Former Bonwit Teller Mallex12 I have explored abandoned buildings for years.  Usually those are crumbling into the ground and I can hear the building fall when I step on the floor.  This experience was much different than any other abandoned / urban exploration visit I have ever had.  There was something very erie about walking through such a gigantic building and not seeing anyone around at all.  I think that the one thing that will stick with me about this visit was the fact that the escalators were turned off.  There was something just odd about it.  I definitely, defintiely enjoyed it and I am glad that I got to experience this mall as its future is very uncertain.  With Outdoor World leaving the mall later this year, the mall is going to be left with four stores. As recently as mid April the mall and its owner was in the news discussing the mall’s future.  New York based World Properties, the mall’s owners has suggested that there is a potential buyer for the property according to an article posted on Cincinnati.com.  According to the article a mixed used facility is in the future for the mall, or, if the right developer is found, redevelopment all together. In the end Forrest Fair Mall, Cincinnati Mills, Cincinnati Mall or its later incarnation Forrest Fair Village was just too close to two other major, and already established shopping malls in Cincinnati.  Less than 5 miles from Tri County Mall which had Macy’s Dillards, Sears and JC Penney already and only 6 miles in the other direction from Northgate Mall which also had a lot of the same standby stores that every mall needed in that era to survive and thrive.  The facility is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen and reminds me a whole lot of Great Lakes Crossing in Auburn Hills, Michigan.  I hope that the owners can find a new owner that can find the right mix use of this property and retain part of the mall for shopping purposes.


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3 thoughts on “Cincinnati Mills / Cincinnati Mall / Forest Fair Mall — Cincinnati, Ohio (my first really dead mall!)”

  1. So sad. I wish I had stopped in a couple years ago when I was up there to visit my sister. Went here as a kid and can still remember all the rides and games they had. Great place. Such a shame. I will have to try to make it before the end of the year to see it before it closes for good.

  2. Great write-up! I’ve worked less than 15 minutes away from here for the last two years, but only recently decided to explore it. With one trip to the mall under my belt, I’m already planning round two!

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