Adventures in photographing the back roads of America
Monday morning I was able to take a few minutes and finally stop by and explore a nearly vacant mall in Middletown, Ohio. I had passed by this mall many times but had never taken the time to actually go inside and experience it. I’m glad I did, because from the looks of things, this mall might not be around next holiday season.
The Towne Mall Galleria is located on Towne Boulevard in the Warren County portion of Middletown, in the section of the city referred to as the Renaissance District near the Ohio 122-Interstate 75 interchange. The more than 465,000-square-foot mall first opened in 1977, although the malls earliest roots can be traced several years earlier.
The first store to open on the property was, a 1-level (113,300 square foot), Cincinnati-based McAlpin’s. McAlpin’s opened for business on February 16, 1975. The remainder of the shopping hub was added to this freestanding anchor. The mall, and a 68,000 square foot Sears, opened February 9, 1977. Later that year the mall was complete when Elder-Beerman opened a 118,000 square foot opened on the mall’s west side. In August 1998, McAlpin’s became Dillard’s as part of a merger. Dillard’s would remain open here until June 2008, when they closed their doors. This, along with multiple failed renovation plans and rejuvination attempts by the mall’s owner CBL and Associates, lead to many smaller inline closings by the mid-2000s.
In 2015 Burlington and Gabe’s opened in the former Dillard’s anchor spot, although they do not have direct access to the interior corridor.
Unfortunately, the grand openings of these stores was met with bad tidings. Elder-Beerman shuttered their 39-year-old store on January 31, 2017. Sears, another charter 1977 tenant, went dark in September of the same year. If my calculations are correct, today there are less than 10 businesses open at the mall. Those include: –Burlington –Gabe’s –Roger’s Jewelers (Currently Closing)
— Cincinnati Nails
–Sell Gold As you can see the directory is terribly out of date.
I have spent the evening working on geo-tagging my flickr photos and creating a google map of the Kmart stores that I have visited that have closed since 2016. The grand total is 31. As this Kmart and Sears thing plays out I will continually add to this map and documment the future of Kmart. The map can be seen by clicking HERE
Everyone have a great week ahead and thanks again for reading.
The Ironton-Russell Bridge is a metal truss bridge that connections the towns of Ironton, Ohio and Russell, Kentucky. This bridge opened in 1922 and was the first bridge to cross the Ohio River in this part of the tri state area (Kentucky, Ohio & West Virginia).
The bridge carries 2 traffic lanes and a sidewalk across the Ohio River.
In 2012 construction began on a replacement bridge just up stream from the current structure. When this new suspension / cable concrete structure is complete, the nearly 100 year old Ironton-Russell Bridge will be demolished.
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. 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.
•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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. Best I can figure out the theater closed sometime in the last 6 months or so. 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? 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. 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. 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. In this picture you can plainly see the Saks Off 5th label scar. Sak’s Off 5th closed here in 2009 and relocated to the Cincinnati Premium Outlets on up the road off of I75 The mall was divided into neighborhoods. Each neighborhood had their own theme. Former Media Play location at Cincinnati Mills. Media Play closed here in 2005 and this space has been vacant since. 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. 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. this Claire’s was located on the bottom level where the Y of the building footprint came together. 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.
rows and rows of unused store fronts.
You won’t get a lot of information at this desk. Nor will you get much service out of the elevator which has been locked and marked as closed. Escalators are turned off as well. So expect to do some climbing. You won’t enter this Kohl’s through the mall. The doors are locked. There 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
Babies R Us and the two local inline stores were the only three businesses that I saw which used the interior mall corridor. You have to wonder what Babies R Us and Kohl’s intentions are at this mall once their leases expire.
Bon Worth has went the way of Gold Star Chili and Claire’s. Not sure what this store front use to house, but I do enjoy the style it has. More walkers utilizing southern Ohio’s most expensive walking track. More store fronts. Empty of course. Outdoor World opened here in 1999 replacing Parisian which had closed their location here in 1996. even the mall parking garage is closed for business here.
On this picture you can plainly see the ghosts of Showcase Cinema, Guitar Center, Biggs and Johnny Rockets. The other theater at the mall, yes there were at one time two, is still alive and well. Former Elder-Beerman
Former Bonwit Teller 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.