Thursday, December 15, 2011

First Generation Ohio Shopping Mall Falls Into Disrepair, Will Likely Be Shut Down

“Going to the mall” has become such an accepted part of American culture that we tend to forget that the concept of large indoor shopping malls with dozens if not hundreds of stores and a gigantic surrounding parking lot is a relatively recent addition to the landscape. It was only in the late-1960s and early-1970s that the opening of large modern shopping malls really got underway—changing the face of American consumer habits in the process.

The first large regional mall I ever visited as a child was the Cherryvale Mall in Rockford, Illinois, which opened in the mid-1970s. It was a 30-mile drive for my family to visit, and by today’s standards would seem fairly quaint, but at the time I was blown away by how big it seemed and by how all of the stores seemed to go on forever. For a REALLY special treat, my dad would take the family to the Woodbridge Woodfield (see comments) Mall in suburban Chicago, a couple of hours drive from our home. At the time, Woodbridge Woodfield billed itself as the “largest shopping mall in the world,” and indeed it did dwarf Cherryvale, being well more than double in size. Going there, in my wonderment I always thought it must contain everything in the world anyone could ever possibly want to buy.

In those days, there were still relatively few large malls spread around the country. For most middle class families going to the mall was always a big deal, sort of like a mini-vacation. Back then, shopping on say Black Friday seemed fun, rather than the dreary slog it has become, fighting off thousands of overamped consumer drones whose minds have been dulled by many years of exposure to the ever-slicker and more vacuous media campaigns spewed forth by Madison Avenue hucksters.

Sadly, in our utterly disposable society, many of that first generation of shopping malls have fallen into disrepair, and have even been abandoned as newer and ever more dazzling shopping palaces have been built to take their place. This has been particularly the case in the Rust Belt states, where closing factories and declining wages have limited many families to shopping at Walmart and dollar stores, the often-overpriced shopping mall merchandize now well beyond their meager means.

This has all been a long-winded introduction to a story that appeared the other day in the Toledo Blade, about the impending closure of yet another former regional shopping hub built a couple of generations ago:
A team of Northwood city and Wood County officials inspected the Woodville Mall on Monday, and the myriad problems they found in the 42-year-old nearly vacant shopping complex made it likely they will seek a court order this week to close its main section.

"There is no firm decision yet," Brian Ballenger, Northwood law director, said after the group finished a two-hour inspection of the mall, which is at 3725 Williston Rd.

But Mr. Ballenger said the group probably will reach a decision Tuesday morning and could have the Wood County prosecutor's office seek an injunction later this week to have it shuttered.

That would affect 12 retailers operating inside the cavernous 778,000-square-foot mall, which was built in 1969 by the DeBartolo Corp. of Youngstown. After the inspection, a Northwood official handed out packets to the tenants listing vacant area sites where they could relocate.

Two anchor stores attached to the mall — The Andersons General Store and Sears, both of which have separate outside entrances and have taken care of their areas — would be unaffected.

When contacted, Woodville Mall's owner, real estate investor Mike Kohan of Little Neck, N.Y., said he could not speak at the time. Later, he could not be reached for comment and did not return phone calls.
So just how badly had the mall been allowed to deteriorate?
The inspection team consisted of Mr. Ballenger. Brad Espen, Wood County director of environmental health, and Michael Rudey, Wood County chief building inspector. A Northwood fire department official joined the group to examine the mall's fire sprinkler system, which is not functioning.

At the Fox Woodville Theater, Mr. Espen said they found fallen ceiling tiles, wet carpeting caused by the leaking roof, and no emergency lighting. The temperature inside the theater — and most of the mall — was 38 degrees. Employees had attempted to use space heaters to raise the temperature.

The group later entered a wing of the mall that had been cordoned off and ventured into a small vacant store. Inside they found fallen ceiling tiles, wet floors, mold, and the smell of mildew. Throughout the wing, the floor was buckled in many places, which Mr. Rudey said was caused by sporadic heat and cold underneath the floor.

In the backroom of a former Lane Bryant store, inspectors found a three-foot-wide hole in the ceiling and what appeared to be loose stone on the floor. The stone turned out to be portions of the roof that had caved in.

Throughout the mall the group found water-stained carpeting, warped and stained ceiling tiles, mold and mildew, and strategically placed buckets and trash cans to catch water from the leaking roof.
Nevertheless, the remaining tenants were stillmanaging to eek out a living and will be devastated if the mall closes:
Patrick Falgout, owner of Hobby Outfitters, one of the 12 tenants in the mall, said he was "kind of shocked" when he got the letter. He had already spent money having the roof above his store fixed and was using electric heat to keep his store warm.

Closing the mall would be a huge financial burden on him, he added. "It's been a rough four to five years for us. If I have to move, it's going to eat into my retirement savings," Mr. Falgout said.

Sue Grover, owner of the Sports Maniac sports memorabilia shop, said she and other tenants cannot afford to move elsewhere. "We knew nothing of this. If we had known this was happening, I'd have never ordered Christmas stock," she said.

Ms. Grover said she hopes the city and county will allow the mall to stay open through the holiday season. That might provide enough revenues to allow the merchants to move out of the mall.

"It's a good mall. The money's here. They just need somebody to take care of it," she added.
So sad and so typical of modern America—use it up, don’t take care of it and throw it away. There is more profit to be made by building something more flashy and trendy than by taking care of what we already have. It’s the same misguided thinking that caused so much of Obama’s Recovery Act money to be spent on building new roads rather than to repair the crumbling existing transportation infrastructure. The American consumer machine is like a shark. It needs to keep swimming forward and feeding or it will die. Someday in the not-too-distant future, it will face on a large scale the same fate that has now befallen the Woodville Mall of Northwood, Ohio.


  1. I think you mean 'Woodfield' mall, not 'Woodbridge'. I used to go there as a kid, they had a tunnel going under an aquarium which was awesome at the time. Also loved the sprinkler/fountains that resembled giant dandelions to me :-) It's still open. Another one in the suburbs I used to go to (Countryside?) is out of business.

  2. Here is an interesting article about shopping malls and their 'creator'. Apparently they weren't intended to turn out this way.

  3. Interesting as always, Bill. I like the consumer-machine-as-shark analogy, very apt.

    Umm, just one thing, though: don't you mean the WoodFIELD (rather than Woodbridge) Mall in suburban Chicago? I remember when that opened to great hoopla as the "largest shopping mall in the world," and it really was an amazing destination at the time for a kid like me who was used to getting back-to-school stuff at the Six Corners Sears, an old-fashioned Main Street-type store, also in Chicago.

  4. @Daniel & Shirley - you guy are absolutely right. I misremembered something from my childhood. That's what I get for not doing a Google double check. Going back to edit the post accordingly. :)

  5. @Daniel - re: the tunnel under the aquarium...I remember that! It was the coolest thing when you're a kid.

  6. @Bill - I could have stayed in that tunnel (no big deal compared to what we have today in some malls) for hours as a kid lol. I was actually at Woodfield this past summer. Alas, no more aquarium or 'dandelion' sprinklers. Same dark-brown brick on the inside though!

  7. Remember Dawn of the Dead and the Crossroads Mall

  8. @Anon - good thing they weren't holed up in here, or the survivors would have run out of food pretty quickly.