Ask anyone from the north side of Toledo if they remember North Towne Square Mall, and you’ll get plenty of stories. The stories will range from navigating the packed mall during Christmas shopping, to passing rainy days hanging out in the food court, to the eyesore it became as it sat vacant. North Towne Square Mall was the last of Toledo’s enclosed shopping malls to be built, and the first to close, lasting just 24 years.
As the city of Toledo grew and started to move into the suburbs in the 1950’s and 60’s, the major retail stores began to relocate from downtown into the new enclosed shopping malls that were being built. The first was the Woodville Mall in 1969, followed by Franklin Park in 1971 and Southwyck Mall in 1972. The covered the east, south, and western parts of the city, respectively.
The first plan for a mall on the north side of the city was proposed in 1973, to be located at the corner of Alexis Road and Telegraph. Skyview National Plaza, an 800,000 square foot enclosed mall would be built on a large tract of open land, which had been an airfield since the late 1930’s until its closure in 1970. Despite some enthusiasm from nearby residents, the mall was opposed by city officials, who questioned the need for a mall in a sparsely populated area. After the developer ran into financial problems the plan lay dormant until 1975, when Melvin Simon & Associates took over the project.
In June of 1976, Simon announced plans for New Towne Square Mall. At 832,000 square feet, it would feature three anchor and 80 smaller stores. Construction was anticipated to start in 1977 but didn’t begin until January of 1979. Montgomery Ward, Hudson’s, and a Lion Store signed on as the major tenants. After further delays and a slight tweak to the name, North Towne Square Mall opened on March 13th, 1981.
On opening day, the mall boasted five places to eat, 12 different shoe stores, a Camelot Music store, Frederick’s of Hollywood, Wicks ‘N ‘Sticks candle shop, Hobby Center Toys, Calire’s Botiques, an AMC theater, and The Gap. Special events included appearances by Paul W. Smith, actor Jamie Farr, animals from the Toledo Zoo, and photos with Mickey Mouse.
North Towne Square did brisk business through the early 1980’s, drawing in shoppers from the north side of Toledo and southeastern Michigan. In 1982 Hudson’s left the mall and was replaced by Elder-Beerman’s, and the mall experienced an excellent Christmas shopping season. But the area around the mall was already starting to show signs of trouble, as the major employers of the area started to close or move their operations. Champion Sparkplug closed its north Toledo plant in 1984, and auto parts maker Dana followed suit. When Frenchtown Sqaure Mall in Monroe, MI opened in 1989, customers that had previously crossed the border went there instead, taking another chunk of business from North Towne Square.
Though the mall still had nearly 100 stores in 1988, by the early 1990’s many of the prime retailers were being drawn to the Franklin Park Mall, which was remodeled and added another anchor store in 1994. The Elder-Beerman’s store closed in 1997, followed by CVS Pharmacy, McDonald’s, and Hickory Farms. In 1999, Simon Properties put its two Toledo properties, North Towne Square and the Woodville mall up for sale. The Lion Store chain was bought and rebranded as Dillard’s, but the North Towne location closed in 2000, leaving the mall with only one anchor store – Montgomery Ward.
Even as early as 2000, the writing was on the wall. A February 8th editorial in The Blade noted that “…it seems clear that with competition from other retail centers, especially Franklin Park Mall and the retail explosion going on around it, North Towne cannot continue as it has.” The editorial went on to suggest converting parts of the mall into a discount retailing center, educational facility, or a Jeep museum. In November, the five-screen theater, which had been showing second-run movies closed. About one-quarter of the mall’s storefronts were empty, and most of the rest were independent or specialty stores, including dance studios, a store selling Beanie Babies collectibles, and a professional wrestling school.
Montgomery Ward, the mall’s last anchor store, closed in early 2001 when the company went bankrupt. A year later the number of stores had fallen from 64 to just 21, with all three anchor stores empty. The mall briefly attracted new tenants by offering heavily discounted rental rates, including a church, a Christian bookstore, and a skate park.
In December of 2002, the mall, with the exception of the Montgomery Ward, was sold to Beverly Hills investors Jack Kashani and Sammy Kahen for $1 million. Though they initially hoped to keep a mix of retail stores and offices, by 2003 most of the remaining stores had left. The mall was renamed Lakeside Center, and was marketed to big-box retailers and companies needing office space. Though Xerox looked into using the Dillard’s wing as an office complex, they found the cost of renovation to be too high, and located elsewhere. MC Sporting Goods left in 2004, and was replaced by a flea market called “Bargain Village.” Chrysler started to use the vast empty parking lots to store vehicles, including Jeep Libertys made at the Toledo plant.
The last 20 remaining tenants were informed in January of 2005 that they were being evicted, and that the mall would permanently close on February 21st due to high cost of electricity and maintenance. Most of the mall was gutted to make it ready for new tenants, but the economic downturn in 2008 left few interested parties. The only remaining business on the property was a fitness center located in the former Montgomery Ward and car service shop. Vandals began breaking into the mall, smashing windows and scrawling racist graffiti on the walls.
After a water main break in the mall flooded the fitness center next door in February of 2010, city inspectors condemned the building as “unfit for human occupancy,” citing water damage, mold, and asbestos.
Southwyck Mall closed in 2008 and was demolished a year later. Woodville Mall closed in 2011, leaving Franklin Park as the last remaining enclosed mall in the city. It was part of a national trend, as malls around the country consolidated and closed. The last enclosed mall was built in 2006, with retailers changing over to open-air “lifestyle centers,” two of which have been built in the Toledo area. North Towne Square was a relic of a bygone era, the loss of which caused a rippling chain of closures among nearby businesses in the area.
In December of 2011, the City of Toledo bought the mall and ordered its demolition. The mall's close proximity to Chrysler's Toledo Assembly complex makes it an ideal location for light industry or an auto parts suppliers. The city plans on recouping the cost of the demolition through the sale of the land, which could spur new growth in the area. Demolition began in January of 2013, and within a few months that mall had been leveled, with the exception of the fitness center.