Rolling Acres Mall in Akron, Ohio opened in August of 1975. Built by Forest City Enterprises, it was the largest and newest of the three enclosed shopping malls in the Akron area, as well as the most modern. The mall initially opened with a Sears anchor store and 20 inline stores, but over the next three years added three more anchors including J.C. Penny’s, Montgomery Ward, and an O’Neil’s department store. A three-screen cinema run by General Cinema Corp. opened in August of 1976.
In its early days, Rolling Acres was a popular destination for shoppers. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer newspaper would later recall “in the 1980s and early '90s, all of Akron shopped at the megamall, sandwiched between blue-collar Barberton and southwest Akron… Kids flicked pennies into the mall 's orange-tiled fountain, spent their allowance on earrings at Claire's, picked out back-to-school loafers at Thom McCann, gorged on Boardwalk Fries. They grew up at the mall.”
The mall layout covered two floors, with escalators and elevators whisking shoppers between the levels. Large courtyards with skylights and fountains were located at junctions throughout the mall. An aquarium was built in front of the Montgomery Ward store, but was later removed when the Ward’s closed in 1985 and was replaced by a Higbee’s department store.
Though still very popular going into the 1990’s, the mall’s reputation for safety suffered due to several widely publicized incidents, including a shopper getting mugged and beaten on her way out of the mall. A few months later, pandemonium broke out after two men fighting in front of the cinema knocked over a metal sign, which sounded like a gunshot as it hit the ground. Panicked shoppers fled the mall, and several stores closed early. In May of 1992, the mall closed early after the Rodney King trial verdict, with management fearing “civil unrest.” The cinema closed in 1993.
By the mid 1990’s, shopping trends were changing, as retailers began focusing on standalone big-box locations and “superstrip” malls. Still, Rolling Acres continued to attract shoppers with events including family festivals, performances by the Akron Youth Symphony Orchestra, and a filming of an episode of the PBS kids show “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.” In October of 1994, work on the last addition to the mall began, as a Target store and a 21,000 square foot passageway connecting it to the mall were announced. 98% of the mall’s 140 stores were occupied.
The opening of Target in 1995 proved to the be the high water mark of Rolling Acres, as several major factors caused traffic to the mall to slow. In 1997, the nearby Summit Mall was renovated, drawing away shoppers. Major retail developments elsewhere in the city attracted some of the larger stores around the mall to move, as well as some of the better-known names inside the mall. In 1998 the J.C. Penny store closed and reopened as a catalog outlet store.
The critical factor in the mall’s decline came in January of 2000, when Forest City Enterprises, which had owned and operated the mall since it’s opening, sold the mall to a developer for $33.5 million dollars. This began a long period of instability, with ownership of the mall changing every few years, and the new owners holding off on investing in upkeep while they tried to sell it again.
The mall had a total of 1.3 million square feet of space, anchored by Kaufman’s, J.C. Penny Outlet, Sears, Dillards, and Target. Despite having five anchor stores, 35% of the stores inside the mall were vacant - nearly double the nationwide rate. Only a year later, the mall was put up for sale again after the new owners decided that the amount of money needed to be invested in the mall was more than they were willing to spend.
In September of 2002, the mall was sold to Whichard Real Estate of Raleigh, North Carolina for just $2.75 million dollars, a fraction of what they had paid a year before. The Whichard family planned to flip the mall within a year for a higher profit, as they had done at several other malls around the country, and stopped investing in the upkeep of the mall. By July of 2003, the mall was only 50% occupied. Many of the prime retailers had left, including KB Toys, Lane Bryant, Victoria’s Secret, and Waldenbooks. To attract new tenants, rental rates were heavily discounted and offered on a month-to-month basis.
Target announced it was closing its anchor store in December of 2005, only 10 years after opening. Like other nearby retailers, Target moved to a new development with a larger store about six miles away, and its former location became a storage unit center that sill operates today. Dillard’s closed in July of 2006, leaving the mall only 30 to 40% occupied, with three anchor stores. Though the mall sold again to a Beverly Hills lawyer and real estate developer for $1.7M, his plans for redeveloping the mall for mixed-use occupancy never go anywhere, and a few months later the mall was for sale again – this time for $4.9 million dollars.
In April of 2007, several merchants in the mall reported thefts of merchandise. An investigation by mall security found that a homeless man who had been living in a vacant store in the mall was committing the crimes. He had apparently been living there for at least a month, subsisting on power bars and drinks stolen from the GNC fitness supply store.
Macy’s, which had taken over the Kaufman’s store a few months earlier, closed in December of 2007. By fall of 2008, only eight stores remained. The food court was virtually deserted, and buckets scattered throughout the mall caught water falling through holes in the roof. The owner of the mall fell behind on tax payment and utility bills, leading the power company to threaten disconnection of utilities. Unable to pay the $130,000 electrical bill, mall management announced in late October at the electricity would be turned off within a few days, at which point the mall would permanently close. A few small stores held out until the power went out on October 31st, 2008.
Rolling Acres was left with two anchor stores – Sears, and the J.C. Penny Outlet store, which were blocked off from the inside of the mall. After failing to sell at an Internet auction in 2009, Rolling Acres was sold to a California investor in November of 2010 for $3 million dollars, who planned to convert it into a mixed-used facility. Those plans never came to fruition, and the interior of the mall deteriorated as scrappers and kids broke in. Sears announced it was closing in April, leaving J.C. Penny as the last store.
Two incidents in 2011 added to the grisly specter hanging over the mall: In April, a man died after being electrocuted while stealing copper from a power box outside the mall. The man was so severely burned that dental records had to be used to identify him. Then in November, the body of a Timothy Kern was found in a shallow grave behind the mall. The case would later be linked to a string of murders committed by Richard Beasley, the “Craigslist Killer.”
The last holdout at the mall, J.C. Penny’s Outlet, closed on December 31st, 2013.
Demolition of the mall began in October of 2016.