As Toledo expanded outward from downtown into the suburbs in the 1950’s 60’s, the way that people shopped began to change. Traditionally major retailers kept their stores downtown in shopping districts. When the shoppers began moving out of downtown, retailers did too, establishing clusters of stores in outlying areas.
The Woodville Mall in Northwood, a suburb of Toledo, was part of a dramatic shift in how people shopped. It was the first enclosed shopping mall in the city when it opened on April 16th, 1969, putting big-name retailers under the same roof as smaller chain stores in one large building. Four “anchor” stores including Sears, JC Penny, Lasalle’s, and Woolworth at the ends of the mall drew in the most customers, with 100 smaller shops and a four-screen theater in between.
The Woodville Mall was just the first of four major malls in the city. By 1971 the Franklin Park Mall in central Toledo had opened, and ground was broken for the Southwyck Shopping Center on Reynolds Avenue. North Towne Square Mall opened in 1980. These malls effectively changed the downtown retail landscape, moving large stores like Kresge’s, the Lion Store, and Macy’s out of downtown and into malls.
The mall served the eastern part of Toledo and its suburbs, and was convenient for those who didn’t want to cross the river to go to the other malls. Though successful in its early years, competition between the four malls was stiff, and sales at Woodville started to drop in the mid 1980’s. The Lasalle’s anchor became an Elder-Beerman’s in 1984, and JC Penny’s left the mall in 1987.
To stay competitive, the owners of Woodville Mall began a significant overhaul of the mall in 1986-87. The fountain in the center of the mall was removed, and skylights were added. Interior decor was refreshed, with lots of pastel colors and carpeting. Several stores were removed and the open space was converted into a food court. In January of 1988, The Andersons, a popular local general store chain, announced that it would open a store in the former J.C. Penny. It was the company’s first store east of the Maumee River, and did brisk business on its opening in September.
The arrival of The Andersons turned around the mall’s sagging fortunes for a time. Several inline stores, including Spencer Gifts had been considering leaving the mall, but decided to stay as their sales increased considerably after The Andersons opened. But by 1994, the mall was showing signs of distress. Woolworth’s closed all of its Toledo locations in February of 1994, leaving the mall with an empty anchor store. The arrival of several other major retailers located near the mall, including a Meijer superstore gave shoppers more options, and Woodville increasingly became an afterthought.
In 1996, the DeBartolo Company, who had owned the mall since its construction, merged with the Simon Property Group, another mall developer that owned the North Towne Square Mall. Simon operated both malls for several years, making minimal investment in either while nearby malls expanded and went upscale. In 1999 Simon put 15 malls around the country up for sale, including North Towne Square and Woodville. Though North Towne sold in 2002 for $980,000, there was little interest in Woodville, which continued to lose business. The vacant Woolworth’s was converted into a skate park in 2001. Many of the smaller stores had left and been replaced with independent or specialty stores, including a computer repair shop, a tax firm, a golfing gear store, and an adult novelty shop that sold sex toys and underwear.
In 2004, The Toledo Blade wrote that “Despite having three apparently solid anchor stores The Andersons, Elder-Beerman, and Sears Roebuck & Co. and a four-screen movie theater that does good business, half of the mall's 100 store sites are empty. Of those that are filled, only about a dozen hold regular local or national stores. The rest have mom-and-pop stores on low-priced lease tryouts or nonretail tenants, such as a church and a Coast Guard recruiting station.”
Simon finally sold the mall on September 1st, 2004, to two California businessmen - Jack Kashani and Sammy Kahen, who had also bought the North Towne Square Mall two years earlier. Though the number of stores in the mall had fallen from 70 in 1999 to just 20 in 2004, the new owners saw an opportunity. In early 2005 they closed down the unprofitable North Towne Square Mall and began marketing it for light industrial or office use, while Southwyck Mall was nearing closure as well. Woodville had an opportunity to take up the #2 position in the mall scene. The owners hire Krone Group to redevelop the mall, and by October of 2005, improvements were reported to be underway.
Their ambitious plan called for a major remodeling of the mall, including a new 12 to 15-screen theater with stadium seating, bringing in national chains to fill empty stores, an indoor ice hockey rink replacing a number of empty storefronts, soccer and baseball fields outside, and offices. By the summer of 2006, though, little progress had been made aside from minor repairs to the roof. A few months later the owners floated the idea of demolishing large parts of the mall to convert it into an outdoor shopping center, but nothing came of it.
In April of 2007, the mall was again put up for sale. The opening of two “lifestyle centers,” The Shops at Fallen Timbers in Maumee and Levis Commons in Perrysburg, continued to draw away shoppers from the east side. By November of 2008, there are just 16 stores, and the asking price was $3.5 million. A proposed sale seemed close by fell through due to the economic crisis and subsequent credit crunch. The Elder-Beerman’s store announced it would close in September of 2009, leaving the mall with two anchors and the theater.
In November of 2009, Woodville was sold to a New York mall property investor for $700,000. Though he announces plans to renovate the mall, little is done in the first few months, aside from a few “coming soon” signs in vacant storefronts and replacement of water-damaged carpet.
To encourage new tenants, the mall began offering sharply discounted rental rates of $0.75 to $1 per square foot in late 2010 and early 2011. The Toledo Blade reported “Since November, the mall has added two restaurants, a dessert shop, two hair salons, a computer store, a combination gift shop-bookstore-dance studio, a crafts store, a radio station, a lawn maintenance business, a photography studio, a hobby store, a roleplaying games store, an art gallery, and a computer networking business. A gym that specializes in mixed martial arts, karate, and boxing will open in March, and a clothing retailer has signed a lease but is relocating to a larger space.” But by June of 2011 that mall’s owner had run out of money, and put it up for sale.
On December 12th, 2011, Wood County health and building officials toured the mall in response to complaints about conditions inside. The two-hour inspection revealed fallen ceiling tiles, wet carpeting, a lack of emergency lighting, and space heaters being used to heat the theater. The temperature inside the mall was 38 degrees, and the heat had been shut off for nearly a year. Part of the mall had been cordoned off due to buckling floors, mildew and mold. Buckets had been set up inside vacant stores and the hallways to collect water falling from leaks in the roof. Especially worrying was that part of the roof in the former Lane Bryant store had collapsed, raising concerns about the stability of the rest of the mall. The next day the county sought an emergency order to close the mall, as it was “unfit for public use.” The Fox Theater, which had been in mall since it opened, closed the same day.
On December 16th, the Wood County Courts ordered the mall to be immediately closed. The malls 12 remaining tenants were required to leave at the peak of the Christmas shopping season, and given until the 6th of January to move out. Two weeks later, the Ohio Plaza Shopping Center Company bought the vacant mall for $800,000.
By 2012, only The Anderson’s and Sears remained, and both had sealed off their entrances to the now empty mall. Despite patrols by the Northville Police, scrappers and vandals break into the mall, cutting out copper wires and pipes. The Anderson’s announces in November of 2012 that it is closing its Woodville location, citing the rapid deterioration of conditions in the mall in recent months. The store closes in January of 2013.
In an effort to compel the owner to take care of the property, the City of Northwood sued the owner of the mall in January for failure to comply with blight regulations. Neighbors attending a meeting complain about the condition of the mall. "When we get strong westerly winds, the actual roof of the building blows off across the mall, across the streets, and into our subdivision," said resident Dan Mikolagczyk. The owners confirm that they intend to demolish the mall and redevelop the property with strip malls and condos. On August 18th, 2013, the Wood County Courts order that the mall be torn down no later than May of 2014. A fence went up around the mall a month later, and demolition began in February of 2014.
Not included in the demolition are the Sears store, which continues to operate, and the Elder-Beerman's wing, which is owned by a different company. Demolition is expected to be completed by May.