Thursday, November 7, 2013

Woodville Mall in Northwood, Ohio

Nicholas Eckhart

          The Woodville Mall was the first enclosed mall in Northwestern Ohio; it marked the beginning of a series of major malls to be opened in the Toledo area: Woodville Mall (1969), Greenwood Mall (1969), Franklin Park Mall (1971), Southwyck Mall (1972), and North Towne Square Mall (1981). Woodville was, however, the only mall constructed by the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation in the Toledo area.

          Construction started on the Woodville Mall project in May 1967 and the mall was opened for business at 9:30 AM on April 16, 1969. Sears, JCPenney, Lasalle's, and Woolworth were the anchor stores (Sears and Lasalle's opened later in 1969). Some of the nearly 90 smaller tenants included Fox Theatre, Spencer Gifts, FoodTown Supermarket, First National Bank, Keidan's Jewelers, Tie Rack, Fanny Farmer Candy Shop, Memory Lane, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Foxwood, Princess Beauty Salon, Home Furniture Company, Chess King Clothing, Mary Jane Shoes, Bernard Wigs, Hanover Shoes, Zales Jewelers, and First Lady Beauty Salon. The Woodville Mall housed 794,000 square feet of interior mall space, a 162,000 square foot Sears store, a 165,000 foot JCPenney, and a 106,000 square foot Lasalle's store. All totaled the Woodville Mall complex had a whopping 1,227,000 square feet of interior space!

A DeBartolo sketch of the original main entrance to the Woodville Mall

          Despite having a rather impressive size and being the first enclosed mall in Northwestern Ohio there appear to be a lack of photographs from Woodville's early days. Other than the early days of the Woodville Mall being rather undocumented to a degree it seems that the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation's early assumption that the town of Northwood would develop into a larger sized suburb did not ring true. The Woodville Mall name itself originates from "Woodville Road" which was considered more of a landmark when the mall was built than the village of Northwood in which it was built. DeBartolo had another mall, Perrysburg Mall, very similar to Woodville, planned for Perrysburg Township. That project, meant to be built immediately after Woodville was complete, never commenced. The Perrysburg Mall site today is still mostly farmland and it is clear that Perrysburg would never have filled DeBartolo's expectation for great suburban growth either.

          Woodville, unlike the other major Toledo malls, was built in more of a rural setting. Malls such as Franklin Park and Southwyck were built in areas that already had undergone a great deal of development into suburban type neighborhoods. The developers for those malls were more willing to pay more for land to ensure there would be a customer base than buy cheaper farmland in a township or village and hope the area would grow. A 115,000 square foot Woolco store opened in 1971 adjacent to the mall, meaning more stores targeting the same number of people; oddly enough the Woolco next to the mall and the Woolworth at the mall operated in such close proximity. The Lasalle's changed its name to Macy's in 1982 then was sold to Elder Beerman in 1985. The Woolco store near the Woodville Mall closed in 1983, but was quickly replaced with Hills as was the other two Toledo area Woolco stores. JCPenney's Auto Center also closed in 1983.

          In the mid 1980s tenants started noticing declining sales. The FoodTown Supermarket eventually closed their location in the mall and converted a shuttered retail store across the street into a new supermarket. After FoodTown closed, other smaller stores in the JCPenney wing started to close. After JCPenney announced they were closing in 1987 DeBartolo began to renovate the interior of the mall. The JCPenney store was initially meant to close in March 1987 but then JCPenney decided to keep it open well into June of that year. The remodel of the mall premiered in November 1987 and featured a "Treats" food court in the former FoodTown, a new main entrance, and a center court meant to resemble an early 1900s town square.

A 1987 Toledo Blade picture of the JCPenney store.

          A "The Andersons" store opened in the former JCPenney store on September 1, 1988. Andersons used only the first floor (106,000 square feet) as sales space and used the upper-level (59,000 square feet) as offices. The Andersons grocery / home improvement hybrid store gutted the JCPenney interior and added a garden center to the side of the building. Andersons did very little to the JCPenney exterior other than add the aforementioned garden center and new "The Andersons" signage.

          Despite Woodville having a higher occupancy rate in the 1990s Woodville still faced heavy competition in an area with less shoppers than elsewhere in the Toledo area. The Great Eastern shopping center still had Value City as a main anchor and a number of smaller smaller stores. Retailers also were fairing well in nearby Oregon along Navarre Avenue. In 1992 a Meijer superstore opened about a mile and a half from Woodville, directly across from Great Eastern, which led to a decreased amount of shoppers visiting Woodville Mall. By this time Woodville was going downhill again; the mall had empty smaller stores inside despite all of the anchor slots being full. In 1994 Woolworth closed its Woodville location leaving an empty junior anchor space. The Woolworth space was filled with an indoor skate-park for some time. In the early to mid 1990s DeBartolo drew up plans for another major enclosed mall in the Toledo area, this mall was to be built along US 24 between Maumee and Waterville. After the Simon Malls and DeBartolo merger the plans for that mall fell by the wayside and freed up the property for General Growth Properties to build "The Shops at Fallen Timbers" lifestyle center.

          Before the Simon and DeBartolo merger both entities operated one mall in the Toledo area. The combined Simon DeBartolo company operated Woodville Mall along with another ailing mall called North Towne Square. Simon put both Woodville and North Town Square up for sale in 1999. North Towne Square, sold in 2002, and Woodville, sold in 2004, were sold to the same business partners from California. New stores such as Walmart (Oregon) and Menards (a mile and a half from Woodville) opened in the 2000s. The Ames department store adjacent to the mall, which replaced the Hills department store in the late 1990s, along with the FoodTown Supermarket on the other side of Woodville Road closed in the early 2000s. In 2006 and 2007 plans were under consideration to either renovate the mall or replace it with a lifestyle center. Some property was purchased for a potential access road for customers from Oregon, but the access road was never built.

          Woodville lost its Elder-Beerman store in September 2009. In November of that year the Woodville Mall was sold again, this time to an investor from New York. The number of tenants inside the mall shrank even more. The owner of the mall took action in early 2011 by pulling in some new non-chain tenants and by holding a "Grand Opening". The lack of much-needed repair caught up to the mall; mold was growing inside, the roof was leaking plus had partially collapsed, some sprinklers were not working, and the heat was shut-off. The Woodville Mall was closed on December 16, 2011 after it failed an inspection. All tenants were forced to vacate and the mall was boarded up and condemed.

          The Andersons closed in February 2013 after Anderson claimed they were worried about the structure of the mall. The mall was fenced-off in September 2013 and has been ordered to be demolished by May 2014. Currently, Sears department store and a freestanding Sears auto center are the only businesses left on the Woodville Mall property.

The former JCPenney / Andersons store and a secondary mall entrance to the right.
This former Fox Theatre location gives a rare glimpse into how cinemas were originally built at malls. Today these cinemas are rare since many cinema chains have replaced these single-screen mall cinemas with larger locations.
The Woodville Mall  main entrance. This was renovated in 1987 so it does not match the rest of the mall.
The Woolworth store. This closed in 1994 and a slight label-scar is still visible.
This Sears store like many others has gone largely untouched since opening. The only notable upgrades are that the signs have been changed at least once. This is a medium-format Sears store, which means it lacks the garden center, second story, and covered pick-up area that larger Sears stores had at the time this store was built.
The freestanding Sears Auto Center
A Sears entrance. The sign above the door may be original to the store.
Side of Sears Store
Uncovered merchandise pick-up area
Back of the Sears store. This Sears entrance has been closed for years.
Another secondary mall entrance
Former Goodyear service center
A secondary entrance by the Lasalle's / Macy's / Elder Beerman store
Former garden center attached to the former Lasalle's / Macy's / Elder Beerman store.
Lasalle's / Macy's / Elder Beerman
The main entrance to the Lasalle's / Macy's / Elder Beerman building
A secondary entrance to the former Lasalle's / Macy's / Elder Beerman  building
North side of the mall
A secondary entrance on the back of the mall
A secondary entrance by the former JCPenney / Andersons store
Back entrance to the former JCPenney / Andersons store.
Andersons garden center
Andersons garden center
Andersons garden center
JCPenney / Andersons main entrance
The former JCPenney / Tireman auto center. Records show that as JCPenney's auto center this had gas pumps installed on the left side of the building . All traces of JCPenney's gas pumps here have been removed. After JCPenney closed this in 1983 it sat empty until Andersons ran an auto center (sold in 2000).  The Tireman auto center closed in 2012.

Former Elder Beerman sign
Former bank building
1. The Toledo Blade