Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mellett Mall / Canton Centre in Canton, Ohio

Nicholas Eckhart
last update: 1-22-2014

Pre-mall days

         In late 1939 World War II began with Germany's invasion of Poland. As a result in 1940 a series of arms factories, called Naval Ordnance Plants, were planned to be built as a way to efficiently supply weapons to US Troops. Canton, Ohio was one of the cities where a Naval Ordnance Plant was to be built. In 1942 the massive Westinghouse operated Naval Ordnance Plant was opened between Whipple Avenue and Raff Road just south of 13th street. In order to house some of the workers a community called "The Mellett Housing Project" was constructed with barrack style buildings at the southeast corner of the Whipple Avenue and Tuscarawas Street intersection. "The Mellett Housing Project" was named in honor of Don Mellett, a Canton Daily News Editor who was assassinated on July 16, 1926.

          Eventually the Naval Ordnance Plant was converted to other industrial use and a variety of people moved into The Mellett Housing Project. In the first years of the 1960s residents of the housing project pooled together their resources and formed the Mellett Homes Corporation. The main goal of this corporation was to develop a massive shopping center in place of the barrack style housing. By 1963 Mellett Homes had devised plans for a 300,000 square foot shopping complex and soon thereafter set forth constructing the $7,000,000 project. The first major tenant to ink a deal at the site was JCPenney; a two story JCPenney was to be the main anchor of the open-air shopping complex. The Akron based O'Neil's signed onto the project in April 1965

Mellett Mall Era

          In August of 1965 the Mellett Mall was opened for business. The main anchor was a 158,262 square foot JCPenney department store with a free-standing Auto Center. The new open-air mall featured smaller stores such as F.W. Woolworth Co., Fanny Farmer, Gray Drugs, a Montgomery Ward catalog store, and Sherwin-Williams. In 1967 the single-screen Mellett Mall Cinema was opened plus another expansion of the center was started . A 116,231 square foot O'Neil's was to be built at the south end of the complex. The new O'Neil's store would feature two levels of sales-floor and an underground parking garage, it opened in 1968. A 120,600 square foot two story Montgomery Ward plus an east wing to the mall was constructed as well. The expansion was completed in 1969, only a year before competing mall Belden Village opened in nearby Jackson.

          Mellett Mall did not seem to worry at first with competing with the new fully enclosed Belden Village Mall. The only major change in the early 1970s was the division of the Mellett Mall Cinema into two cinemas in 1973. Mellett continued to operate as an open-air mall until 1977 despite the fact that the open-air concept in general had been dying-off for for at least ten years prior. The Mellett Homes Corporation had apparently had enough of the mall business as it sold Mellett Mall in 1981 to Forest City Enterprises. In the 1980s business declined and several changes happened to the mall, for example, the Mellett Mall Cinema closed then re-opened briefly in 1985 then closed again due to refusal to pay rent. An eight-screen General Cinemas location was eventually built by Montgomery Ward. In the late 1980s Forest City embarked on a $16,000,000 project that included the renovation of the entire mall and the addition of a food court at the north end of the mall. In March 1988 the mall was renamed Canton Centre.

Canton Centre Era

          The name change to Canton Centre was meant to demonstrate that the mall was in the center of Canton to a degree. This name change was disliked by people that felt Don Mellett should still have the mall named in his honor. In 1989 O'Neil's was re-branded as May Company only to be re-branded, yet again, to Kaufmann's in 1993. In the 1990s the mall's reputation took a major plunge while Belden Village's popularity continued to rise. Canton Centre's mall corridors started to become emptier and emptier. In 2000 the eight-screen cinema was closed. The next year Montgomery Ward was closed as a result of the chain's bankruptcy. In September 2001 the mall was auctioned-off in a sheriff sale to Bankers Trust Company. The east wing of the mall, formerly anchored by Montgomery Ward, was sold to Walmart and then demolished for one of their supercenters in 2004. The mall itself was sold to Nassimi Realty that year as well.

          The mall continued to lose tenants to the point where Nassimi decided to completely "demall" the site into one of their so-called "power centers". In 2006 Kaufmann's was re-branded as Macy's only to close two years later along with several other area Macy's stores. A small 10,032 square foot outbuilding was built at the corner of Tuscarawas Street and Whipple Avenue in 2007. Early the next year construction started on converting the front food court area of the mall into a lifestyle center. By 2009, intentions to renovate the exterior of JCPenney (which has gone untouched since 1965) and subdivide the mall into more strip mall space were announced. However, as of early 2014 none of those plans have became a reality. The only notable change since 2009 is the relocation of Chase Bank from inside the mall  to an out-parcel in 2011.

Mellett Mall (Canton Centre) Versus Belden Village Mall

          While the Belden Village Mall did not have as many people in a close proximity to it as Mellett Mall it did have several advantages over Mellett Mall. One advantage is that Belden Village opened in close proximity to Interstate 77, giving it more convenient access to shoppers from both Canton and Akron instead of being convenient to only Canton and Massillon. Belden Village also had more area for expansion. Flexibility is a crucial part running a shopping center; once a shopping center is proven successful many other retailers such as Lowe's, Target, Sam's, and Walmart will build around it, creating a bigger draw to the area and improving the strength of the area. Mellett Mall had more of a landlocked site surrounded by houses which made it difficult for shopping centers and other stores to be developed around it. Today, the Belden Village area has a shopping district built up around the mall plus one to the north that stretches over a mile alongside Interstate 77.

          Also, Mellett Mall was developed by a group of people relatively inexperienced at developing malls. Mellett was constructed as an open-air center in a time when the open-air concept was being phased-out. On the other hand, the developer of Belden Village, The Richard E. Jacobs Group, was well aware of the the growing enclosed mall trend and built accordingly.

          I still think Canton Centre has potential but I do not believe it is enough of a destination place to function properly again as a mall. The more successful malls tend to have a series of other retailers and shopping centers surrounding the mall as mentioned before. Since Canton Centre is land-locked by houses it should market itself as a quick and convenient place to shop. Both Walmart and JCPenney at Canton Centre look to be well-performing stores so maybe pulling another big-box store into the center would not be a bad idea. A 100,000 to 150,000 square foot store could easily fit to the south of JCPenney and face Whipple Avenue if the empty areas of the mall were demolished. Turning the back of the mall into smaller stores would seenm to backfire in my opinion. Smaller stores would be too dependent on the small amount of traffic venturing off Tuscarawas Street and driving around the mall. Another option could be demolishing the empty parts of the mall and building traffic-independent structures like condos or office buildings in the back and only build the smaller, more traffic dependent, retail stores within sight of Tuscarawas Street.


The image below seems to show a possible redevelopment plan for Canton Centre.
Image from nassimirealty.com

          The plans above are for a lifestyle center type redevelopment. I am unsure when these plans were made; they could possibly be the 2009 plans that never materialized. The most notable part of the plan above is the demolition of the currently open, but empty, mall corridors for a parking lot area between Walmart and JCPenney. Unlike the cases of many dead mall redevelopment projects it appears that the developer wants to keep the majority of the mall structure intact. Most of the Mellett Mall / Canton Centre site is comprised of buildings that are 45 - 50 years old and connected together by 1977 built mall corridors so modernizing the buildings could possibly end up more complicated than demolishing the empty buildings and starting fresh.


A screenshot of the long-gone Canton Centre website. Pictured in the bottom-right corner is the food court entrance that was removed when stores were added to the front of the mall.

The only remaining mall entrance. The cars are parked for Walmart.
Video Time!

Now on to the pictures!

Empty mall corridor; not a single business remains operating inside this mall. The main function of the mall appears to be as a walkway from Walmart to JCPenney or vice versa.
Closed corridor to the Food Court. 
Closed corridor to the Food Court.
Former fountain
Closed mall corridor to the south of the JCPenney entrance. The closed hallway leads quite a way to the former  O'Neil's / May Co. / Kaufmann's / Macy's department store and other corridors that are now closed.
Empty "The Diamond Company" store

The JCPenney entrance has been sealed except for a small gap in the glass partition. Note: the signs say "Emergency Exit Only".
Former Added Touch store

Towards the fountain and food court
Former Kay Jewelers 
Former Chase Bank

Now on to the exterior

Signs on either side of the mall entrance

Vintage JCPenney! This store still has much of the original look from 1965.

Former Auto Center

Closed mall entrance
Closed 11th street entrance / exit
Former O'Neil's / May Co. / Kaufmann's / Macy's
Department store

Both sales floor levels have windows over-looking the south parking lot. As mentioned earlier-on there is an enclosed car parking area underneath the two sales floors.

Despite most of the Canton Centre Mall site sitting empty, it looks like a strong strip mall to passersby.
DEB and Velocity relocated from inside the mall.

Dots, Sally Beauty Supply, and Hibbett Sports
Shoe Show, Velocity, and Rue 21
The Walmart adjacent to the mall. This store replaced the east wing of the mall
That is all for now.

  • cantonrep.com
  • nassimirealty.com
  • ddti.starkcountyohio.gov
  • (book) Canton: A Journey Through Time
  • cinematreasures.org
  • historicaerials.com
  • ibiblio.org