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               FOREST FAIR MALL / CINCINNATI MILLS / CINCINNATI MALL: CINCINNATI, OH

Judy Carr's Commentary

Posted May 3, 2011 (user submitted November 3, 2010)

As of November, 2010, Cincinnati Mills is almost a dead mall, except for one small area. The owners plan to convert areas of it into business office space with perhaps some retail. Kohls, Burlington Coat Factory, Babies R US and Outdoor World still Occupy the site, but rumors swirl that Outdoor World will be ending its occupation of the mall in the near future for a location in Indiana. The Bigg's store closed several years ago, as it tried to recover and reinvent itself from primarily a grocer into some sort of Big Lots/semi grocery store. It failed. The Bigg's chain has closed in ALL of Cincinnati and closed all of its stores, several of which were sold to Remke grocers chain. The busiest stores there are now Kohls and Outdoor World.

There are still some occupants in the Food Court and the there are some rides in the old Time out on the Court area, but the mall is an eerily quiet empty shell of what it once was. It is possible to still walk through a large part of the mall for exercise, but it is sad to remember its big opening. The fancy marbled floors of Bonwit and the other stores sit shuttered, as they have been for over a decade. The mall was just too big to walk through from the beginning.

It was built in an area that is more blue collar than upscale. The stores weren't a good fit. I used to shop that Bigg's for my groceries because it always had good everyday prices and as my son was young at the time, and I would let him ride on the ferris wheel. It WAS such a long walk, though, but I considered it my exercise for the day. It is sad to see the decline of this once fine mall.

Alpha's Commentary

Posted January 9, 2011 (user submitted August 23, 2010)

Since I posted my first submission, Forest Fair Mall has gone on a roller coaster ride, re-opening as Cincinnati Mills, suffering through the Mills corporation bankruptcy, and a desperate sale by SIMON.

Forest Fair Mall re-opened as Cincinnati Mills in 2004 after spending the past couple of years shuttered while the Mills corporation renovated the mall. The changes when it re-opened as Cincinnati Mills were mostly cosmetic- a few new light fixtures, some of your typical kitschy Mills garb, and the removal of the labyrinth of walkways over the center court amounted to the bulk of changes, but the look was an improvement over the de-contenting it had gradually seen during the prior owner.

When the Mills took over, it had killed off all of the mall except for its anchors and a few of the big stores its prior owner had brought in. When it re-opened, it boasted an entirely new roster. The Mills renovation brought about 20 or so new chain stores, including American Eagle Outfitters, Aeropostale, Starbucks, Bath and Body Works, Johnny Rockets, and some local chains including Johnny's Toys. The newly re-opened Cincinnati Mills started to bring in traffic, but it was obvious its success would be short lived.

The problem was visible from day-one when the mall re-opened... As the Mills Corporation struggled financially, they couldn't afford to lure in more name-brand tenants. They clearly got desperate to fill in many of the inline stores (the mall has room for about 200+) for opening day. Most of the stores appeared to just be made up (e.g. "TOOL WORLD", which consisted of a bunch of off-brand tools sitting on fold-out tables) or extremely low rent- this wasn't your typical Mills roster of mid-range to value-oriented, this was just 'whatever they could find.' To their credit though, it was pretty impressive seeing actual open stores and people in a mall I've always known as dead.

The Mills corporation was also betting heavily on IKEA locating in the mall (which likely would have kept the mall afloat.) However IKEA chose to locate elsewhere in West Chester, likely due to the financial problems and quickly rising vacancies.

Within a year all of the fly-by-night tenants had vanished, and traffic dropped off sharply. By 2007, the mall was hurting again and back to its pre-Mills days of being about 1/3rd occupied. Sadly, the worst was not yet over. Media Play and Steve & Barry's would go out of business. The Saks Fifth Avenue outlet also called it quits. Biggs- by far the most 'beneficial' anchor to the mall stores themselves (and the only original remaining anchor), would pack up and leave. Guitar Center and Berean Christian Stores also headed for greener pastures, leaving the one-story portion of the mall- once the brightest spot in the mall- completely empty. (The end portion of the mall is now completely shuttered.) The first-run Showcase Cinemas in the mall has also closed up shop. Kohl's, Burlington Coat Factory, and Bass Pro Shops remain along with the Danbarry Dollar Cinemas, but practically everything else has packed up shop and left.

Mall's new look holds surprises

By Sue Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Enquirer contributor
Thursday, July 8, 2004

FAIRFIELD - Picture large, inflatable, glowing fish swimming overhead as you eat. Or cows roaming while you shop.

Those are just a few of the surprises in store when the former Forest Fair Mall reopens Aug. 19 as Cincinnati Mills.

Members of the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce got a peek at the makeover Wednesday when Cincinnati Mills representatives spoke at a chamber luncheon.

Additional information will come over the next three weeks when the company plans an announcement of new stores and begins a print, radio, television, direct-mail and billboard campaign focusing on the mall's three-week grand opening.

"There's just enough quirkiness and out-of-the ordinary that makes people want to come back," said Steve Beatty, director of marketing.

The 15-year-old, 1.8-million-square-foot mall that sits on 96 acres straddling the Fairfield-Forest Park border is undergoing a makeover begun after the Arlington, Va.-based Mills Corp. bought it two years ago for $70 million. The new owners have spent another $70 million for renovations.

Mills was attracted to the site because of Cincinnati's strong retail market - the 25th largest in the country, said Jim Childress, general manager. Within a 20-mile radius of the mall there are 1.5 million people, he added.

Once it reopens with 16 anchors, stores will be clustered in three "neighborhoods" along with a food court and center court. Employment will double from today's 1,500 full- and part-time employees, Childress said.

About 70 percent of the space will be leased when renovations are completed, with more stores opening in time for the Christmas season and a third batch on target to open early in 2005, Childress said.

The mall has the capacity for about 150 retail stores and a dozen vendors in the food court, Childress said.

Much of the decor comes from the region, including Coney Island-like roller coasters or Ohio River fish.

Inflatable cows will "roam" through the "country" section of the mall, while fish suspended over the food court will "make you feel like you're underwater. You get a sense you're in the Ohio River - but in a good way," Beatty said.

E-mail suek@infionline.net

Jim Hanson's Commentary...

posted April 10, 2004

There's a few details your report is missing. These may have just been an urban legends, but they were well-known one amongst the mallrats and tenants alike.

Rumor 1) The 'other' food court: At some point in the mall's history, the main food court (which was on the top floor) caught fire and was moved to the ground floor, opposite the ferris wheel and Time Out, directly below where it had once been.

There was strong evidence to support this one, too. There was a walkway around a large open gap looking down on the current food court. If you followed the walkway, it went towards a wall on the top floor and suddenly dead-ended. The wall was made of cheap drywall, and not put together well, so you could look through the cracks at what was behind it... the remains of several empty and abandoned stores, including a Gold Star Chili which had long black burns on it's walls and sign. The ghost food court remained until the late 90's, when it was demolished to build a fitness center. Being that the fitness center was huge, it more-or-less confirmed that there was a large walled-off section of the mall which nobody had bothered to repair after it caught fire.

To further support this theory, there were also other sections of the mall which were simply burried behind drywall and festive paint... especially bathrooms. When the hastle of maintaining a bathroom in an abandoned wing became too much for the overworked and underpaid maintaince crew, they simply walled them up.

Rumor 2) The Gang Wars: During the lowest stages of the mall's popularity in 1992, two rival gangs moved into the mall for the winter. Since it was virtually abandoned, there was little to stop them... and a violent indoor gang war broke out. There were shootings, robberies, and general mayham, before spring arrived and the gangs moved their turf wars to greener climates.

The negative out of the way, there are a few other merrits of the late great mall which ought be spoken of.

First of all, the second-run movie theater on the ground floor only charged $2 a ticket... meaning it was always packed. To this day, the marquee on the mall sign still remains, but all it says now is "fin". (the pictures you have are wonderful, by the way - they brought a tear to my eye.)

The Showcase Cinemas movie theater (the only one which will be left when Mills is done with it) was only open for a little over a year before it was closed again. It, too, was the victim of bad placement and worse timing - there is another Showcase movie theater owned by the same company one exit up which is much easier to get into.

Alpha's Commentary...

posted August 22, 2003

Forest Fair Mall is proof that bigger isn't necessarily better. This is Cincinnati's dead mall, and its story is one of arrogance, idiocy, and corruption (I'm not saying that to be dramatic... the man responsible for this mall was in jail 24 months later.)

Part 1:

The year is around 1985, and there are plans circulating on constructing a 'value mall' - with anchors like T.J. Maxx, Marshall's, etc. between the already-too-close Northgate and Tri-County Malls.

(In case if you're wondering why Bigg's... a value grocery chain / store was even in what would become an ultra-upscale mall.)

Somewhere along the lines, a man by the name of George Herscu, head of the Australian firm L.J. Hooker Inc. decided he wanted to build an ultra-luxury shopping center, as opposed to the value-oriented center originally planned.

Now, Forest Park & Fairfield, the two townships this mall sits on, are blue-collar townships. Not poor, but at the level where shopping at Cincinnati's regular chains (at the time, Lazarus and McAlpin's) was considered upscale. So the idea of building an ultra luxury shopping center at this location is absurd.

When George Herscu was questioned what-the-hell-are-you-thinking, by just about everyone, he gave what is perhaps the quote that sums up the whole story: "If I'm successful, they'll think, Oh, What a great man! If I fail, they'll say, Oh what a damn fool!"

And somehow, Forest Fair Mall was given the green light. Construction started around 1987 or 1986. It was given its name because..... Forest Park + Fairfield - ParkField = Forest Fair !

All while this was happening, Kenwood Towne Center was enclosed / constructed in 1988 (it was originally a strip mall), and it quickly established itself as Cincinnati's upscale mall. (Despite temporarily being anchored by JCPenney.) Also, TriCounty Mall soon realized that it had to take action, or it would be crushed to death by the megalith Forest Fair. TriCounty Mall soon planned to add a second story onto the mall, bringing its size onto par with Forest Fair. It also lured McAlpin's with the expansion, which gave it incredibly stable anchorship.

This obviously didn't worry Herscu, who decided to go even more upscale than the standard Cincinnati retailers, bringing in B. Altman, Bonwit Teller, and Sakowitz.... 3 extremely upscale retailers whom Cincinnatians had never heard of. Even though none of the 3 were willing to be anchors in Forest Fair, Herscu ended up BUYING controlling interest in them.

The end lease contract was a bizarre mix of cheap retailers (Bigg's) , Mid-priced (Elder Beerman) , and Ultra-Upscale (Bonwit Teller, etc.)

The Mall was Y shaped, with the base of the Y being one story, featuring the Bigg's , and the other two being two story, with an amusement park and food court where all 3 meet.

The Mall opened in 1989, although it didn't open in unison, due to leasing complications. The base of the Y (the east wing) featuring Bigg's opened first. This would be the only part of the mall to ever remain healthy. A month or two later, the rest of the mall opened, and as Mark mentioned, it was a major event.

The Mall was absolutely ornate... far more so than anything else in Cincinnati. It featured arched copper roofs (still on the mall!) , enormous skylights with brass bars running across them featuring a dizzying amount of tiny light bulbs. Also at the time I believe there were many large fountains, and an enormous center court featuring an ornately detailed ceiling. At the center, there was also a large indoor amusement park complex called "Time Out on the court" , which apparently even caused seizures (although it's now closed, I'm almost positive the warning signs are still there!) There was a large Zamperla ferris wheel, an indoor carousel, and much, much more.

It took a matter of 3 months for the mall to become officially doomed. George Herscu filed for bankrupcy protection, and the mall was put up for sale. Within 2 years, the Mall's occupancy would sink down to 50% , with no hope in sight. Despite being the largest mall in Ohio (it still is, I believe) , and the only mall in Cincinnati able to handle large amounts of traffic, there were several things that nailed the coffin:

  1. TriCounty expanded, snagging McAlpin's, as I mentioned Earlier. TriCounty was not only now a very large & modern mall, but there was no reason for its tenants to leave for Forest Fair Mall.
  2. Northgate Mall already had McAlpin's & Lazarus as well, as well as Sears and JCPenney (which TriCounty also had!) This basically.
  3. Forest Fair Mall is less than four miles from TriCounty mall, and less than 8 miles from Northgate. Both malls have over 120 stores. That means Forest Fair Mall must find 200 unique tenants.
  4. TriCounty is not only right next to Interstate 75, but it is at the center of a major economic base. Northgate Mall also is on US Route 27, and is also at the center of its own commercial base.

Forest Fair Mall continuously tried to reinvent itself, as it progressed, it was divided up into 3 parts: Fashions, Lifestyle, and Value. A new complex called "Festival" was added, and Parisian... another upscale retailer.. moved in to one of the anchor locations.

Although the Mall itself was considerably dead, there were patches of hope. The east wing remained occupied rather well, and the food court was terrific.

The Mall seemed finally ready to die in 1997/1998, when Parisian (who has seemingly picked the WORST malls to anchor)decided to close their wildly unsuccessful Forest Fair Mall store, so they could focus their energy on the Kenwood store. They surprise nooone. (They would close their Beechmont store a year later.)

Part 2- The resurgance:

Then, Forest Fair Mall's luck finally changed. Somehow, the Gator Corporation, a tiny little company that owned Forest Fair Mall at the time (they bought it in 1996.) somehow got their act together, and lured Bass Pro Shops to open a megastore at the Parisian location. It is a smash hit, and without a doubt gives the mall a new air of hope. A renovation project is launched as well, to try and reposition the center as 'value oriented.'

Kohl's also came around 1996... I should add that...

Loads of new stores come to the scene.

Unfortunately, at this time, Time Out On the Court closed... for reasons I'm not sure of. The trademark ferris wheel is gone. However, a larger indoor amusement park was actually built (and it's still there) called 'Wonderpark.' It was meant to appeal more to the younger audience (like, 6 year olds.) New stores such as Burlington Coat Factory, Off 5th, KBToys Outlet, Steve & Barry's University Sportswear (wildly successful), Media Play, and more are signed on. The Food Court becomes nearly full, (Only 2 open spaces... not bad!) , and a nice new Movie Theater opens. (There was already a 2nd run movie theater below, and somehow these two manage to exist next to eachother.)

At this time is when most of the pictures I took were taken. This was also the only time in the Mall's history the mall was profitable.

Part 3: Death Death Death Death Death!

Then, around July 2002, the Mills Corporation bought Forest Fair Mall, and the mall renovation (it is still taking place to some extent) is put on hiatus.

Then, somewhat unexpectedly, a turn for the worst came: The Mills Corporation announced they would close down the mall, giving almost all of its tenants the boot while they renovated the mall. The inside of the mall is sealed, and the last of the original tenants (many of whom were actually in the food court) were history. Lawsuits have followed.

Shortly after the mall was sealed, Elder Beerman decided to close their store, and it is now the location of the wildly popular Steve & Barry's university sportswear. Officially, Forest Fair Mall is now dead. More so in the name sake than any other (It will re-open as Cincinnati Mills.)


Mike B's Commentary...

posted August 18, 2003

Forest Fair Mall was the country's third largest mall when it first opened in 1989. After nearly a decade since its decline, the Mills Group has recently acquired the mall and is successfully turning it into an outlet mall.

Forest Fair Mall was to be the ultimate in upscale regional centers when it opened doors in 1989. It was originally anchored by upscale newcomers to the Cincinnati market B. Altmans, Bonwit-Teller and Sakowitz, owned by Hoeker, the mall's developer. It also had an Elder Beerman department store and Biggs Hypermarket. The mall boasted its own in-door amusement park, complete with carousel, mini-golf course, and bumper cars. It also was home to the Super-Saver Cinema, whose entrance was a wall of flashing, blinking lights that triggered seizures.

Opening day in March, 1989 at Forest Fair was an unrivaled event in Cincinnati. Phyllis Diller was the celebrity guest at the grand opening of Sakowitz, and people getting their first glimpses of the mahogany and marble jammed traffic on I-275. Guests to the mall were treated to trinkets such as crystal mini-carousel horse ornaments in what was supposed to be the ultimate in shopping experiences. Its popularity even resulted in Tri-County Mall, a popular Cincinnati shopping destination 2 miles away, to launch its own renovation plans.

Unfortunately, Forest Fair Mall opened at the wrong time, in the wrong part of town. Kenwood Towne Centre, an oppulent mall in Cincinnati's wealthy eastern suburbs had opened the holiday season prior. It was an immediate success and within a short drive of Cincinnati's wealthiest neighborhoods. Forest Fair was located in Forest Park, a blue collar area whose residents couldn't afford the St. John's dresses and Hugo Boss clothing being sold in its posh department stores.

Before long, the stores started closing and its popularity thinned. In 1990, Hoecker, the mall's Canadian developer filed for bankruptcy and their three upscale department stores in the mall closed. Parisian moved to Kenwood Towne Centre shortly after. To make matters worse, the more popular Tri-County Mall completed renovations in 1992, stealing back the customers that it had lost to Forest Fair. Ownership changed hands many times, and by the late-1990's, only Biggs and Elder-Beerman remained of the original anchors.

In 2002, Forest Fair Mall was purchased by the Mills Group, management for major outlet malls including Gurnee Mills (north of Chicago), and major renovations are currently taking place. Renamed Cincinnati Mills, the mall now is anchored by Bass Pro Shops, Off Fifth- Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet, Media Play, Spiegel Outlet, Biggs, Kohl's Department Store, and Burlington Coat Factory. Biggs is the only anchor who has been there since the beginning.

Addendum...

I had previously sent a commentary on Forest Fair Mall in Cincinnati, Ohio. I found some interesting links that can be included, should my contribution be added to your site:

Chronology of the mall (through 2000):
http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2000/10/29/fin_forest_fair_mall.html

Forest Fair: Mall on the Mend (10/2000):
http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2000/10/29/fin_forest_fair_mall.html

Forest Fair sold again (7/24/2002):
http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2000/10/29/fin_forest_fair_mall.html

The chronology link follows closely to my previous submission, which was written completely from memory. I'm quite amazed at how much of the mall's chronology I remember (and lived through). I guess I was off on a couple of dates and names though. This is an extraordinarily intriguing mall because of it's sheer size and the doom that has followed the mall since it first opened... it's been a dead mall for all of its existence except for the first six months.

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