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               TRI COUNTY MALL: CINCINNATI, OH

Kristin Rose's Commentary:

Posted September 6, 2018 (user submitted)

Tri County mall began as an open-air plaza in 1960 anchored by L.S. Ayres and Company, and Shillito-Rikes, a local department store which would ultimately go through several name changes and acquisitions before becoming Macy's. There were 50 in-line retailers. In 1967, Sears and an additional 17 retailers were added. The mall was enclosed in 1968, making it the first enclosed shopping mall in the Cincinnati area. This was before the highway was built that passes by the mall today; many news articles at the time questioned whether such an ambitious project to bring shoppers so far outside the city center would work, which almost seems like a quaint concern now, after decades of suburban sprawl.

Other local shopping malls such as Eastgate Mall, Florence Mall, and the original Kenwood Mall would follow during the 1970s, bringing competition, but Tri County held its own. In 1985, a food court was added called A La Carte, another novel idea that was among the first in the area. Tri County was a trendsetter but competition was coming.

Now, the year is 1988 and this is the point where the fortunes of Tri County, a mall that would remain vital into the early 2000s, and Forest Fair Mall, an instantly doomed fiasco, become somewhat intertwined. At this time, Tri County mall was a single-level mall with spaces for around 107 retailers. A remodeling plan was unveiled to modernize and add a second floor, which would increase the number of retailers to 187 and increase the retail space to 1.3 million square feet. The remodel was at the time projected to be completed in early 1990.

Forest Fair was the largest mall in Ohio when the plans were unveiled; it was even being billed as "America's First Supermall", and its retail space was 1.5 million square feet. Tri County was going to become a mall that was nearly as large (and actually, with more retailers) and was only 4 miles away. It's worth pointing out that there is a third, somewhat smaller mall, Northgate Mall, that is only about ten minutes from here as well.

The remodel was completed in October of 1990, right around the time that it had become all but a foregone conclusion that Tri County's neighbor to the west was becoming a shrine to failure. Tri County did not suffer the same fate; the general mentality among Cincinnati shoppers was that Tri County was the mall you went to when you actually wanted to spend money; they were long established and had stores that local shoppers were accustomed to shopping at. In 1992, a location of the popular department store McAlpin's opened at Tri County (later Dillard's), which featured rich woods and Italian marble. It had three levels and seven entrances. This served to further raise the profile of Tri County as a local institution.

A huge fountain was added at Center Court. It was removed a few years back, possibly due to plumbing issues. It had a big sunken seating area that surrounded it. If you look closely at the tiles surrounding the children's play structure in the middle of the mall, you can see where some of them are a lighter color. These lighter tiles are newer because they are where the fountain was.

Not all things last forever, though. By the early 2000s, the economy and general shift away from mall shopping began to take its toll on the now-aging mall. JC Penney left its location it had occupied since the 1970s for a new space in a "lifestyle center" a few miles away. The top level of the empty anchor space was ambitiously remodeled to house an indoor amusement park called Krazy City, who also had two locations in New Jersey. It featured scaled-down versions of carnival rides, miniature golf, and a climbing wall. It lasted until 2008, and the space has remained vacant since. The escalator that once led to its entrance sits closed and non-operational. (on the plus side, the bottom level is partially occupied by a BJ's Roadhouse restaurant that seems to do well on the weekends.) By 2009, the mall had a 25% vacancy rate, which sounds low, but remember this was a mall that previously had nearly ever space filled and had for many, many years a full tenant mix.

In 2010, mall management made a decision due to recent complaints from shoppers and retailers about "rowdy" groups of teenagers to institute a "Youth Escort Policy" on Friday and Saturday evening. This meant that anyone under the age of 18 had to be accompanied by a chaperone 21 or older after 4 PM on Friday and Saturday. This also meant that security and off-duty police were situated at every entrance to check the identification of anyone appearing to be under 18, and they were very strict; in 2010 I was 28 years old and I remember being carded. More than once. I can only speak for myself, but even though I was not personally subject to the policy, the presence of guards at every entrance made me uncomfortable. Although I cannot find much information about any sort of serious crime activity going on at the mall, the presence of so much security gave the impression the mall wasn't safe, even if that wasn't the intention. Almost immediately, stores that marketed heavily to teenagers began to make their exit; I remember Hollister for instance was gone within a year.

By 2013, the mall was in foreclosure due to being $204 million in debt. It was purchased by the SingHaiyi group of Singapore for $180 million. The Dillards location, once a fresh indicator of the mall's prosperity, was converted to a clearance center for the chain in 2014, and closed its doors in 2015, leaving two empty anchor spaces. When the Sears location closes next month, the only remaining anchor will be the Macy's, which has held on in one incarnation or another since the opening of the mall.

The entire wing leading to and from Sears is in the worst shape; especially on the bottom level; its essentially vacant save for one lonely massage place. The FYE is in the middle of a going out of busines sale, and the Hot Topic and Spencers also appear to be on their way out as they are offering deep discounts on nearly everything in the store. The only section of the mall that is really vital, still, is the middle section of the upper level overlooking the Center Court. There is still a Forever 21, Victoria's Secret, and a Bath and Body Works that all seem to be doing OK. There's also a little convenience mart right in the mall that has Slush Puppies, so they've got that going for them.

It still sports many of the early 90s design motifs they had when the second level was added; the terra cotta, seafoam, and mauve color scheme, the emerald green tile in the floor. It looks a lot like Forest Fair would have if they hadn't remodeled it to look like a Nickelodeon set. It was classy then and it's classic now. The mall is well maintained. It smells clean. The scent of Cinnabon still dominates the wing leading from Central Court. This isn't a big, empty tomb; it just looks like one day recently, everyone packed up and left. Maybe they'll come back, it's hard to say. The recently-minted owners have unveiled a revitalization project that includes converting one of the anchor spaces to a hotel and using the interior spaces for conventions.

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