David Foley's Commentary

Posted October 2, 2005 (User Submitted)

As a 10 year-old kid, I was fascinated with Ranall Park Mall in North Randlall (Cleveland) Ohio. The mall opened officially during the July 4th weekend in 1976. Retail history was supposedly made on 7/4/76 when the huge, cavernous two-story mall, rumored to be the largest mall in the country, opened. It boasted 5 major department stores (Higbee's, The May Company, Sears, JC Penney, and Joseph Horne Company) and a well-developed sea of outlot/surrounding stores too numerous to mention.. A sixth major department store, Halle's, was heavily advertised but never built. Marshall Field's purchased Halle's in 1971 and apparently had no intention of ever building the Randall Park Store. The "Halle's Coming Soon" sign remained until the Halle's chain closed in 1982--then someone finally took it down.

Randall Park Mall was so large that several chains (Hickory Farms and Fanny Farmer Candy Company as examples) leased two stores, one on each of the two levels. I remember feeling very anxious on my family's first visit that day. There were so many people that the crowd actually stopped at times even in the communal spaces. By the time I worked at York Steak House in Randall Mall in 1983, racial tension, a highly-publicized mini-riot, auto theft, and unsafe public restrooms caused a very noticable decline in volume. Our manager at York Steak House said their daily volume declined from nearly 3000 at the mall's opening to 1500 or so by the mid 1980's.

I got the impression that, once built, the mall was never maintained and not kept very clean. In 1985 I was at the movie theater with a friend and a rat ran across my foot during the movie. Incidentally, the movie theater was rather bizarre. As I recall, it was on the second level and once inside the theater, one had to ascent a steep, narrow flight of stairs to get to the restrooms. When the theater was very busy, I recall lines forming on the staircases.

I went to college in the mid-80s and did not visit the mall for a few years. The next time I saw it was in 1989 and while all 5 major department stores were present (Higbee's eventually became Dillards and May Co became Kaufmann's), the vacancy rate for the smaller stores was climbing and I just didn't feel safe.

Flash forward 11 years to 2000. The JC Penney store became an outlet store...I went there on a weeknight and felt like I was in a bazaar in a third world country...boxes broken open...merchandise strewn around the floor. The JC Penney outlet store closed shortly thereafter and within a year or two Dillard's and Joseph Horne's closed. Other stores like Burlington Coat factory moved in, but I would estimate the mall has a 60% vacancy rate at this point. Storefront churches are moving in along with flea market/bazaars.

Incidentally, Randall Park Mall was built approximately 1.5 miles from Southgate Shopping Center, which was part of the largest mixed-use retail/commercial/residential development ever built. Southgate had 3 anchors, May Co, Sears, and JC Penney and was a wonderful shopping center. Southgate declined rapidly after Randall Park Mall's opening. Today it is in better shape than Randall Park Mall, as it now has a Home Depot, large grocery store, and a higher occupancy rate. Clevelanders, in typical fashion, abandoned Southgate en masse when Randall Park Mall opened. It seems doubly ironic that in retrospect Southgate is very reminiscent of the en-vogue shopping center concept that seems to be killing off malls today.

The entire Randall Park Mall/Southgate issue is yet another example of Cleveland's totally avoidance of regional urban planning.

Toby Radloff's Commentary

Posted October 18, 2005 (User Submitted)

I was still in high school when Randall Park Mall opened to huge fanfare in August of 1976. Me, as well as many of my classmates at nearby Bedford High School (about 4 miles from Randall Park Mall) have applied for jobs at the mall's various retailers. At the time I was working at a mom-and-pop pizza/Italian restaurant at nearby Southgate Shopping Center. During the first decade of Randall Park Mall's existance, there were a lot of stores: Sears, May Company, Joseph Horne, J.C. Penney (which actually opened in March of 1976, 5 months before the rest of the mall opened...Sears was late in opening, not opening till February of 1977).

I spent a lot of time at the General Cinema theaters (which, as I wrote in the "Cinema Treasures" web site, is a nightmare for those who have problems climbing stairs...the entrance was on the second mall level, then you climbed a flight of stairs to get to the concession stand and the three postage-stamp sized screens, then you climbed another flight of stairs to get to the rest rooms.

I also spent a lot of quarters playing pinball and video games at the two Fun & Games arcades there-the lower level arcade was larger than the upper level one-the lower level one also had more pinball machines.

The beginning of the end for Randall Park Mall began in 1978, when the upscale Beachwood Place Mall first opened, taking away most of Randall Park Mall's more upper class customers. Some stores started closing in 1978 as well. The crime problems started in earnest around 1979, when the body of the manager of the Father and Son shoe store was found in a snow bank, murdered. In 1985, a well-publicized gang-related riot forced Randall Park Mall to close early. The fights among rival gangs happened on a Saturday. Since that riot, white shoppers have been avoiding the mall in droves.

Most of the original stores had moved out by the late 1980's. Joseph Horne closed with the rest of the chain around 1989 or so, Burlington Coat Factory took over the upper level, and a series of discount furniture stores occupied the lower level. J.C. Penney became an "outlet store" in the late 1990's, then closed around 2000. The J.C. Penney space has been rumored to be offered for use by the Village of North Randall so they can relocate their police department and municipal offices there, but as of today that anchor is still vacant. Dillard's (formerly Higbee's) closed in 2001, shortly after an off-duty Maple Heights police officer moonlighting as a security guard murdered a shoplifting suspect. The suspect's family later sued Dillard's.

Only anchors remaining are Kaufmann's (formerly May Company, soon to be Macy's) and Sears. A "Jeepers" kiddie park opened in the late 1990's in a block of vacant stores, and a Loews Magic Johnson 12-screen cinema opened that same year the original General Cinema closed.

Links - Mall's website with list of remaining anchors.
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