Ashtabula Towne Square Mall: Then and Now in Ashtabula, OH

The Birth of Ashtabula Towne Square Mall

In 1992, Ashtabula Towne Square Mall opened its doors to the public, marking a new era for shopping in Ashtabula, Ohio. Initially named Ashtabula Mall, this commercial hub was the brainchild of the Cafaro Company, a notable name in real estate development.

The mall’s grand opening was a significant event, promising a blend of shopping, dining, and entertainment options under one roof.

The original lineup of anchor stores included well-known names such as Sears, JCPenney, Dillard’s, Phar-Mor, Kmart, and Carlisle’s. These major retailers were the main attractions, drawing crowds across the region.

Kmart, expanding into a Super Kmart, and Phar-Mor, celebrated as the chain’s 300th store, were among the prototypes introduced to the market. The presence of these stores underscored the mall’s importance as a regional shopping destination.

August of the same year saw the opening of Sears and Phar-Mor, setting the stage for the mall’s official launch in the fall. However, the retail landscape began to shift quickly.

By 1994, Carlisle’s had shut its doors, a casualty of the chain’s nationwide demise. This closure marked the beginning of a series of changes for the mall, reflecting broader trends in the retail industry.

Despite these shifts, Ashtabula Towne Square remained a central figure in the community, offering a variety of things to do in Ashtabula, Ohio.

Changes and Challenges

The landscape of Ashtabula Towne Square began to evolve rapidly after its initial years of success. The mid-90s marked the beginning of significant changes, starting with the closure of Phar-Mor in the late 1990s, a blow to the mall’s retail diversity.

Steve & Barry’s, a popular clothing store, took over the vacant Phar-Mor space 2005, injecting new life into the mall’s lineup.

However, the early 2000s brought more challenges. Dillard’s decided to shut down its Home Store, shifting its focus away from home goods to concentrate on fashion apparel.

This move, however, did not pay off as planned, leading to the closure of its main store in 2007. Dillard’s departure marked a significant loss for the mall, stripping it of one of its key anchors.

The store closures continued with the departure of Old Navy, Spencer’s Gifts, Claire’s, and several other retailers. Each closure chipped away at the mall’s appeal, leading to a noticeable decline in foot traffic.

The loss of these stores reflected a troubling trend for Ashtabula Towne Square, mirroring the challenges faced by malls nationwide as shopping habits shifted and economic pressures mounted.

Financial Turmoil and Ownership Changes

Ashtabula Towne Square’s financial stability hit in 2011 when Bank of America foreclosed on the property. This significant event underscored the mall’s struggles.

The foreclosure resulted from challenges faced by the then-owners, Cabot Investment Properties, which was embroiled in legal troubles, including lawsuits from investors alleging fraud.

In a turn of events, 2014 saw a new chapter for the mall when the local investment group Sure Fire Group, LLC stepped in.

They purchased Ashtabula Towne Square for $6 million from Morgan Stanley Capital I Inc., which had acquired the property through receivership. This acquisition marked a new beginning, with hopes of revitalization and community re-engagement.

However, the challenges were far from over. 2016, Kmart announced its closure, leaving JCPenney and Dunham’s Sports as the last anchor stores.

The departure of Kmart was a significant blow, further reducing the mall’s draw. Subsequent years saw the mall change hands again, and in February 2020, Sure Fire Group, LLC sold it to Ashtabula Mall Realty Holding LLC, part of Kohan Retail Investment Group, for $10 million.

Yet, in a surprising twist, Sure Fire Group, LLC reacquired the mall in August 2023 for $2.5 million, signaling yet another attempt to steer Ashtabula Towne Square towards a more prosperous future.

Store Closures and the Decline of Retail

Ashtabula Towne Square’s decline accelerated with the closure of several key stores. A long-standing anchor, Sears shut its doors in 2012, leaving a large void in the mall’s offerings. This event significantly hit the mall’s traffic and reputation as a shopping destination.

The loss of Sears was part of a broader trend affecting malls nationwide. Traditional retail faced increasing challenges from online shopping and changing consumer habits.

The following years saw a domino effect of store closures. JCPenney, another major anchor, announced its departure in June 2020, planning to close by October as part of a nationwide downsizing effort.

This move left Dunham’s Sports as the sole anchor, a precarious position for the mall. The closures were wider than anchor stores; smaller tenants like Payless ShoeSource, Wendy’s, and GameStop also exited, each departure further reducing the mall’s appeal and foot traffic.

The retail environment faced by Ashtabula Towne Square was grim. The combination of losing major tenants and the rise of e-commerce led to an inevitable decline.

Once bustling with shoppers, the mall began to see more vacant storefronts, a stark contrast to its early days.

The decline in retail at the mall mirrored a national crisis facing brick-and-mortar stores as they struggled to adapt to a rapidly changing retail landscape.

The Last Junior Anchors and the Future

Dunham’s Sports remains a go-to spot for sports enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers in Ashtabula. The store offers a comprehensive selection of sporting goods, athletic equipment, and outdoor gear.

Dunham’s Sports provides various options, whether you’re gearing up for baseball season, preparing for a camping trip, or updating your workout apparel.

The store’s commitment to quality and value has made it a crucial part of the mall’s retail mix, helping to maintain foot traffic and attract customers.

JOANN Fabric and Crafts, on the other hand, caters to the creative and crafty individuals of Ashtabula. This store is a paradise for anyone interested in sewing, quilting, scrapbooking, and other crafts.

JOANN offers an extensive assortment of fabric, sewing supplies, yarn, and craft materials, encouraging creativity and providing the resources for a multitude of projects.

The store’s friendly atmosphere and helpful staff make it a welcoming space for beginners and experienced crafters.

Dunham’s Sports and JOANN Fabric and Crafts offer unique shopping experiences that contribute significantly to the mall’s appeal.

By catering to specific hobbies and interests, these anchors have carved out niches that draw in dedicated customers and enhance the overall diversity of the mall’s retail offerings.

The AMC Classic, a 6-screen movie theater, was one of the last entertainment options available at the mall. However, it closed on July 20, 2023, removing one of the previous major draws for visitors.

The closure of the movie theater underscored the challenges facing the mall as it struggled to provide attractions that could draw consistent foot traffic.

The future of Ashtabula Towne Square remains to be determined. The mall faces significant challenges with no anchor stores and a high vacancy rate. However, there is potential for redevelopment and repurposing.

Ideas for the future include transforming the space into a mixed-use development that incorporates residential, office, and entertainment spaces.

The community and new owners are contemplating innovative solutions to rejuvenate the area, hoping to breathe new life into the once-thriving mall. The path forward will require creativity, investment, and reimagining what a mall can be in the 21st century.

Recent Developments at Ashtabula Towne Square

Despite facing significant challenges in recent years, the mall has been the center of several community events and initiatives to revitalize the space and reconnect with the local population.

In 2023, Ashtabula Towne Square in Ohio hosted a “Love our City Community Event” on August 21. Local businesses and community members came together to celebrate and promote unity within the city.

Despite lacking traditional retail stores, this event highlighted the mall’s potential as a community hub.

In 2024, Ashtabula Towne Square will host the ACCOC’s Home & Family Show 2024, a significant event for the local community.

Scheduled for May 4th and 5th, this event promises to bring together families, businesses, and various community segments for two days of engagement, learning, and entertainment.

Organized by the Ashtabula County Chambers of Commerce in collaboration with Ashtabula Towne Square and other local chambers, this event aims to showcase local businesses, home improvement solutions, and family-oriented activities.

The mall’s Facebook page updates local Ashtabula County consumers on sales, events, and other news. This online presence is crucial for keeping the community engaged and informed about the mall’s ongoing changes and opportunities.

Despite these efforts, the mall continues to face challenges, as reflected in its current 2.9 rating based on 167 reviews.

The feedback from visitors and locals will be crucial in shaping the future direction of Ashtabula Towne Square as it seeks to redefine its role in the community.

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