Eastland Mall in Columbus, OH: From Crowds to Closure and Beyond

The Birth of Eastland Mall

Eastland Mall emerged as a landmark in Columbus, Ohio, when it opened its doors to the public on February 14, 1968. This event marked the beginning of a new era in shopping and social interaction in the area, as it was the city’s first fully enclosed shopping mall.

Developed by the Richard E. Jacobs Group, a name synonymous with retail innovation, Eastland Mall was designed to be more than just a shopping center; it was envisioned as a community hub where people could gather, shop, and spend time together in a comfortable indoor environment.

The mall’s original anchor stores, Sears, J.C. Penney, and Lazarus, were major retail players at the time, drawing crowds and contributing significantly to the mall’s early success.

These stores were known for their wide range of products and services, catering to the diverse needs of the Columbus population. The presence of these anchors was a testament to the mall’s significance in the retail market and its growth potential.

Each store occupied large, multi-level spaces within the mall, offering everything from clothing and household goods to electronics and beauty products.

The significance of Eastland Mall extended beyond its role as a shopping destination. It represented a shift in the retail landscape of Columbus, setting a new standard for shopping experiences in the region.

The mall’s design, with its spacious walkways, comfortable seating areas, and climate-controlled environment, offered shoppers a new level of convenience and comfort.

This innovative approach to retail would pave the way for future developments in the city and influence the design of shopping centers nationwide.

As people flocked to Eastland Mall, it became a bustling center of activity, contributing to the growth and development of the surrounding area.

It was a place where families could spend the day, teenagers could meet up with friends, and individuals could enjoy a leisurely shopping experience. In essence, things to do in Columbus, Ohio, were redefined with the opening of Eastland Mall.

The Evolution and Expansion

After its initial success, Eastland Mall continued to evolve and expand to meet its customers’ changing needs and preferences. One of the significant changes came in 2003 when Glimcher Realty Trust acquired the mall.

This new ownership marked a new chapter in the mall’s history, bringing fresh ideas and investments. Glimcher’s first major action was introducing a new anchor store, Kaufmann’s, to the mall’s lineup.

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This addition was notable because it represented Kaufmann’s first “lifestyle” prototype, featuring a smaller floor plan with wider aisles to enhance the shopping experience.

The same year saw another significant change when the Lazarus store transitioned to Lazarus-Macy’s, reflecting broader trends in the retail industry and changes in consumer preferences.

This transition was part of a larger rebranding effort as Macy’s sought to strengthen its presence in the Columbus market.

2006, the evolution continued as Macy’s moved from the former Lazarus location to the former Kaufmann’s space following Macy’s acquisition of Kaufmann’s parent company.

This move was more than just a change of location; it symbolized the shifting dynamics of retail, with legacy brands adapting to new realities.

Eastland Mall in Columbus
Eastland Mall Columbus, OH April 2021” by MikeKalasnik is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The mall’s physical space and tenant mix were not the only things evolving. The surrounding community and the retail industry were changing, and Eastland Mall sought to keep pace.

These developments reflected the mall’s ongoing commitment to providing its customers with a relevant and engaging shopping environment.

Despite the challenges faced by traditional malls, Eastland’s ability to adapt and grow during this period helped it maintain its status as a key player in the Columbus retail scene.

Decline and Challenges

The closure of the old Macy’s building in 2006 marked the beginning of a challenging period for Eastland Mall and the surrounding Hamilton Road corridor.

Despite its status as a major shopping center into the mid-2010s, losing such a significant tenant impacted the mall’s foot traffic and overall appeal.

The situation worsened in 2015 when JCPenney, another key store, announced it would shut down, closing its doors for good in May 2015.

The departure of Macy’s in March 2017 further exacerbated the mall’s struggles, leaving Sears as the sole anchor tenant.

Sears announced its closure in June 2017, signaling the end of an era with the mall left without any anchor stores, a critical blow to its survival and the area’s vibrancy.

The financial struggles of the mall’s owners added to the problems. In 2012, Glimcher defaulted on the mall’s mortgage loan, a sign of the financial difficulties facing the property.

This led to a change in ownership in August 2014, when the property was handed over to a CMBS trust serviced by LNR Property through a deed instead of foreclosure. This transition highlighted the severe financial challenges and the uncertain future facing Eastland Mall.

The decline of Eastland Mall was not just about the loss of stores or financial issues; it was also reflected in the physical condition of the mall and its surroundings.

Once bustling with shoppers and visitors, the area around Hamilton Road began to show signs of neglect and decline, mirroring the mall’s fortunes.

The loss of the mall as a major shopping destination decreased the area’s appeal, affecting local businesses and the community’s economic health.

This period marked a significant downturn for Eastland Mall, from which it would ultimately not recover, leading to its eventual closure and the end of an era for the Columbus retail landscape.

Eastland Mall’s decline was about more than just losing stores and customers; it also faced serious legal and safety issues. The mall’s condition worsened, leading to numerous health and safety code violations.

These problems were so severe that in April 2021, city officials took legal action against Eastland Mall Holdings LLC, the owners at the time.

The legal battles focused on the mall’s poor maintenance, including structural problems and zoning noncompliance.

In June 2022, the situation reached a critical point when Eastland Mall was declared a public nuisance.

This legal declaration resulted from continuous neglect by the mall’s owners, who failed to address the mounting health and safety concerns.

The judge’s order required the owners to make immediate repairs, focusing on areas such as the parking lot, which had up to 1,200 potholes, and other neglected parts of the property.

Despite the court’s orders, the mall’s condition continued to deteriorate. The lack of investment in maintenance and improvements led to further decline, affecting the mall’s appearance, safety, and viability as a shopping destination.

This period marked a low point in Eastland Mall’s history, as legal and safety issues compounded its challenges, pushing it further towards closure.

The Closure of Eastland Mall

The culmination of financial struggles, declining foot traffic, and unresolved legal and safety issues led to the inevitable closure of Eastland Mall.

A sense of loss marked the final days of the mall for the community and the end of an era for Columbus retail.

The mall, scheduled to close on December 31, 2022, shut its doors four days early due to a water line break that flooded parts of the property on December 26, 2022.

This unexpected incident hastened the mall’s closure, leaving tenants and shoppers with even less time to say goodbye.

The closure of Eastland Mall was a significant event for the local community. Many businesses, some of which had operated in the mall for years, were forced to leave.

The mall’s shutdown affected these businesses, their employees, and the wider community that had relied on Eastland for shopping and socializing.

The impact was felt beyond the immediate area, as the closure symbolized the challenges facing traditional malls nationwide.

In the aftermath, the City of Columbus began looking into the future of the Eastland area. On March 3, 2023, the city started soliciting proposals to redevelop the site, aiming to breathe new life into the area.

As of February 2024, the site remains undeveloped, standing as a reminder of the complex challenges and changing retail landscapes that led to the fall of Eastland Mall.

Revitalizing the Eastland Mall Area in Columbus, OH

The revitalizing plan includes the development of a new grocery store, a recreation center, job centers, and market-rate affordable housing.

The goal is to create a “15-minute neighborhood” where essential services and amenities are within a 15-minute walk.

The city has approved an $850,000 contract with an architectural and urban design company to lead the redevelopment process.

The area’s community leaders and residents are actively involved in the planning process, with extensive community engagement expected over the next year.

The city is also considering the creation of a 78-acre park near the former mall site, offering access to trails and natural areas.

Additionally, there are hopes for housing, a sports complex, or a grocery store to fill the void left by the mall’s closure.

The Eastland Mall area revitalization plan is part of the city’s broader efforts to address increasing poverty and high eviction rates.

With nearly 70% of the residents in the surrounding census tract being Black, the plan aims to create opportunities for economic development and community well-being.

The redevelopment plan covers a large area, including neighborhoods represented by various area commissions.

The city is committed to working closely with the local community to ensure that the revitalization efforts align with their needs and aspirations. The plan is about reimagining a mall and creating a vibrant and sustainable community.

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