The Early Years of Westland Mall
Westland Mall opened its doors to the public in February 1969, marking a significant moment for Columbus, Ohio. The mall initially started as an open-air shopping center at the intersection of US Route 40 and Interstate 270. Anchored by retail giants like Sears, Woolworth, Lazarus, and JCPenney, it was a bustling hub that attracted shoppers from all city corners.
The Lazarus store had a unique history, as it was the chain’s first suburban operation and had already been operating as a free-standing location since 1962. Sears and JCPenney were constructed along with the mall between 1967 and 1969, making them part of the shopping center from the get-go.
In 1982, the mall underwent a significant transformation. It was enclosed, providing shoppers with a climate-controlled environment that was especially beneficial during Ohio‘s harsh winters. This change also expanded the number of stores and services offered, making Westland Mall a one-stop destination for various needs.
In the late 1980s, the second floor of Sears transformed, becoming office space for Discover, the company’s internal credit card service. Around the same time, Woolworth closed its doors in January 1994 due to the chain’s restructuring, leading to its renovation into a Staples and Footaction USA.
The Golden Era and Cultural Impact
The late 1970s to early 1990s can be considered the golden era for Westland Mall. It was the studio for a groundbreaking teenage variety show called “America Goes Bananaz,” aired from 1977 to 1980 on Columbus’ experimental cable service QUBE. This added a layer of cultural significance to the mall, making it more than just a shopping destination.
Westland Mall was part of a more extensive network of directionally-named shopping centers in Columbus. These included Northland, Eastland, and Southland, all constructed and initially operated by the Richard E. Jacobs Group. Each mall featured a similar mix of anchor stores, creating a cohesive shopping experience across the city.
Westland Mall was once a destination for those looking for things to do in Columbus, Ohio. Its decline marked the end of an era, losing its status as a premier shopping destination for the city’s far west side.
The Decline of Westland Mall and Failed Revival Attempts
The late 20th century brought a series of challenges that Westland Mall struggled to overcome. The opening of the Mall at Tuttle Crossing in 1997 was a major blow, attracting a significant portion of Westland’s customer base.
Major stores like JCPenney abandoned Westland to set up shop in the new mall, causing a ripple effect that led to the departure of other retailers like Express and The Limited.
In 2003, Westland Mall was purchased by Kashani, a developer with a vision to breathe new life into the declining shopping center. Kashani had previously owned North Towne Square in Toledo, Ohio, and sought to reposition Westland as a “bazaar-style” mall.
The new strategy involved introducing a variety of specialty shops, including a used bookstore, several arts and crafts dealers, and even a karate school.
However, the ambitious plan to revive the mall fell flat. The Lazarus store, which had been converted to Lazarus-Macy’s in 2003 and then to Macy’s in 2005, closed its doors in 2007. This closure was a significant setback, indicating that the anchor stores could not sustain their operations. By this point, virtually all the newer stores added under Kashani’s ownership had also closed.
The mall’s decline continued unabated despite these revival attempts. By 2010, Westland Mall had fewer than 15 active businesses. The remaining national retailers were Sears, Finish Line, Champs Sports, GNC, and Staples. The remaining spaces in the mall were occupied by various boutique-style stores, dining options, and even a satellite location for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
The failure of these revival attempts serves as a cautionary tale for other declining malls and retail spaces. Despite the best efforts and intentions, sometimes external factors like changing consumer behavior and economic downturns can make rejuvenation nearly impossible. This chapter underscores the complexity and challenges of reviving a once-thriving community hub.
The Final Years and Closure
Westland Mall was closed in 2012. Despite its closure, parts of the mall were still in use but in a limited capacity. The former JCPenney store was repurposed for community events, hosting about six gun shows annually.
The activities that once occurred in these events have since relocated to the building that used to house Sears. At the same time, security personnel monitor the entire premises around the clock.
The final nail in the coffin for Westland Mall was the closure of its last anchor, Sears, in September 2017. This left the mall empty of tenants, making it a ghost town. The Sears portion of the lot, including the auto center just south of the main shopping building, was sold to LGR Weston in April 2019.
As of February 2023, several structures still stood on the property, including JCPenney, Sears, Sears Auto Center, the former NTB building, the main mall/outlet center, Macy’s, Staples, Firestone, and a small shopping center southeast of the main building. This small center houses a Mexican grocery market and a small operation gun shop.
However, change is on the horizon. Demolition began on August 25, 2023, and the old Lazarus building was demolished. Crews are also addressing the asbestos in the mall, making way for potential new developments.
The Future of Westland Mall
A Hollywood Casino was built and commenced operations in 2012 near the Westland Mall site. This sparked new growth in the surrounding area, which had become economically depressed. Plans were announced to demolish the mall, except for the Sears building, in favor of a new shopping center.
On April 26, 2019, plans were announced to redevelop the Westland Mall site by LGR Weston of Columbus. The new development, Weston Town Centre, aims to be a mixed-use development that complements the casino across the street. The name of the new development shares some inspiration with the Easton Town Center, located on the city’s other side.
As of February 2023, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced over $20 million to revitalize the area. This significant investment indicates a solid commitment to breathing new life into a location that was once a bustling hub of activity.
As of September 7, 2023, demolition had already begun, signaling the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter for this iconic Columbus landmark. The community waits in anticipation to see what the future holds for the once-Westland Mall site.
Westland Mall’s story is a compelling tale of rise, decline, and potential rebirth. Its history is intricately tied to the broader trends affecting retail spaces and community hubs across America. The mall’s legacy is a testament to the ever-changing landscape of consumer behavior, economic factors, and urban development.
The ongoing efforts for its revitalization offer a glimmer of hope. With significant investment and community interest, the site, once a cornerstone of Columbus’s life, could once again become a vibrant part of the city’s landscape.
The mall’s story serves as a poignant reminder of the transient nature of commercial spaces. As the community looks forward to the new developments, there’s a sense of nostalgia for what was lost and excitement for what’s to come.
Ultimately, the story of Westland Mall is not just about a building or a shopping center. It’s about a community, its people, and the memories they’ve created over the years. As we say goodbye to the old and welcome the new, we carry those memories with us, looking forward to making new ones in the spaces that will rise from the ashes of the past.