The death of the mall

The inside of the mall in the northern suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Growing up in the northern suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, the Forest Fair Mall, the second largest mall in the state, was the go-to destination. I’m talking the early 2000s primarily.

Built in 1988, the mall, which has undergone a number of name changes, but for me will always be “Forest Fair Mall,” has basically been in trouble since its inception. According to Wikipedia, I interpret those troubles as coming down to two main issues. The first, is that better options came to exist, primarily the big development of an “outdoor” mall, like Bridgewater Falls, also in the northern suburbs, and closer to my house. The second is poor management over the years.

My first memories of the mall are going there as a kid in the late 1990s and early 2000s because that’s where my mother bought groceries at Bigg’s, one of the first and largest tenants of the mall. Bigg’s was essentially a Walmart and Kroger type superstore. In other words, aside from groceries, you could get anything else as a one-stop shop, clothes, lumber, furniture, jewelry, etc.

For whatever reason, I have a firm memory in my head of the glories of Bigg’s milk. Those milk jugs. Those trips to the store with my twin sister and my mom, trying to sneak items into the cart and hope she’d pay for them. Or getting my first pro wrestling VHS tapes and DVDs.

By 2008, the writing was on the wall, and Bigg’s closed at the mall. I’m not sure what caused the bankruptcy of Bigg’s. Walmart competition? Kroger? Meijer? Or that it was inside of a mall?

The next big item in the mall was the Bass Pro Shop, which I remember our family going to during its grand opening because it was an Event in 2000. The Bass Pro Shop and Kohl’s are virtually the only two big tenants left, along with a gym and a kid’s play area.

The abandoned movie theater is across the way there.

My next big memory though is the addition around that same time of the movie theater on the second floor, part of the Showcase Cinemas theater complex. I saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets there opening night in 2002, along with dozens of other films.

Recently, I missed my exit on my way to Kohl’s, incidentally in the Bridgewater Falls area, when I realized the next exit was the mall, which still has that Kohl’s. I suppose I hadn’t really kept up with the current status of the mall these last six or so years. It’s been that long since I’d been. My headspace was, okay, I’ll stop at Kohl’s like I wanted to, but also, hey, malls are known for Auntie Anne’s pretzels, so I’ll stop and get a pretzel!

Nope. Turns out, aside from the few tenants I mentioned, the entire mall is virtually abandoned. It was eerie walking through the mall. It felt like something out of an apocalyptic film. Am I really allowed to just walk through this huge, empty space? Apparently. But it was weird and surreal. It made me super nostalgic for the mall, but also it made me take notice of how quaint the mall set-up feels.

Again, there are successful malls around here, like Eastgate Mall in Clermont County, Northgate Mall in Northgate, and Tri-County Mall in Springdale, but aside from Northgate, they all have that quaint, passé feel to them.

These days, I think people either prefer the one-stop shop, like Walmart, especially because it’s cheap, or they prefer localized, specialized services and shopping experiences instead of the broad sweep that a mall provides. Or, if they’re in a moral rural area, Dollar Stores, General Dollar, Dollar Tree and the like have proliferated extensively over the last decade to fill those gaps.

It made me wistful. Do you have mall memories, too?

Like something out of Dawn of the Dead.

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