Lost Columbus Malls

By: Hannah Brevoort

What is it about a mall? If you’re anything like me, walking into a shopping mall is like stepping back in time to the shopping trips of my childhood. While today most students may be more accustomed to buying things online, there’s no doubt that shopping malls once dominated the retail market (and teenagers’ social lives) all across the state. In this blog, we’ll take a look at a couple of long-gone malls from Columbus’s past.

Shopping malls and centers were developed during the post-WWII economic boom, alongside suburban expansion. People, understandably, wanted easier and closer access to stores because they were living farther from traditional downtown shopping centers. Like many “firsts,” the first shopping mall is hard to determine, especially since you can define a shopping mall several different ways. The Westminster Arcade in Providence, RI (built in 1848) claims to be the first shopping mall, but so do Northland Center in the Detroit suburb of Southfield (built in 1954) and Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota (built in 1956)!

But this blog is about Columbus malls – let’s get started, beginning with Northland. Northland Mall (originally Shopping Center) was the first of the “land” malls – the others were Westland and Eastland – to open in Columbus, in August of 1964, at the corner of Morse and Karl Roads. Groundbreaking began in June 1961, led by the Visconsi-Mead-Jacobs Co. of Cleveland. Northland’s initial design, buildings linked by an open walkway, would be replicated later at Eastland and Westland Mall. Iconic Columbus department store Lazarus, along with Sears, anchored the mall. Each of them had buildings with 210,000 sq. ft. of retail space.

Newspaper coverage of the opening weekend (August 13-16, 1964) estimated that 150,000 people visited the new shopping center in the first three days, with a mall spokesperson saying, “We have been extremely fortunate in having a minimum amount of lost children and lost parents.” In addition to the two anchors, there were 40 other stores at Northland when it opened. This included national chains and mall staples like Gray Drug, The Limited and Kay Jewelers, but also local stores like White’s Furniture. The mall also included a 1,000 seat movie theatre as well as a unique clock tower.

One thing that struck me during my research was just how many events and special attractions Northland hosted through the 1960s and 1970s. From battle of the band competitions to a space shuttle simulator to famous cars, it seems like there was always something to see or do at Northland.

In what would become a trend, Northland’s inner open-air walkway was enclosed in 1974-75. This enclosure added more stores as well as specially-commissioned sculptures and fountains. It also meant you could traverse the whole mall without going outside in bad weather, and the entire mall could be heated and air-conditioned.

Like many malls now lost, Northland struggled with the introduction of newer shopping centers as direct competitors. Tuttle Mall in Dublin opened in 1997, Easton Town Center on the east side opened in 1999 and Polaris Town Center north of Columbus opened in 2001, pulling customers away with their new takes on the shopping experience. Northland began to lose tenants, with the three anchors, Lazarus, JC Penney and Sears, leaving in fall 2001. Northland officially closed its doors in October 2002 with just one store – GNC – remaining. Most fixtures were sold off, and the Sears and mall concourse were demolished in 2004.

The other Columbus mall we’re looking at opened as Northland was beginning its decline. Though originally suggested in 1974, City Center Mall didn’t open its doors in downtown Columbus until August 18, 1989, and to huge fanfare. Official estimates were that over 60,000 shoppers flocked to the center by 4pm with estimates ranging up to 100,000 by the end of that first day. It had a total size of over 1.2 million square feet of retail space on three floors making it the largest of the Columbus malls with over 100 retail shops. It also had an iconic tiered seating area at the center of the mall (seen in the photo above). The main anchors of City Center were Marshall Field’s, Jacobson’s and Brooks Brothers, with an enclosed walkway over to the flagship Lazarus store.

The opening ceremony for City Center was a huge event. The production company tasked with opening the mall in grand style previously created the annual Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall in New York, as well as events at Disneyland and Disney World. They formed a band called the City C’entertainers just for the occasion!

Though the people of Columbus loved the new mall right downtown, by December of 1989, just a few months after opening, the Capitol South project owed the city $42.4 million dollars. There were also numerous lawsuits by the construction companies involved, saying they weren’t paid fully by the Capitol South project! Five years later, though, all seemed well. City Center had grown to 150 stores, many of which were only found at the center. City Center was considered a premier shopping destination, and really tried to match the opulence that you would find at malls in other large cities like New York and Chicago.

City Center’s good fortune was not to last. In 2002, Jacobson’s went bankrupt, closing all its stores. In 2004, Lazarus, after 153 years of business in Columbus, closed its doors. This left City Center with only one anchor store left: Kaufmann’s (later acquired and rebranded by Macy’s), which had replaced Marshall Field in 2003. After years of decline and competition from newer suburban shopping centers, Columbus City Center closed its doors in November of 2007. After several years of change in ownership and lawsuits from the City of Columbus, demolition of Columbus City Center began in October of 2009 and was completed in March of 2010. In mid-2010, construction of the Columbus Commons Park began and opened to the public the following Memorial Day on May 26, 2011.

For more information about shopping malls in the United State and Columbus:






Discussion Questions:

  • How do your students go shopping now?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages to online shopping? What about to a shopping mall?
  • What would a shopping mall need to do to survive in today’s retail market? What would its marketing look like? What about its physical space?
Posted January 3, 2019

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