"Cincinnati Mall" was once better known as "Cincinnati Mills" and before that it was the "Forest Fair Mall," named after the complex's location directly on the dividing line of the cities of Fairfield and Forest Park, Ohio. The mall opened in 1989 and immediately faced problems. The high end anchor tenants proved to be unpopular with the area's demographic and despite a location directly adjacent the Interstate 275-Winton Rd. interchange, the mall was built between two already successful, established malls; The Tri-County Mall just four miles to the East and Northgate Mall seven miles to the west.
Despite the amenities such as an indoor amusement park known as "Time Out on the Court," which I'm sure many kids who grew up in the 90's such as myself remember, and upscale retailers, the mall struggled. All three original anchor stores packed up and left by 1990 as the mall entered a decade of ownership changes, renovations and attempts to appeal to the local market. Forest Fair had it's ups and downs, but by the mid 90's seemed to have found a niche offering several discount anchor stores while at the same time attracting many big box retailers such as Bass Pro Shops of Springfield, Missouri. In the late 90's, the mall axed many of it's nightclub and entertainment venues including "Time Out on the Court," which was replaced by "Wonderpark" a Namco Entertainment indoor amusement park that even featured a small roller coaster.
Just when it seemed the mall had finally found it's target market, many of the big box stores and major tenants began to pack up and leave. By 2002 the mall's occupancy had fallen well below 50% and failure of the Forest Fair Mall seemed imminent for the second time. Hope would arise once again later that year when the Mills Corporation, a Maryland based real estate firm known for their construction and management of highly successful regional shopping centers, purchased the fledgling Forest Fair Mall and began a 70 million dollar renovation. Forest Fair Mall reopened in August 2004 as "Cincinnati Mills" to huge crowds and high approval. Despite the enthusiasm, new name, new image and new management, Cincinnati Mills did not experience the success of it's sister Mill properties. The mall once again continued a steady decline and was sold by Simon Property Group (who had acquired the Mills Corporation and who is currently building a new outlet mall just a little further north of Cincinnati Mall) in early 2009. On March 4, 2009 it was announced that Georgia based Northstar Realty Group had purchased the mall, renaming it "Cincinnati Mall," with plans to sell the land in three parcels for redevelopment.
I grew up in Fairfield just five minutes away from the mall. I have many memories of being there as a kid; playing mini golf and riding the ferris wheel as well as "hanging out" with my friends through those awesome teen years. After arriving home from college this past Friday, I once again visited the mall. I admittedly hadn't been through the mall in years except to occasionally see a movie, avoiding the main sections of the mall. Having worked at a mall in high school and having dealt with mall security before, I figured it be better to ask permission before I started taking photographs. I know how people often rag on mall security guards for being "rent a cops," but I didn't want to hassle anyone and figured it wouldn't be that big of a deal. I walked to the "info" desk only to find that like many other sections of the mall, it had been abandoned.
Seeing as how they didn't care to staff their customer service desk, I figured they wouldn't care if I took a few photographs. Walking throughout the mall I came across many closed shops that tenants had vacated long ago, the glass windows painted over in black. At American Eagle, two employees packed up the last of their products, the store had just closed a few weeks before. The mall's custodial staff had removed many incarnations of the word "Mills" leaving just the word "Cincinnati" emblazoned all about the shopping center. The mall changed drastically during the 2002-2004 renovation by the Mills Corp., completely changing how I remembered the mall as a young kid. The renovations had drastically improved the mall. It really is nice, just depressingly empty.
Walking about the mall is kind of like being in a scene from "Dawn of the Dead." Except, instead of hordes of flesh eating zombies, the only other souls you encounter are the occasional mall walker or few actual customers browsing stores. The staff of the Johnny Rocket's restaurant chat at the counter, no customers to wait on, while the employee at Starbucks reads a book, no customers to serve. It's 4:00 on a Friday afternoon after school has let out for the day and the mall is just dead. Many of the dynamic lights once used to create an atmosphere are turned off or burnt out. Sign posts indicating which store is in what direction are left blank, save for the names of the few remaining tenants.
Unlike other abandoned locales I explore, this place isn't technically "abandoned." I'm not trespassing, it's open to the public and I'm more than welcome to come inside, but Cincinnati Mall has the feeling of abandonment. It's quite obvious that this mall was never meant to be and despite the attempts and millions invested in it, it has sadly not been successful.
I'm making my way towards Kohl's when from behind me I hear the soft hum of an electric motor getting closer and closer.
I turn around, it's a Cincinnati Mall security guard. Looking down at me from her mighty segway, helmet on her head, she says:
"You're not allowed to snap photographs in the mall, it's a security concern and it's prohibited. I'm going to have to ask you come with me and leave."
I oblige to her request for me to leave and stop taking photographs, but when she asks to see some identification and for me to go to the office with her, I decline. I respect her for doing her job and enforcing the rules, but I don't have to give them anything. The Delta Force like security team follows me in their SUV as I stop at the far end of the mall parking lot to snap some photographs of two restaurants, which like many of the malls tenants, are now vacant.
I smile and wave goodbye to the security guard following me as I exit the parking lot and think about what the other guard inside the mall said.to me:
"This is your one and only warning, any further infractions and you could be banned from the mall for the rest of the year."
I wonder though; will there even be a Cincinnati Mall the rest of this year?