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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Black Friday in Retail Purgatory



- The dark concourses of the former Forest Fair Mall/Cincinnati Mills/Cincinnati Mall now known as Forest Fair Village.

In Cincinnati's northern suburbs there's a shopping mall stuck in retail purgatory. Born of a grand vision, the nearly empty complex of consumerism has never truly found success. In a followup to a 2009 article, we revisit "Forest Fair."




I left early on my normal route to work. Being the day after thanksgiving, the roads were pretty dead for a Friday, making highway traffic nearly non existent. I knew there’d eventually be a snarl though, it was Black Friday and I work in a mall. I pulled up to the Kenwood Towne Centre expecting the yearly sights: a crowded parking lot, slow traffic and police officers guiding soccer mom SUV’s into the mess which signals that the holidays are here.


The crowds were light though with plenty of parking available - probably due in part to several stores being open on Thanksgiving night. As the day wore on though, the crowds would come.On my lunch break, I ventured to the Towne Centre's food court and straight into the sea of humanity. Screaming kids in their strollers, groups of families clutching shopping bags and kiosk vendors all added to the cacophony of sounds competing with the incessant droning of loud christmas music. Here in Kenwood, arguably the region’s busiest and most upscale mall, the American economy was alive and well. The Black Friday tradition carried on as usual.


- Black Friday 2015 at the Kenwood Towne Centre, arguably the region's most affluent shopping mall and a sharp contrast to Forest Fair.



Even when I left for the day at 6 PM, darting through the crowd again and out into the parking garage, people were still coming in. A Mercedes and an Infiniti both took position around my Mazda, stalking to see who would grab my parking spot as soon as I pulled out. I left, leaving the Black Friday mess of humanity behind me. I wasn’t headed anywhere to shop or search for deals, but I was headed to another mall. One that’s much different.


- The mall now known as Forest Fair Village as seen from Google Maps. 
If you’re from the area, you probably remember this place from its various periods of identities. It started life as Forest Fair Mall, then became Cincinnati Mills, followed simply by just Cincinnati Mall, and now it’s technically Forest Fair Village. Although, you wouldn’t know that from all the signage still brandishing name number 3. The mall itself is something of local lore. Everyone has their memories from its various heydays, everyone has their theories as to its various downturns and some forget it still exists. You might remember an article I wrote here back in March of 2009 entitled “Portrait of a Dead Mall.” The article highlighted the mall’s decline and emptying as a segway riding security guard escorted myself and my camera out. The story continues though and perhaps it’s not exactly fair to say that the mall is “dead.” It’s a mall that never caught hold of the local retail market, never really found its niche and survives today in a state of purgatory. The complex has never been able to sustain the grand visions laid out for it time and time again, but it’s still there on the suburban border of Forest Park and Fairfield. To walk through it is interesting, perplexing even. To understand how it got to this point though, you need to understand where it came from and what it’s been through.


Lead by a man named George Herscu, Australian real estate firm L.J. Hooker planned to build a mall near Cincinnati, Ohio. In the initial planning stages, the firm’s vision changed from building a collection of lower end stores into bringing together a wide variety of retailers ranging from discount to upscale. High end chains such as Houston based Sakowitz and the New York based B. Altman and Bonwit Teller were initially approached. All three of the well known and high priced chains passed on the project. Herscu then led L.J. Hooker to buy a controlling interest in all three companies and forced not only each chain’s entry into Ohio, but into being anchor tenants at their newly planned Southwest-Ohio mall. Initial construction began on the $1.4 Million project in 1986 followed by a soft opening in 1988. By March of 1989, Forest Fair Mall was officially and completely opened. Forest Fair not only opened with the aforementioned high-end retailers, but also featured Parisian and Dayton, Ohio’s moderately priced Elder Beerman chain in addition to a Bigg’s “hypermarket.” At the time, the “hypermarket” concept was relatively new and the locally based Bigg’s chain was a pioneer in combining grocery shopping with clothing, general merchandise, electronics, hardware supplies, a deli and just about anything else you could think of. With space for up to 200 tenants, the massive “Y” shaped complex rounded out its “value” and “fashion” wings with an amusement park that featured a full scale ferris wheel, carousel, carnival rides, miniature golf and eight screen movie theatre.

Former L.J. Hooker CEO George Herscu rides the carousel at the mall's opening day. Image via Sydney Morning Herald.

At the time of its opening, Herscu’s L.J. Hooker had the 1960's concepts of Victor Gruen's shopping malls, flipped them on their head, combined it with the pop culture decadence of the 1980’s and birthed something new: a mall that truly had everything - from groceries to New York fashion to entertainment.

But it didn’t work.


By July of 1989, L.J. Hooker had put Forest Fair Mall up for sale while George Herscu filed for bankruptcy. By September L.J. Hooker itself filed for protection along with their mall and the three retailers they had forced in as anchor tenants. Bonwit Teller, Sakowitz and B. Altman would all eventually fold as companies in the early 90’s after L.J. Hooker’s controlling interest had forced them not just into the Forest Fair situation, but other poor locations across the country. By January of 1991, Forest Fair had lost three of its upscale and primary tenants while L.J. Hooker’s creditors took over.


The mall ebbed between 50% and 75% occupancy over the next couple of years. Hope came in 1993 when an $8 million addition created a nightlife complex known as “The Festival at Forest Fair.” Retailer Kohl's would eventually come on board as an anchor. New owners came around and tried to redirect the mall’s focus. 

Forest Fair Mall's "Time Out on the Court" amusement park. Image via Hooker Development.

The 90’s are the years I best remember at Forest Fair having grown up about fifteen minutes away in Fairfield. Christmas dance recitals for my sister’s YMCA classes were held there, the food court had a Pizza Hut that would redeem your “Book It” reading challenge coupons, I saw “Little Giants” on the cinema screens with my dad, my grandmother took me to ride the Ferris Wheel once and we even got to play miniature golf. I was too young to remember the restaurant and nightlife scene, but my mom likes to tell the story of when as a toddler, I accidentally bit into a yellow crayon instead of a french frie at the “Burbanks Real Bar-B-Q” in the mall. For a time there was even a day care located at the complex and you’re currently reading an article written by a graduate of “Koala Care.” I remember the giant sandbox, the carousel, the Moore’s Fitness Center and the checkered tile of the food courts: both upper and lower level. I can even still hear the sounds of “Ball Game,” the “audiokinetic” sculpture by artist George Rhoads which featured balls rolling through various tracks and obstacles over a xylophone that echoed throughout the center of the mall.


- Sculptor George Rhoads with one of his "ball machine" creations. A similar exhibit was once at the centerpiece of Forest Fair Mall. Image via Wikipedia.

I remember things changing too. Parisian left in 1998 while ambitious new plans were announced. "Time Out on the Court" and all of its rides were eventually removed. The movie theatre began to pale in comparison to the wide-screens and stadium seats of newer cinemas nearby. Renovations took shape though. The kid’s sandbox was gone, so was the nightlife aspect and retailers like Burlington Coat Factory and Media Play moved in along with a few standalone restaurants in the parking lot. The “Time Out On the Court” concept was replaced by a Namco Wonderpark featuring a large video arcade and small children’s roller coaster. The most notable addition came in 1999 as Bass Pro Shops opened one of their massive outdoor recreation oriented stores complete with a giant aquarium and laser gun shooting range.


But it still wasn’t working. 

Despite ownership changes, new tenants and even a tourism draw in Bass Pro, occupancy within the mall kept slipping. A savior was thought to be found in The Mills Corporation, a company that was known for its lavish and successful malls throughout the country. Mills Corp. sought to completely renovate the mall’s interior and brought $70 million along with them to prove it. Most interior concourses were closed to the public while the anchor stores, theatre and Wonderpark kept operating. For over a year, most of the mall was closed to the public while the sounds of construction equipment whirred behind walls as you shopped for groceries at Bigg’s or new school clothes at Kohl’s. By August of 2004, Forest Fair Mall was dead, Cincinnati Mills was alive.

- Employees at the former "Time Out on the Court" game redemption center. Image via Pin Wiz
The day it reopened, I remember the chaos. Never once had I not seen a parking spot available at the mall, but on that day my friends and I were lucky enough to find one while those who weren’t so lucky had to ride shuttle busses in. Gone was the Forest Fair Mall of my childhood and in its place: another crowning achievement for the Mills Corporation. The mall’s original theatre had become a discount, second run Danbarry Dollar Saver, while a brand new Showcase Cinemas displayed first run showings in surround sound with stadium seats. Starbucks stood at the mall’s core in place of the ball machine sculpture. American mall mainstays like Auntie Anne’s Pretzels was there too alongside a full service Johnny Rockets offering up a 50’s diner themed motif.

Yet, there were chinks in the armor. Even as a 15 year old I didn’t see how some of the stores were economically viable. Could “Bugs-N-Stuff” really afford mall rent by just selling insects as pets? Was there really a huge demand for the “As seen on TV store” and the “Big Dog” clothing outlet? One by one, the more “random” shops seemed to trickle away. Myself and my wannabe-skateboarder high school friends loved the “Badboards” skate shop, but the mall security wouldn’t let us or anyone else walk in large groups. Media Play closed up shop, so did the locally renown Johnny’s Toys. News stories broke of a WonderPark manager paying underage employees to perform in sex videos and the amusement park closed shortly after. Bigg’s, the mall’s only original tenant, closed up shop too in 2008. Within four years of its renovation, Cincinnati Mills was back in a decline.


The people stopped coming, even being a teenager living 15 minutes away, I rarely had any reason to go to Cincinnati Mills. By 2009, the mall was in such a downward spiral that I penned “Portrait of a Dead Mall” for this website. In the years since that piece, I’ve had seldom reason to go to the mall. I moved out of the area and would only venture in out of sheer curiosity or to occasionally visit Arcade Legacy. One time, a friend and I decided to see a movie at the Danbarry Dollar Savers (the Showcase Cinemas were now closed) simply because it was an excuse to walk through the mall.


- The closed WonderPark as seen in our 2009 article, "Portrait of a Dead Mall."


The Mills Corporation would eventually be purchased by Simon Property Group. Simon sold off the declining mall and took on a new local retail venture with the opening of the Cincinnati Premium Outlets in nearby Monroe, Ohio. The mall’s new owners, North Star Realty, bluntly changed the facility’s name to “Cincinnati Mall.” The word “mills” was painted over on directory signs that had an ever dwindling lists of tenants. Aside from a few press releases and hints of “future plans,” North Star allowed the mall to quietly maintain its continued decline.


More new owners came and went, one of them announcing plans to add an extended stay hotel, ice rinks, dining and indoor mountain bike trails in addition to an “agricultural museum.” What that museum was supposed to entail no one seems to know - it never happened. Not that anyone seemed to notice, by 2011 when those big plans were revealed people seemed to have heard enough grand ideas about the failing mall to believe anything would actually change.


Nevertheless, news would occasionally pop up. In April of 2013, the mall’s name was changed yet again. Rebranding as “Forest Fair Village,” the mall neglected to change its signage (still brandishing the Cincinnati Mall name), but began a social media campaign hyping up their new vision. After just four tweets, the mall’s twitter account fell silent. News articles cropped up with representatives hinting at events, sports complexes and potential tenants seeking office space, but as of this writing nothing seems to have come to fruition.


I choose to refer to the mall simply as “Forest Fair.” That’s the name I grew up with, that’s the name it currently has on paper. All in all, Forest Fair has just never really worked out. Maybe it’s the fact that the already established shopping malls of Northgate and Tri-County were already located within fifteen minutes each direction down the highway. Those malls aren’t without their own struggles either as the modern market has shifted from traditional malls towards outlets and outdoor “lifestyle centers” such as the new Liberty Center also just up the highway. It's also absolutely massive at 1,500,000 square feet. The vision of an upscale retail center also wasn’t suited for the more middle class area between the population centers of Hamilton and Cincinnati. Meanwhile, the Kenwood Towne Centre was establishing itself and continues to be the area’s affluent collection of upscale retailers. Kenwood is where I found myself leaving to depart for Forest Fair on November 27, 2015: Black Friday. I found myself leaving the Kenwood Towne Centre and the commotion of people at a very active mall to revisit the retail center of my youth, the place or local lore and see how the mall was faring on retail’s biggest day.


- The ferris wheel at Forest Fair Mall in the mall's heyday of the 1990's. Image via Pin Wiz.
I pulled off of I-275. Chipotle, Red Lobster and the "Asian Buffet" operating in the parking lot out front seemed to have decent business. In front of Kohl's and Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World there were plenty of cars, people still taking advantage of Black Friday sales at 6:30 PM. From this angle, out front by Winton Rd., the mall seems normal. Once you pull around onto the south side facing the highway though, it’s clear that this isn’t your ordinary shopping center through. Most of the parking lot lights are turned off, except for one near the entrance to Babies R’ Us and one near a mall entrance that doesn’t look inviting in the least. Despite the darkness, the doors are unlocked. I stepped in and around a children’s playground shrouded in darkness towards an illuminated hallway. Stylized American flag sculptures hung from the ceiling while closed stores and blacked out windows lined the hall.





I walked over to the nonmoving escalators, which to borrow a joke from Mitch Hedberg, might as well just be called “stairs” now. There were a few people milling about coming in and out of the arcade.

At this point, it’s fair to mention one of the few businesses remaining in the mall. One that came after and its most recent round of “glory days” and one that’s actually pretty cool. For a flat rate, Arcade Legacy will let you play all the video games and pinball machines in their arsenal as much as you want. All in all it’s a great place and one of the few signs of life within the confines of the mall. Legacy isn’t the only business still operating within, but the few that remain dot the near-empty landscape.


- Locally owned Bee U Retail & Consignment is one of the mall's few remaining tenants. 

The mall was designed with massive skylights adorned with brass decoration. During the day, they allow for a ton of natural light to come pouring in, but at night the mall is incredibly dark. So many lights within the mall are either turned off or seem to no longer work. The lack of light gives the mall a foreboding look, with hallways appearing similar to dark alleyways in some sections. Your first instinct upon seeing the dark hallways is that the area isn’t open to the public. But the occasional friday evening mall walker lets you know that you’re apparently free to walk where you please.


Down by Kohl’s, the backlit letters are the only light at the end of the wing. In most malls, you’ll find an anchor store with a wide opening providing an entrance, but here the entrance has been sealed with glass and two doors. The doors are unlocked, revealing a retail store packed with holiday shoppers and Christmas music - a stark contrast to the empty mall corridors playing a local radio station over the speakers.


- Kohl's entrance from within the mall.



Walking down one wing, the only light illuminating another set of non working escalators comes from the orange decorative source above.


- All of the mall's escalators are inactive.



Nearby, the former WonderPark is now the Bee Active Adventure Zone that features gymnastics areas and inflatables for kids. It complements the Bee Fit health club, a 24/7 gym operating at the other end of the mall (and I assume both are related to the Bee u Retail & Consignment Shop also operating nearby).

- A typical mall concourse.



The former Burlington Coat Factory space still has its lights on:


- The former Burlington Coat Factory.



As you walk through it, the mall transitions from light to dark and it becomes apparent that none of the escalators are active. All throughout, remnants of the Mills Corp.’s renovations remain. The mall itself still appears pretty modern. It’s not fair to draw comparisons to the Dawn of the Dead films (although I’ve been guilty of that myself), zombie movies that take place in a shopping mall after the onset of the apocalypse. Those films featured malls with stores and Forest Fair has very few.


- A wing of the mall known as "neighborhood B" during the Mills Corp. era, it was intended to be the fashion district.



Unlike Kohl’s, Babies R’s Us has its mall entrance closed off. Despite still being open at the time of my visit, a metal roll gate stood between Black Friday shoppers and myself.


- Despite being open for business, Babies R' Us is closed off to the mall's interior. 

Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World follows the Babies R’ Us method. Their store is also closed off to the mall’s interior, instead affixed with a sign instructing patrons to use the outside entrance.


- Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World, another mall anchor closed off to the mall's interior.



In a more illuminated wing, the glass windows of retail spots are blacked out and some entrances are sealed up with dry wall.


- One of the fully illuminated concourses. 

One particular spot was still adorned with a sign indicating a former National Guard recruiting center:


- A former Army National Guard recruiting center.



At the mall’s center, the area where Santa would normally sit upon his holiday throne, the lights are again dim. Holiday decorations are set up, including an area where photos can be taken with Santa. At the time of my visit though, he was absent and calls to the mall route to full voice mailboxes and continually ringing lines when you try to see if they’re offering a chance to meet Kris Kringle this season.


- Normally the spot to meet Santa, the mall's center section is decorated for the holidays, but not illuminated.



During my time there on Black Friday, there was actually quite a few people milling about. While most were posted up in front of the arcade, a woman placed an order at the food court’s sole remaining tenant: Oyishi Japan. A few “mall walkers,” made their rounds in athletic shoes at a leisurely place. Two young men stood by one of those novelty spiral wishing wells, fumbling to find some loose change to throw into it.


- The food court's sole remaining tenant.



Even the second run, discount Danbarry Dollar Saver Cinemas left. They were temporarily replaced by an independent outfit called “The Screens at Cincinnati Mall,” but they too have closed shop leaving behind a showcase of showtimes for films like “Get Hard,” “Magic Mike XXL” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

- The malls original theatre had a final go as an independent business, but has also closed.



As I walked through the mall, passing the former Showcase Cinemas, I passed a man walking with his two small daughters. One of them looked up to him and asked: “They have a movie theatre here?” 

“They did,” he replied. “They closed down.” “

Why?” the girl asked. 


- Logo for the former Showcase Cinemas, the mall's second and only first-run theatre.

“No one ever came,” he answered.

- Former "now showing" sign above the Showcase Cinemas.



There’s still a travel agency in the mall, with a sign stating that they’re by appointment only. The concourses are lined with buckets to catch leaks from the ceilings and the bathrooms while stocked with toilet paper, are in need of some attention.

- The mall's main concourse leading into the food court.



The concourses drone on with empty space after empty space…


- An upper hallway of the mall's concourses. The wood floors were installed during the early 2000's remodel.



... and the former information desk adorned with an ornate sign has very little info to offer.


- This elaborate sign hangs above a no longer staffed information desk.



Along with the burnt out lights, some of the more elaborate decorations have begun to deteriorate, most notably the fish above the food court which is known as “picnic on the river.”

- Decorations in the mall's food court have started to deteriorate.



As I walked through the food court debating whether or not to try the only remaining restaurant for dinner, I took a step and heard a loud crunch. Several sections of the floor were bloated and cracking with water damage. Nearby, a woman called out to a passing security guard: “You know there’s water here, right? Someone could slip and fall.” The guard, foregoing the traditional imitation cop outfit of most mall rule enforcement and instead brandishing a simple hoodie with the words “security,” simply stated back: “There’s water everywhere.”

- The vast seating areas of the food court.

The remnants of the Auntie Anne’s pretzel stall are marked only by a sign still hanging above the empty stand.

- A mainstay of most malls, Auntie Anne's Pretzels has also vacated.



The aforementioned gym was open, apparently it stays open 24/7. There were a few people inside working off thanksgiving meals. Nearby someone had set up shop with a baseball training academy. Their facility was closed for the day, but featured an indoor area lined with nets for batting practice. Across the way from both: the sealed up walls that once featured the entrance to the Bigg’s hypermarket.

- A baseball training academy is one of few remaining businesses.


Heading out of the mall, I walked by the indoor playground that had once been sponsored by PBS Kids. Two teenagers sat on a playground bench talking in the darkness. I made my way to the dark exit where the name “Cincinnati Mall” remains in lieu of the technically current “Forest Fair Village.”

- Entrance/exit.

I got back to my car and instead of driving back around towards the main road, I took a lap around the back of the mall. On this side, the only light in the parking lot was emitted from a locked entrance.

- A closed entrance on the mall's unused side.



And the parking garages are completely closed off by chains now.


- All of the mall's parking garages have been closed.



Apparently Kohl’s still offers a pickup area, but it’s illuminated solely by the company’s logo rather than the overhead lights of the parking garage entrance.

- The pickup area of Kohl's at the entrance of a parking garage.



I completed my lap, by rounding back the outside entrance to Bass Pro Shops. At 7:30 PM, people were still coming and going into the outdoors themed retailer on Black Friday. One of the few remaining tenants, Bass Pro plans to move to a new location in nearby West Chester by 2016. When it does, the mall will be losing one of its few remaining anchors.

Occasionally, news will come about of entities interested in purchasing the mall, a new bold idea or big plans. Every time though, people seem less and less fazed. Forest Fair is just slightly older than I am. In its 27 years of history, the mall has seen its fair share of retailers, identities and big ideas come and go along with customers. As of this writing, the mall’s next chapter hasn’t yet been written, but if history is any indication: it's not mean to be a mall. For now though it seems to be in a state of retail purgatory, quietly sitting off the highway as an oddity of consumerism.

- Despite officially being renamed "Forest Fair Village," the mall still features the "Cincinnati Mall" name on its highway facing signs. 

For a great look back at "Time Out on the Court," check out PinWiz.
And for a look at how the mall looks during the day, check out these photographs by Travis Estell.

73 comments:

  1. I also cannot call this mall anything but Forest Fair. These pictures are gorgeous! I remember coming here when I was young and thinking it was so grand!

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    1. In all my time writing articles for this website since 2007, I've never seen someone comment so quickly. Thanks for checking it out! It's a shame this mall never amounted to the grand vision it had laid out for it. The 90's were great at this place.

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  2. I would love coming to this mall as a kid and now it saddens to see it in this condition. There is a mall down here in Knoxville that is suffering the same fate. It is slowly loosing stores and there has even been a call to action from some citizens to just close it down. The major thing with that is that this mall is services the urban community so it never got much support from the city and now a lot of people are about to loose their jobs because of it. It really is a sad situation.

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    1. That sounds like an interesting story. Which mall is it?

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  3. I loved the arcade here. It was where I was reintroduced to pinball and still play to this day. Bad location and high rents really killed this place. When you were talking about the new stores that came when it opened as Cincinnati mills I believe this is when the new tenants were given a break on the rent for 6 months so they could establish their store. Obviously it didn't work. I'm kinda surprised it hasn't been demoed and either have a business park in its place or redesigned to be a lifestyle center.

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    1. Unfortunately for this specific property, I think the new "lifestyle center" in West Chester kind of kills of any last remaining hopes.

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  4. Great article, thanks for writing! Was a member of the Goosebumps book club at the Little Professor bookstore when I was a kid. I loved Forest Fair!

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  5. Great piece! The mall looks even more dead now than it did a while back when my wife and I would regularly go to Babies R Us for stuff for our son.

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    1. Thanks for checking it out! It's definitely worth a return visit if you're in the area. Makes for an interesting walk.

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  6. I worked at Time Out circa 93-95 (during the main hey-dey). At one point we had the largest arcade in the country (game count wise). I began my love affair with pinball thanks to Time-Out as well. It was still one of the best places i ever worked. Did you know that the mall was built to house a 3rd floor if they need to expand?

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    1. I didn't know that but I worked at Time out also from 92 to 94. Still my favorite job and memories and made great friends I still talk to.

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    2. I've heard similar things about a potential third floor. At most, I think it only got to 75% occupancy. A third floor would've made this mall on the scale of Tower Place in Chicago.

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    3. Teri: Worked at Kings Island for year and am still very close to a lot of the people I worked with there. Glad to hear that Time Out on the Court provided you with similar friendships.

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    4. I played many a Street Fighter game there, and had many a date to the movies next door.

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  7. Every time I go to Bass Pro Shop I wonder what has become of Forest Fair Mall? Thanks for the very interesting post. I spent many holiday seasons there, visiting Santa and ice skating with my family! Great memories made there for sure!!!

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    1. Totally forgot about the ice skating rink!

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  8. I go to this mall every thursday for Arcade Legacy's 'Fight Night' $5 flat rate entry and fighting game tournaments. They even host larger scale tournaments on Saturdays every few months in what was the food court.

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  9. Glad to see you didn't get kicked out by Robo Rent-A-Cop this time. A friend and I decided to use the garage to do some car photography recently and we only lasted about 20 min before a dude with half of a handlebar mustache on a segway chased us off. He even told us we had to delete the photos we took...yea right...

    I heard the reason the garage was closed is a few years ago during a really cold winter a bunch of pipes burst bringing the garage out of fire code. They didn't want to pay to get it repaired so the fire marshall shut them down.

    I spent so much time here as a kid and I even worked at Gamestop in there for a while. Even as an adult I frequent Arcade Legacy regularly. Tis a sad site that place is.

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    1. haha that's great he asked you to delete your photos and it's good that you didn't. I can understand him making a request and politely obliging, but mall security guards always seem to have a well deserved reputation for mistaking themselves as actual law enforcement.

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    2. I wouldn't delete my photos even if a real police officer told me to honestly. But you are right security guards do tend to have a little bit of an enforcement ego.

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  10. The parking garage is open on the opposite end. That is the best place to park when going to Arcade Legacy. Little known secret.

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    1. Are you sure? The night I was there, there were chains over all the entrances.

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    2. Last time I was there it was open. You have to go around the mall where the night club used to be and then turn right down a small hill. Its super hidden and looks like you are just driving into a loading dock area, but a 4th of the garage is open on that side.

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  11. I see a lot has changed in the two years since my buddy Otto showed us this place. As of when we went (April 2013) the food court still had a Subway and a Gold Star Chili. The discount cinema was still open. Escalators still worked in some parts (I have a video somewhere of my boyfriend and another friend of ours doing the "up-the-down" trick and nearly eating the floor). I believe at that time, Bass Pro still opened out into the mall, but I could be wrong. Burlington was one of the few joints still hopping there at the mall. They are gone now? We never ran into any Segway cops. I had my camera out the entire time, got a bunch of pictures, and there wasn't anyone around to say "boo" to me.

    I can't remember if the garage was open or not. I know there were doors leading to it wide open and lit up. We didn't get down the fully-closed hall of the mall, either. We never went past the food court area, though, in retrospect, I wish we had, just so I could say I saw it.

    We wanted to stop in at Arcade Legacy, but we were on a bit of a time crunch. I'm glad to hear it's still there, I'd love to check it out sometime.

    Another great piece with great pictures!

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    1. Definitely worth another visit if you're ever in the area.

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  12. Hi Ronny-
    I've always been fascinated by this mall ever since I was young. As a 28 year old, I remember the TimeOut heyday as a kid (LOVED it), and the short-lived revitalization when it became Cincinnati Mills. Now I am captivated by how strange this place feels. It truly is such an odd place. Any time I walk through the empty corridors, I feel a nostalgia rush along with an eerie sadness. I feel when Bass Pro leaves, it'll be the final nail in the coffin.

    A few months ago, my husband and I took a fair share of pictures of the mall. We then went into the parking garage stairwell (during the day, no way was I going to at night) at the far east end. The stairwell was surprisingly unlocked, and it was filthy inside. Graffiti was on the windows and human feces were on the stairs. Yikes. The security SUV was still parked close by. It was covered in dust, had flat tires, and seriously looked like it hadn't moved in years. I took pictures of it, because it was just so bizarre to see that.

    Anyway, fantastic article!

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    1. Wow, that's crazy to hear and kind of sad. I remember seeing the dust covered security SUV.

      Also, would you mind shooting me an email at queencitydisco[at]gmail.com? I have a followup question.

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  13. Huh. Even the ex-Danbarry has closed now, they were open when I visited a couple months ago.

    I was lucky in that the Robo-Cop didn't show up until after I was mostly done taking pictures and ready to leave. He didn't seem to notice my camera.

    Oh, and Arcade Legacy introduced me to the sheer joy that is Gyruss...

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    1. Have you played Wind Jammers? I could spend the rest of my life playing that game.

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  14. Very well written. I have fond memories of this place as a kid in the early 90s and worked at finish line after it reopened until the store closed in 2009.

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    1. Thanks so much David. What was it like working there and seeing the decline?

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  15. Great story. I remember driving all the way from Clifton in college to see movies here. So weird to see it completely abandoned.

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  16. Great article and great photos! I work not too far from here and have thought about making a trip to see the mall, but I haven't done so yet. I might have to make it a point to do so in the near future.

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    1. I'd recommend it. It's a fun, eerie walk and Arcade Legacy is worth a visit.

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    2. I finally became ambitious and made the trip over there. So incredibly cool to walk through a dead mall, but sad at the same time. It's a great place to take a walk, and I anticipate taking more trips over there.

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  17. Loved the article and the the photos. It brings back so many memories, I used to go to the mall and Media play every week. One of the vendors that came into Jungle Jims when i worked there told me that he goes there to mall walk alot. Now that i live in North Carolina i've been to a few unique malls. The Hanes mall in Winston Salem (You have to go through a JC Pennys to access the other side)and the Four Seasons Town Centre in Greensboro (a 3 floor mall)

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    1. Media Play was the best store in there for awhile. I loved that place.

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  18. Another fascinating article - thanks!

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  19. Thanks for the story and pictures I have very good memories of working at the mall and Time Out in the early 90's l. This was probably one of my favorite jobs.

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  20. Thanks for the story and pictures I have very good memories of working at the mall and Time Out in the early 90's l. This was probably one of my favorite jobs.

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    1. From all the people writing in who worked there, they all seemed to love it!

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  21. Thanks for the article. I am one of the employees in the picture. It brings back fond memories of an amazing job as a teenager. I had a blast not only working there but also play I there as a kid. If it was still open, I'd still play there! One of my favorites of jobs by for!

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    1. Christine, thanks so much for checking it out. I found that photo on an old pinball fan site. Do you know who took it by any chance?

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  22. Nice article! Did you remember the haunted house that they used to have every year?

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    1. First haunted house I ever went to, my father took me. I never much cared for haunted houses, but I remember the one at Forest Fair having a good reputation.

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  23. Wonderful history and pictures of FFM. It was and is such a beautiful building inside. It's roughly the same age as my daughters, so I can relate to each of its eras by how old they were at the time. There are so many reasons that it didn't succeed, but I will always think of it as Camelot, for one brief, shining moment in time. I do hope that it can be redeveloped successfully before it deteriorates beyond repair.

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  24. I remember the mall being cool to walk around in albeit too large. It was more of a look-and-see versus a look-and-buy affair. Kenwood on the other hand is all business.

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  25. I remember interviewing at the old Freedom Wireless store just across from Biggs. Must have been 2003-2004. Thank goodness I never took that job.

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  26. Great article. I met with Mr. Herscu several years ago at his office in Los Angeles. He was a very big developer in his days and this mall was what seems to be his downfall. He was a visionary man and made his projects with grandiose appeal. When I moved to Cincinnati several years ago he called me to list one of his properties in the Southwest. I told him that I was living in Cincinnati and he proceeded to tell me about the mall and it's amenities as if it was still 1986. George was a very flamboyant developer and he even built the Tiffany building on rodeo drive which is pretty iconic. He was a Holocaust survivor and I think he was very proud of this project as if nothing could stand in his way and everything was right at the time. It is a shame that it did not succeed as he intended. RIP Mr. Herscu

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  27. I grew up in that area, used to ride my bike up Winton and Kemper roads, but had moved to New Jersey when Forest Fair was built. When I was a teenager in the 70's, Tri-County mall, a few miles to east was still an outdoor mall and Northgate was the "new" mall - just a few miles west along 275 from FF. I never could understand why adding another mall, and a monster one, in between two other malls was a good idea. It probably is what killed Northgate. Now the asphalt lots of America are littered with dead Big Boxes from similar gambits.

    Also looking sad, a few miles south down Winton Rd from FF is the little Greenhills shopping center, also gravely wounded by the opening of Forest Fair.

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  28. Most of my time spent there was when the nightlife district was known as "Bourbon Street." Cheyenne Cattle Company, Aftershock, and a couple other bars that I can't quite remember the name of. This was when I was 19-21ish I suppose. Lots and lots of many un-proud moments in that era! Then a few years later I spent much time at the guitar center that moved from Tri-County, and was located up at the Bigg's end. But I definitely remember "Sega's" Time Out when the mall was brand new too. That was mind-blowing!

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  29. Really fantastic article. I visited this place on my birthday last year (which is about a year from now) and it was just as you said at that point, too. It's really hauntingly beautiful. I got a few pics of the delapitated escalators by the former Showcase filled with popcorn in the cracks, and some of the entrance by Guitar Centar, where the signs are overgrown by nature and there was a pregnant feral cat that had made it its territory. Anyway, I just want you to know that this article is fantastic. I'm going to go back soon and hopefully get some more decent pictures before this place closes up for good.

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  30. Im glad to see an article that mentions theres still businesses in the mall.
    & that Bee U store is amazing- definitely worth the trip.
    Oh- & they said they are independantly owned- not owned by the other bee bizs. They all had their names before coincidentally all ending up in the same mall.

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  31. I went by Forest Fair Mall in October of the previous year. I think I only saw the Bee-U Clothing Store, Neo-Wonderpark/Bee-Active, Kohls, Bass Pro Shop, Arcade Legacy, the Japanese Cuisine restaurant in the Food Court, and one or two other anchors open. The last time I visited the Mall was in 2007 or 2008, back when Showcase was open. I even remember going into the Theater to see Kong Fu Panda. I remember only the Theater, and some of the Mall from back then. I would always pass by Forest Fair when I was growing up, and I only went inside once or twice. I remember thinking how odd the Mall looked from the distance of the road where McDonalds was on the side.
    I think the most significant aspect of the Mall to me when I went back in October was when I was standing on the second floor, gazing down at the Center Court, with the Gazebo with the Flying pigs on it. That scene sent chills down my spine. It was almost disturbing in a sense. I'm currently writing a collective history of almost everything I could find on the Mall on the internet. The entire plot of Herscu and how his most prized creation was his undoing is almost poetic.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! When you finish your history on the project, please share!

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    2. I sure will! Hopefully we can get some more pictures of Forest Fair Mall soon. Also, where in the Mall did you take the picture of the almost completely pitch black area (first picture in the post)?

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  32. Great article! Haven't been here in several years, my last visit - around 2013 - made me wonder how much longer the mall would remain open. I'm really surprised it's still around.

    Does anyone have photos of the mall from the mid-late 1990s? I used to go there quite often, and remember fondly the bookstore - Brentanos, or something? I really liked the mall more before it was refurbished around 2004. Does anyone have photos of the old mall layout or interior?

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  33. Great article man! I am around the same age as you (born in 89) and my youth was spent in the sandbox, laser tag, putt putt and the cinemas (which Im sure you remember had those really cool neon lights outside the entrance and inside). I also miss the awesome pool ball machine thing. I tell myself if Time Out Zone was still there today Id always be going haha. There just isn't many pics out there unfortunately, one day I may dig through old photos, who know there may be some I can post. Anyway thanks for writing!

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  34. This article was exactly what I was looking for. I go there on occasion. Half to go to Arcade Legacy and half to just wander around and "feel" the memories I used to have there. Meeting my Dad in the bookstore (Brentano's?) after playing arcade games under where the empty Showcase isThank you so much for accompanying pictures, I can't get enough pictures of that place in its prime. As for the Segway cop, I too had a run-in with him. I was by the center elevator, took a pic and immediately heard a faint whirl of a small motor. "Hey man! Can't take pictures in here." "Why not?!" "It's just mall policy. Sorry man, nothing personal, just doing my job"

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  35. I remember my first visit, right after it opened. I bought a 2 live crew tape. I remember going all the time with my high school buddies after we could drive. I remember dating my first girlfriend and going to FFM all the time. I remember buying neon accessories for my first car at Biggs. So many great memories at this place... its a shame.

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  36. Forgot to mention I would go to Bourbon street (the club complex) a lot with my friends... what good times!

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  37. I used to work at the Spencer's Gifts and then the Waves Music store that was next to it after Spencer's closed (1998-99). Also worked at the Haunted House for a couple years (1997-98). A lot of great memories at that mall and such a shame to see it in the state that it is. I swear though, we used to think that mall was haunted. When working there late nights we would definitely see and hear a lot of strange things. I still frequent Kohl's often and Bass Pro shops usually around Christmas with the kids. The Bee Active adventure place is pretty cool and reasonably priced for the kids as well. We even rented it for a birthday party a few years back.

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  38. The Black Friday is the best time to get discount. You can also get discount is Siteground Black Friday sale is live now. Enjoy,.

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  39. Wow, this is a really great article. I remember that ball machine making the noises as a kid! I was just telling my girlfriend about it the other day and happened to find this article. So many memories there. I remember those strange huge bronze colored doors for the movie theater entrances. As a kid, I always loved going to Biggs. They had the biggest toy selection that any grocery store ever had. lol My dad actually worked for the company that installed the speakers throughout the mall back in the late 80s. He said that back then they thought that place was going to be a huge success and was surprised with how many times its failed. Such a shame. But on a good note, I'll be taking my daughter to that arcade legacy thanks to this article.

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  40. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmGBUt__gTY
    There's a video out on YouTube showing the construction of Forest Fair Mall, back in 1987. It's rather fascinating.

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    1. Thank you for sharing this! This is awesome.

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  42. I remember being upset when the mall was under renovation. I was hoping that they would put more rides in, but that never occurred. I really believe that this space would be well used as an indoor theme park. Cincinnati has many entertainment centers and two indoor water parks, yet we really lack the indoor amusement territory. Add some kick-ass coasters and thrill rides, it might actually become a functioning site again.

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    1. I'd be wary of how successful and "indoor theme park" might be. Great Wolf Lodge does well because it's tied into a full, quality resort and has Kings Island open and next to it most of the year. "Coco Key/Splash" in Sharonville is a bit of a dump with a long history of problems. Both Forest Fair and Tri-County Mall each had their runs with indoor theme parks, albeit small ones, neither lasting. If you made larger rides and attractions ala Kings Island you run into huge maintenance costs. Not to mention, the Mall of America seems to be able to sustain that due to having a ton of stores. I don't see Forest Fair becoming that.

      Definitely think it'd be a cool idea though.

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