Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Checking in on an Old Friend

In a way, the pseudo-abandoned mall north of Cincinnati encapsulates many of this website's themes from over the years: crumbling consumerism, abandonment/urban exploration, history, fading advertisements, nostalgia, and personal connection. I grew up going here, I’ve written about it twice, and I still find myself coming back on occasion to see how things are. It's like checking in on an old friend who lives in an incredibly unique time and place.

The first article dropped just over a decade ago. A follow up, when the mall had fallen even further, was born out of the retail jubilee known as Black Friday in 2015.

The place is still a topic of fascination, curiosity, and (sub)urban legend for not just locals, but people all across god’s great internet. What is technically known as Forest Fair Village (née Cincinnati Mall (née Cincinnati Mills (née Forest Fair Mall))) pops up all the time between social media, dead mall devotees, redditors, and even as the topic of click-bait bullshit (using images often stolen from here).

The previous QC/D posts summarize the shopping complex's history succinctly, so I’ll just skip to the present on this one as I type from the Starbucks down the street (since the mall's Starbucks is long gone).

- The Starbucks used to be straight ahead.

I happened to find myself there on Memorial Day, walking beneath the American flag motifs in one of the mall’s three mostly-empty wings. The Kohl’s and Bass Pro Shop anchors were populated with their holiday sales, but the the Babies "R" Us had finally called it quits. The gym and inflatable kid’s zone were still open. The local gem known as Arcade Legacy was also very much alive and well (although closed for the day).

This was the quietest I’d ever experienced the place. There was no music echoing down the empty hallways and there were hardly any walkers shuffling about. The old Media Play had a sign up warning about ongoing police training. The candy in the gumball machines had been under dust for Bazooka Joe knows how long. The escalators, riddled with dirt and debris, had simply become stairs. A lot of the furniture had been removed, but at least one decent chair/couch combo still remained for a security guard to utilize while charging his phone.

Despite still technically open and in business, the mall's "abandoned aura" was stronger than it'd ever been compared to my previous decade's worth of visits. Mop buckets (many of them emblazoned with the names of former tenants after the words “property of”) littered the hallways while catching a chorus of leaks form the ceilings. In one wing, there was something I had never noticed before: the phrase “ta da!

It was posted up there like a jubilant exclamation, marking the entrance to the main mall. This visual was installed when the place re-debuted as Cincinnati Mills circa 2003 almost as if was trying to say...

“Ta da!”

Can you believe it!? 

Everything that’s changed?

All the progress we made!

Finally, this mall has made it (we've been trying since '88)!

Cincinnati Mills has arrived!

“Ta da!”

- Insert Mitch Hedberg joke here.

- Food Court.

- Former Media Play.


  1. Wow, that is indeed a lot of mop buckets.

    Seriously, where does something like this go from here? Knock out the back wall of Biggs and put in a sea of loading docks? Maybe then you could lure someone like Amazon or a box store to use the place as a distribution center. Course then you've got an industrial building in the heart of a commercial park. What a mess.

    It's honestly pretty amazing to me that it continues to look the same every time it's toured. It's amazing they can afford to keep the lights on and the place air conditioned. Did it seem like they had shut down any areas or could you just wander aimlessly? It's unfortunate that Kohls and Bass Pro are anchoring the opposite ends of two wings, as they're pretty much obligated to maintain (to some degree) the space in between. Is there anything on the old Biggs end though? Or is that wing closed off?

    1. I'm not entirely sure. In my estimation/assumption/opinion—they (the mall) don't really need to go anywhere it seems. I'm not sure what it costs to maintain/heat/cool the building, but what few tenants they do have must either make up for those costs or offset it enough to where they're content. I don't think the property owners or any potential buyers have any allusions about revamping it/making it a mall. I imagine they're just sitting on the land until it can be sold for something more valuable. When the FC Cincinnati stadium saga was going on, the property owners came out of the woodwork to tout how the mall would be a great location (it wouldn't, but I think it was just a chance to say "hey, we've got a bunch of land for sale").

      When I was there most recently, the AC was shut off in the main wings, but it seemed the tenants (the gym) still had AC. At night, the place is incredibly dark in the halls. It surprises me that they've never closed off the inside, but they can't cut off access to the arcade (which sits almost dead center). I imagine constructing barriers to close off the other wings is either too costly or violates some fire code so they seem to leave it open and just let people roam (which is cool).

      Interestingly enough about Bass Pro and Kohl's, they no long have open entry ways to the mall interior. They now have glass doors that are usually locked. Accessing those stores from the outside is the best bet.

      In the Bigg's wing, there's a gym at the far end and the wing is still totally accessible.

      And in regards to Amazon—there are a ton of a Prime delivery trucks in the mall parking lot (some totally brand new and waiting to be painted). I don't think Amazon is storing anything at the mall, but they're doing something there. The company actually has a large sorting/distribution facility a few miles down near Route 4 and West Chester.

  2. I'll chime here... So what about the old wing that was the America live complex what's there now where all the bars used to be? I remember this place well as mom worked as a busser in the food court and would go to the mall nighty usually to the trout on the court arcade and Biggs. This was about the time that are and around the doid court was gang infested nightly especially weekends. Such memories used to go to the dollar movies on Saturdays, saw movies such as home alone way to many times there.

    1. So, "America Live" is a part of the mall's history that's somewhat lost on me. I don't really remember where that was physically located in the mall as I was way too young to visit those bars. I vaguely remember where Burbanks was, but I think all of that might've been remodeled/rerouted during the Mills renovation (shit, remember when there was both an upstairs AND downstairs food court?).

      The Time Out on the Court Arcade (and mini golf) was amazing. As for the "gang infestation," I've always been dubious about that. Growing up nearby, everyone always claimed that gangs freely roamed the mall, but I don't think people understand what gangs do/where they like to actually hang out. This mall failed in so many other areas, that even if gangs were coming in droves, that was only a minor problem compared to the property's financial woes.

    2. I can't remember the original anchor store, but it was converted to the bars/restaurant area that Burbanks was in, then converted back into an anchor store to be the Burlingtons store.

    3. Interesting, I always thought Burlington was new/added when the mall underwent its first revitalization attempt before Mills Corp jumped in.

  3. Former media wasn't this where before that it was a comp usa or was this where guitar center was?

    1. The Media Play was added to the mall as an outside anchor in the late 90s, just before the Mills renovation (why they built it outside instead of inside where they had plenty of space, I'll never know). Comp USA and Guitar Center were around the back near Biggs.

  4. I spent my high school years in this mall as it opened when I was a freshman. When I walk to the arcade with my kids and try to explain the place to them they are fascinated and befuddled by it all.

    1. I love that.

      I'm a big fan of Arcade Legacy, what they do, and what they offer—but I Have to be honest. My favorite thing about them is their location because it forces parts of the mall to stay open/accessible.