LIMA — Actress Dorothy Lamour, who joined Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in a series of “On the Road” movies in the 1940s, found herself on the road at the American Mall in October 1966 cutting the ribbon at the shopping center’s “official” grand opening.
It had not been an easy road to the grand opening for the mall’s developer, William M. Cafaro and Associates of Youngstown.
Almost from the time of the announcement in September 1963 that a shopping center was planned for the former Koop dairy farm on West Elm Street, there was opposition. Nearby property owners sought injunctions to block it. The city rejected several requests to have city waterlines extended to it. And then, in September 1964, city workers barricaded West Market Street when Cafaro employees attempted to extend the road to the mall. The following day, three Cafaro employees were arrested when they attempted to remove the barricades.
As 1964 drew to a close, a spokesman for Cafaro vowed the shopping center would go up with or without city cooperation.
In December 1964, the developer announced plans to drill a 170-foot well to provide water, but a more visible sign of that determination came in February 1965 when the Wards Auto Service Center became the first business to open its doors at the mall. The Montgomery-Ward department store “is expected to open shortly, after the Public Square store closes in March,” The Lima News reported Feb. 24, 1965. Wards department store opened in the mall March 18, 1965.
By the summer of 1965, charges were dropped against the Cafaro employees for attempting to remove the Market Street barricade. And, as traffic increased on West Elm Street with more mall stores opening, support increased for the extension of West Market Street, particularly from parents of students at St. Charles elementary school on West Elm Street.
“The shadow of West Market Street arches ever more westward,” the News wrote July 29, 1965. “Soon it’s expected to take shape and substance and become a twin-stemmed boulevard reality to Eastown Road. The city planning commission recommended Wednesday that city council finally open the 400-foot strip of unimproved street between city-erected barriers at Lawnwood Avenue and the eastern edge of Howlindan Subdivision.” On August 19, 1965, city crews pulled down the barricades and work began on extending pavement toward an already completed section that stretched east from Eastown Road. When a neighborhood committee announced plans a month later to turn the West Market Street boulevard into a “boulevard of roses,” Cafaro donated $500 to the project.
Montgomery-Ward soon was getting company in the mall. “While official opening days have not been announced, several merchants constructing stores in the American Mall are expected to be open for business sometime this month,” the News wrote Nov. 1, 1965. Among them was Cleveland-based Bailey’s Department Store.
“It is pleasant to extend a friendly, sincere welcome to newcomers, especially when they promise to be valued additions to our community,” the News editorialized Nov. 9, 1965. “Such is the case today as we join others in hailing Monday’s opening of Bailey’s Department Store in the American Mall.”
On June 22, 1966, a full-page ad in the News touted the mall’s 19 stores “with more to come offering everything for family, fashion, home, auto, garden and vacation. The American Mall, the ad promised, “offers a new world of shopping splendor for the families of Northwestern Ohio. Regardless of where you live in a 25-35 mile radius of Lima, all roads lead quickly and conveniently to this all new shopping complex completely under one roof, air-conditioned and designed for your shopping pleasure.”
A little more than a year after the News welcomed Bailey’s, Bailey’s left. On Feb. 16, 1967, the News announced Bailey’s was closing its mall store, to be replaced by Welles Department Store, which already had an outlet in Northland Plaza.
Unlike the Lima Mall, which opened with and has retained J.C. Penney and Sears-Roebuck as major retailers, the American Mall would lose several major retailers over the years, beginning with Bailey’s.
The loss of Bailey’s notwithstanding, the American Mall was doing well. “We’re still in our growing stage,” John Newton, president of the American Mall Merchants Association told the News on Feb. 25, 1968. Two years later, on Feb. 15, 1970, the American Mall boasted 33 retail outlets.
After September 1987, the Mall could no longer boast of a water tower. The 375-foot structure, rendered unnecessary by the extension of city water lines to the mall in 1973, was sold for $20,000 and moved to a suburb of Dallas, Texas. “A lot of people are going to miss it,” Frank Melton, the mall maintenance supervisor, told the News on Sept. 12, 1987. “For years, while this part of town was growing up, people used that old water tower as a reference point for getting around.”
Always perceived as Lima’s “other mall,” the American Mall was struggling by the 1990s. It was hoped the opening of an Anderson’s General Store on the mall’s west end to go with Value City on the east end would spur growth. On May 15, 1994, the News wrote, “The number of vacant storefronts at the American Mall hasn’t changed much since the arrival of Anderson’s General Store last October. A store or two left, another moved in. But the expected rush of new tenants into the shopping complex hasn’t happened yet.” By 2009, the Anderson’s was the American Mall’s last tenant. The store closed its doors that November.
When plans for what a Cafaro executive called, “an open concept property,” which would include a medical office building, fell through in 2010, the mall’s fate was sealed. On Nov. 5, 2010, workers opened the mall, according to the News, to sell “equipment, scraps and sundry from the once-popular mall.” Demolition began in mid-December 2013.
The American Mall was among the first generation of enclosed malls in the country, a fact Anthony Cafaro Jr., co-president of the Cafaro Co., said his grandfather took pride in.
“Although our company has developed millions of square feet of commercial shopping centers since American Mall in over a dozen states across the country, the former American Mall and Lima, Ohio, still hold a special place in our hearts and memories,” Cafaro wrote in an e-mail. “In fact, as a kid growing up in our family business, I fondly recall my grandfather’s sense of pride whenever discussing American Mall. Although he took pride in every property he developed, I always got the sense that he perceived his first major development — American Mall — as the accomplishment that firmly established him and his business.” William M. Cafaro died in April 1998.
Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.