Dead Mall: Richmond Town Square (Richmond Heights, Ohio)

TL;DR: Fuck this place.

History: The Richmond Mall opened in 1966 as part of the Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr. empire – at one point the largest operator of malls in the country – with anchors JCPenney and Sears at each end, and Woolworth as a minor anchor near the center court. Elsewhere in its history, the mall also had a Kroger supermarket and a single-screen Loews East that was ultimately carved into eight (!!) screens.

Three decades later, DeBartolo’s company was acquired by Simon Malls, and Richmond underwent a serious revitalization project and expansion. Along with the name change to Richmond Town Square and major renovations inside and out: the mall added a food court in the former Kroger space, a modern 20-screen Lowes megaplex next door, and expanded with a new two-story Kaufmann’s department store as an east anchor – which had been lured away from the struggling Euclid Square Mall. All were completed by 1998. Richmond Town SquareSimon sold the mall in 2014 and it changed hands again just last December. Federated Department Stores assimilated Kaufmann’s into the Macy’s brand in 2006, and in the early phase of their current turmoil: closed this store. The mall has been in a slow decline ever since, with the shells of many national retailers now either vacant or replaced by independent and hip-hop oriented retailers (and a huge wig superstore); but just in the last five months have things really shit the bed with both Sears AND JCPenney announcing their store closings within two months of each other, which will effectively leave this mall completely anchorless.

…and management is in serious panic mode trying to repurpose the vacant anchor stores, as well as stave off any bad press. How do we know the latter, you ask?

Explore: I was in Cleveland for a night, so I met up with longtime Flickr friend, otterphoto, who was cool to show me some of the highs and lows of Cleveland-area retail. After a quick detour through the ritzy Legacy Village lifestyle center, we landed here about a half-hour before closing. The plan was to wander briefly, then shoot what we could before the inevitable “GTFO” from mall security and move onto another. Richmond Town Square
Other than some signage falling off at the mall entrance just northwest of JCPenney, the interior was actually rather clean and seemed well-kept. We never did get to shoot this half of the mall… we started at the other end by Sears, whose space was last being used for special events like holiday photo ops and celebrity appearances.
Richmond Town SquareRichmond Town SquareThe newer Macy’s wing is interesting as the store was built with two floors, and had entrances to both levels from within the mall, even though the mall itself has always been single-story. These escalators are, however, blocked off.
Richmond Town SquareThe food court once featured a Ruby Tuesday sitdown restaurant, across from the traditional lineup of mall eateries and a large seating area. This area on the east end of the mall was originally the Kroger supermarket and old Loews East theater. Also, note the older Subway signage…

Despite keeping our presence lowkey so as not to creep out shoppers and employees, security quickly caught onto us after this last flick, and we were confronted by a lone guard.

For context: in wake of post-9/11 paranoia, nearly every shopping mall in America has since explicitly banned photography of any kind for one asinine reason or another, and it’s become increasingly difficult to document these places that are disappearing amid a social and economic climate that’s drastically changed since their construction. These are, however, mere property rules — and until things really get pervy or invasive, there is nothing criminal (at all) about photography at a mall. Both of us were used to being caught taking pictures at other malls, and in every prior case we’ve either been asked to stop and/or leave the property. That’s about the extent of mall security’s power until things become a felony matter, but as usual we were prepared to comply with either reasonable request.

This place is far more aggressive, however… we were detained and held until we erased our pictures — both illegal. We made this very clear while the guy continued to try and intimidate us and threaten to call the police, but I finally ceded because we were time strapped… much as I’d have liked the cops to show up and slap this power-tripping prick for wasting their time. Not to mention recovering deleted photos from an SD card is actually way easier than recovering a dead mall.

We were then let go, but yelled at again for trying to go out the door we actually came in, and wound up out the door south of the former Kaufmacy’s. Anyone else who tries shooting here (do it!): beware of the security guard with a tongue piercing and know your rights. Oh, and tell him “Chicago” says hi.

Deerbrook in Headlights

TL;DR: A suburban shopping center with a long-struggling and largely-forgotten enclosed mall for a core is finally put out of its misery.

Deerbrook MallHistory:  Deerbrook Mall (named for the bordering villages of Northbrook and Deerfield, which it serves) was a fairly small regional mall buried within a traditional strip mall, but initially fared well thanks to its placement at a busy intersection, and a stone’s throw from Walgreens’ corporate headquarters.

The mall opened in 1971 and featured a warm colonial theme with streetlights, cobblestone walkways, recessed seating areas, and a fountain in the center court. The mall was anchored to the south by Montgomery Ward, and Turn-Style to the north (with an attached, external Jewel-Osco grocery store further north – Jewel being Turn-Style’s parent company). Slightly-later additions included Marshall’s in the center court, and to the west a General Cinema twin. A Brunswick bowling center was also built behind the mall in the 70s; later joined by an auto service center and what is presently an indoor sports arena.

Deerbrook Mall - c.1980
c.1980 directory via Jim Futrell

The anchor stores changed hands and names countless times over the following decades. Montgomery Ward closed in the 1980s and was divided into three retail spaces with a small mall expansion at the northernmost end of the store. The southernmost space became a Service Merchandise catalog retailer, the middle a Spiegel outlet, and anchoring the mall expansion: Designer Depot, a failed division of Kmart that only survived into January 1987. John M. Smyth’s Homemakers furniture gallery took that space over a year later, and hung around until being converted into a Best Buy from the mid-90s until 2012. Since 2014 the space has operated as a Hobby Lobby.

Service Merchandise and Spiegel were both closed by the mid-90s. An Illinois Secretary of State’s office briefly occupied part of the former space, and SportMart then opened in the latter space, before moving to the other side of the mall in the early-2000s. The two vacant spaces were then reunited as a Sears-owned “The Great Indoors” furniture superstore in 2002, then in 2012 a pathetically short-lived children’s superstore called Wonder!. This space is currently vacant, again.

Deerbrook Mall - Late-'80s
c.1988-89 directory via Jim Futrell

Jewel sold the entire Turn-Style chain to Venture in 1979, who rode out a 10-year lease at this store then bailed. The mall was expanded partially into this space (housing a huge Blockbuster Video), but the mall expansion was retracted when SportMart relocated to that area. The Sports Authority acquired SportMart and rebranded in 2005, but liquidated last year and is currently vacant. Bed Bath & Beyond and a few smaller stores are now in the rest of the Venture space.

Finally: Marshalls was acquired by the TJX Companies in 1995, and at some point that store was converted into a TJ Maxx, who ultimately stuck around until the very end.

Still with me?

The Waukegan Road-facing side of the mall was facelifted around 2001 and began to emphasize a modern strip mall design – or at least emulate it from the busier side of the mall, as the rear entrance by the General Cinema was left in its 1971-state until the end – only changing slightly when the stucco rock facade was either removed or fell off on its own. The mall interior was also given an ultra-abstract remodel somewhere before, or around the time Best Buy was added – but maintained a high vacancy rate for decades, and toward the end was pretty much serving as a glorified entrance to TJMaxx.

General Cinema, which was located in a back corner of the mall, also shuttered on February 24, 2001; five years after the same company opened a 14-screen multiplex at Northbrook Court, literally two minutes east, and four months after General Cinema itself filed for Chapter 11. The theater never re-opened.
Deerbrook Mall - 2003A 2003 leasing map shows only six stores open in the mall interior – with the adjacent Brunswick bowling center also leasing a couple of stores purely for storage – and the others all having outside entrances. By the end of the decade, the only holdouts were TJ Maxx, Famous Footwear, and a Boston Market. The latter two were gone within a couple years, and in 2014, TJ Maxx finally announced it would relocate to Village Square in Northbrook — effectively closing the mall interior for good, and leaving the village and realtors scrambling for the next three years to rejuvenate the site.

Deerbrook Demo Explore: Somehow this completely slipped under my radar, but the other week I found out through a Facebook group that Deerbrook’s interior mall was being demolished – finally delivering on a de-malling plan from 12 years, ago! Double-suck: it had already been completely gutted from asbestos abatement, and structural demo was underway on TJ Maxx and the cinema. The next day, I rushed over after work and had no trouble getting in where they had punched-through, as the contractors had gone home and I was still in my work clothes. Nobody at the neighboring arena gave me a second lookStripped MallMall MummyThe basic layout of the mall and everything molded into the floor was still there, but beyond the theater and TJ Maxx, it was just an empty shell housing a minefield of scrap metal piles, a handful of storefront windows and gates, and whatever bare studs and supports were left in place. The walls for Hobby Lobby and the former Sports Authority, whose buildings are being retained, were early in the process of having permanent walls constructed and therefore still paper thin. You could clearly hear Muzak, voices, and pretty much any sound on the other side of the wall in Hobby Lobby.
This Mall is MetalsDeerbrook in HeadlightsThe center court still retained the flying-saucer ceiling lights that were installed in a later remodel, but otherwise all of the mall’s abstract wall and ceiling treatments had been removed. The mall’s fountain, which once featured bronze mushrooms and frogs – and even remained functioning years after every other mall in the area had long turned theirs off – was finally dry and had been picked-clean. Not even a stray penny to be found. Buried under the scrap pile lies one of the sunken seating areas.
TJ Suxx Mad Maxx B&WNever the Same Place AgainMCMXCVITJ Maxx, despite the major demo work already underway, otherwise looked as it did the day it closed beyond the scrappers pulling all of the fluorescent bulbs and ballasts out of the ceiling for recycling. At time of writing, this store has now been demolished.
The Show Must Not Go On Gee-See-SeeThe one spot in this mall that had my interest, however – even years before finally getting my ass down here – was the 15-year mothballed General Cinema four-screen. Unfortunately it was too late to see the latter-three auditoriums, which in the 1980s had been squeezed into what was originally theater #2 and had already been leveled; however theater #1 was still very-much in tact.
Popcorn Bob Pepsi SueThree-Two-FourDeerbrook Cinema was remodeled somewhere in the mid-1990s with new seats, carpeting, and a remodeled lobby/concession area. Unfortunately all of it only saw a few years’ use before the theater closed. Now with the theater being torn down, all of these seats are going to waste, and it’s especially shitty considering the number of budding community theaters popping up in Lake County, especially around Antioch and Waukegan, who could have probably used them.
The Last Picture Show in DeerfieldEvery Seat in the House is Badimg155Scrounging around the auditorium, I did find a ticket stub for the last show, here: a February 24, 2001 showing of Cast Away… fitting.

After a final, major cleanup (probably including the transfer of much of the equipment and functional things to Northbrook 14) the place was mothballed; leaving only the main signs, fixtures, and Pepsi fountains (GCC switched to Coke products in the months leading to 2002’s merger with AMC Theatres) behind. Trying to find anything, even some garbage with the General Cinema logo, was a challenge… a clean popcorn bucket required climbing atop the theater’s entrance foyer to retrieve it.

What now?

S&B&WPer the Trib: the mall interior and theater are being torn down so an access road can be built to the otherwise-obscured sports arena, NTB, and Brunswick Zone behind it. OfficeMax, Ulta, and Art Van Furniture will then build new stores, on the mall site – while a new Stein Mart is slated to take over the existing OfficeMax space toward the north end of the mall. Jewel-Osco is also rebuilding a bigger store on the north end, and at the opposite end: the village is hoping to land a Sam’s Club for the former Montgomery Ward anchor. Hopefully the combined effort will finally revitalize this long-maligned, but prime chunk of retail space in the North Shore.

PS: For some great vintage views of this mall, check out its Labelscar entry!

Polaroid Week – Spring ’17

The first Polaroid Week of the year is just another week… lately I’ve actually been carrying an instant camera for everyday use and snapshots, and only breaking the digital out for explores and dedicated shoots.

The week started with a preview weekend at Six Flags Great America. I finally burned-off some year-old Impossible SX-70 stuff – one of which turned out fine. The Supermannequin is on the current stock. The development times are considerably faster on the new film, but I’m not yet sold on the color rendition compared to last year’s. I imagine this stuff will, however, really shine in bright sunlight.12:27 SupermannequinMonday I rode out to McHenry for business and to raid the local record store. For whatever reason, the owner had to close for a half-hour, so I drove around looking for a subject. I brought my 250 Land Camera and some long-expired ID-UV that I scored on eBay late last year, with the intention of shooting an abandoned sign for the still-open Outdoor Theater on the east side of town. However, it turns out that sign’s now gone.

Eventually I found the local roller rink and shot their sign, instead. This stuff’s from 2008 and the chemicals are starting to dry up, but this happened to be a happy case where the spread failure (white cone at 9:00) works with the image, rather than ruins it.
Just For FunThe remaining SX-70 shots were burned at my regular job. When you work shitty hours most of the week, you kind of look for and take whatever photo opportunities you can. Ms. Pac-Man was with my Alpha, and the lockers were with a Sonar.
The Ms. Protect Your BallsI had more photos in mind for the week, but wound-up distracted in the second-half. Until October…

The Ghost of Sears’ Future

TL;DR: Dead Sears attached to a dead mall… what else is new?

Searboldt's  (LM-2)History: This anchor was originally built for the Chicago-based Wieboldt’s department store, who opened in 1973 with a full-line store and in-store restaurant; remaining until that chain went under in 1986. This anchor was then mothballed for nine years until Sears entered the picture, renovating and re-opening the store in 1995 as the cherry atop the mall’s first revitalization effort.

After riding-out the mall’s troubles when two other anchors bailed between 1999-2000, and the disastrous redevelopment in the mid-2000s which was never finished: the store finally fell in 2012 as the then-latest victim of CEO Eddie Lampert’s fuck-all attitude toward the company’s brick and mortar. It’s been gathering dust ever since; and even after the shuttered mall was cracked in early-2016, whored to the media by urbex’s favorite toilet scrubber last November, and subsequently swarmed by explorers and otherwise from as far as Ohio to MSP in a matter of two months: this store’s largely remained undocumented until now…

Ghost of Sears' Future

Explore: We arrived to find two squads sitting at the entry point, but after a few minutes the officers exited the mall and departed. We were soon in with no trouble at all, and decided it would be best to seal the entrance up with debris in case someone got nosy later on. A quick sweep of the mall (by the way: it’s been absolutely thrashed since we wrote about it a few months, ago) confirmed I was alone, and we then ducked under the crudely pried open gate into the almost pitch-dark store’s second floor.
Gumby(s) & PokeyVacuum Cleaner Sucks Up Budgie!Literally Anywhere Else Sears and Kmart stores tend to strip any markings or displays left behind; dumpstering any unsold fixtures and leaving just an empty shell. Pretty much cut and paste, here — until you get to the lower level. Some wallpaper promoting the name-brand hardlines Sears once carried, and signs for the in-store services (portrait studio, optical, etc.) are still up; but otherwise it’s the same, here. The Last StepWatery Grave Despite how thrashed the mall is, this store actually remains fairly untouched since closing, save for a layer of dust from discharged fire extinguishers. I want to say most of the damage to the walls comes merely from the liquidators who stripped it of its fixtures in 2012. There is, however, evidence of mold growing on the walls in one area – likely due to a combination of no climate control since power was cut to the mall, and the completely flooded loading docks.

I had planned to spend the day re-shooting the rest of the mall, however an alarming discovery changed those plans. Turns out all the mouth breathers who blew this spot up warranted the court-appointed receiver who oversees the property to hire a private security firm; who patrols the mall inside and out, and stashes their crap in this store at the end of their shift. A glance at their daily log revealed they were due to arrive in about 20 minutes… and with that, we made a prompt exit. The Ghost of Sears' FutureA county judge has since ordered the immediate demolition of the mall and this anchor, which could begin as soon as next month. Meanwhile, even Sears corporate seems ready to throw in the towel