FOREST FAIR MALL
South Gilmore Road and Kolb Drive
Forest Park and Fairfield, Ohio


This SHOPPING MALL MUSEUM exhibit will be a homage to one of the most notorious dead malls of all...namely, Greater Cincinnati's FOREST FAIR. Conceived as America's original supermall, the complex was situated on a 116 acre plot, located 14.3 miles north of Fountain Square.

The site straddled the counties of Hamilton and Butler, with two thirds of the mall structure lying within the Hamilton County city of Forest Park and the remainder being in the Butler County city of Fairfield.

Atlanta-based Hooker Development, a subsidiary of Australia's L.J. Hooker Corporation, commenced construction on FOREST FAIR MALL in 1986. At the helm of the project was George Herscu, executive chairman of the L.J. Hooker company.

It was Herscu's original intention to have retailers such as Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, Cleveland's Higbee's and a Cincinnati-based bigg's hypermarket anchor the prospective shopping hub. When deals with Marshalls, Maxx and Higbee's didn't pan out, Herscu decided that toney specialty retailers, such as New York City's B. Altman and Bonwit Teller, as well as Houston's Sakowitz, would fit the bill.

When these retailers also balked at opening stores in Herscu's FOREST FAIR project, he bought them out, or established controlling interest. Bonwit Teller was acquired in May 1987, B. Altman in October. An 80 percent share in Sakowitz was also established at that time. A 65 percent share of Birmingham, Alabama-based Parisian was established in April 1988.

Hooker was a real estate development entity. The firm was now entering the realm of department store retail management, in which it had no expertise. No marketing studies were conducted for the placement of the mall, or its upscale selection of retailers. It -and they- were simply built.

The first section of the mall, the single-level East Wing, opened for business in July 1988. It was anchored by a 1-level (245,000 square foot) bigg's hypermarket, a predecessor of today's Wal-Mart Supercenter. There were thirty-seven inline stores.

Phase Two, with two levels and approximately one hundred and sixty store spaces, was officially dedicated March 1, 1989. The opening was an auspicious, week-long affair hosted by comedienne Phylis Diller and featuring performances by the country-rock band Exile.

Anchoring the new section of FOREST FAIR MALL were a 2-level (199,000 square foot) B. Altman, 2-level (84,000 square foot) Bonwit Teller, 2-level (144,700 square foot) Parisian and 2-level (150,000 square foot), Dayton-based Elder-Beerman (that chain's 33rd location). A junior anchor-sized, 2-level Sakowitz was in inline space in the West Wing of the complex (that chain's 6th location).

Stores and services in the 1,420,000 square foot shopopolis included Little Professor Books, Pappagallo Modern Classic Shoes, Bankhardt's Luggage & Gifts and a 2-level Sports USA. At the center of the center was a 2-level Food Court with tenants such as Le Peep, Gold Star Chili, Wallaby Bob's Brew Pub, Skolniks Bagel Bakery and Blue Chip Cookies.

Adjacent to the Food Court was Time Out On the Court, a 2-level indoor amusement park complete with a thirty-horse carousel, ferris wheel, 18-hole mini golf course, bumper cars, basketball hoops, pitching and batting cages, various kiddie rides, a video arcade and Forest Fair 8 multiplex.

Although successful at first, the mall soon hit hard times. The reasons for this were many, with the most obvious being that the multifaceted shopping complex, with all its high-end department stores, was located in a very middle class section of Greater Cincinnati. Moreover, names such as B. Altman, Sakowitz, Bonwit Teller or Parisian were unknown to the local populace.

Also contributing to the rapid rise and fall of FOREST FAIR MALL was the fact that the complex was too close for comfort to retail rivals such as TRI-COUNTY MALL (1960) {2.8 miles southeast, in Springdale} or NORTHGATE MALL (1972) {5.6 miles southwest, in Hamilton County}.

KENWOOD PLAZA, a circa-1956 strip center {10 miles southeast, in Hamilton County}, emerged from a 100 million dollar renovation in 1988, becoming KENWOOD TOWNE CENTRE in the process. It soon became established as Greater Cincinnati's preeminent shopping venue, much to the detriment of the new FOREST FAIR MALL.

Hooker Corporation, strained by the mall's 250 million dollar construction cost (which was 50 million dollars over budget) and debt incurred from the purchase of two department store chains (as well as controlling interest in two more) found itself 1.7 billion dollars in the red.

George Herscu resigned from his executive chairman position in July 1989. The mall had been put up for sale the previous month. Hooker filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 1989 and was bought by an Australian concern in January 1990.

Going out of business sales for Bonwit Teller, B. Altman and Sakowitz commenced August 19, 1990. These stores closed soon after. Parisian had unhooked from Hooker in August 1989 and eventually recovered from its brush with disaster. Elder-Beerman and bigg's also survived.

The mall, itself, was taken over by a consortium of seven lenders, in January 1991. Known as the Forest Fair Mall Limited Partnership, they attempted a revitalization of the virtually vacant retail hub. A team of retail professionals was assembled. They divided the mammoth mall into four sections; Lifestyle, Fashion, Entertainment and Value. 8 million dollars was invested in various renovations and new stores were recruited to fill some of the empty space.

The old Bonwit Teller was refashioned into Festival At Forest Fair. This in-mall entertainment extravaganza held its gala grand opening August 29, 1993. It featured traveling stage shows, fashion shows, dance demonstrations, magician acts and a children's workshop. A section billed as America Live! included restaurants and nightclubs, such as Burbank's Real Bar-B-Q, Sports City Cafe, Ltl. Ditty's Theatre In The Round and Gator's Beach Bar.

B. Altman's space re-opened, as a Wisconsin-based Kohl's, in September 1994. The mall's original 8-plex had become a Super Saver 8 in 1992. CompUSA established a presence at FOREST FAIR in 1995.

With the mall sufficiently turned around, it was decided to put it on the open market for a second sales attempt. Enter North Miami Beach-based Gator Investments, who bought the property in April 1996.

Gator continued to renovate and repopulate the shopping center, eventually investing 58 million dollars in its ongoing renewal. Festival at Forest Fair morphed into Bourbon Street, a collection of three nightclubs, in 1996. Parisian pulled the proverbial plug on their FOREST FAIR store in July 1998. CompUSA became a Guitar Center on October 22 of the same year.

Bourbon Street was short-lived. New Jersey-based Burlington Coat Factory assumed its space October 27, 2000. A Stein Mart Outlet began business in the same month. The vacant Parisian space re-opened, as a Springfield, Missouri-based Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, November 2, 2000. Next came Metropolis, a three-venue nightclub complex, which debuted November 30, 2000. 

The first physical expansion of FOREST FAIR MALL, consisting of an 8,600 square foot enlargement of space on the Lower Level of the B. Altman / Kohl's Wing, was built as part of a new Media Play, which was dedicated November 17, 2000. A second expansion, consisting of 7,400 square feet added to the Lower Level of the Parisian / Bass Pro Shops Wing, became part of a new Saks Off Fifth Outlet. This store was dedicated March 15, 2001.

By this time, Time Out On The Court had been shuttered. It was replaced by a much smaller, 1-level attraction, known as the Wonderpark Family Fun Center. Consisting of various kiddie rides, it opened, on the lower level of the B. Altman / Kohl's Wing, in August 2001.

The old Food Court, adjacent to Time Out On The Court, had been closed off following a fire in 1993. It was finally renovated, with a new Food Court, known as Picnic On The River, being dedicated (on its Lower Level) in August 2001. Across the way, the now vacant Time Out space was reworked into a Steve & Barry's University Sportswear (Lower Level) and Showcase 10 Cinema (Upper Level). The new cinema replaced Moore's Fitness World, which relocated to the southeastern corner of the bigg's wing.

With Phase One of their renovation plan virtually complete, Gator Forest Partners sold the property to the Arlington, Virginia-based Mills Corporation, in September 2002. The final expansion of the complex consisted of a 16,600 square foot addition to the Upper Level of the Parisian / Bass Pro Shops Wing. The area opened, as a Babies "R" Us, in the spring of 2003.

Soon after, Mills decided to close the entire 1,460,000 square foot mall, save for its anchor stores. They embarked on a 70 million dollar renovation, which involved redecorating the interior, laying hardwood floors and installing a mall-wide, state-of-the-art video system.

As the remodeling got underway, Elder-Beerman decided that their FOREST FAIR location did not fit in with their long term plans. Their store was shuttered April 30, 2003.


Mills rededicated the shopping center August 19, 2004. A new name was bestowed; CINCINNATI MILLS. Along with the new moniker came a new anchor; a Latonia, Kentucky-based Johnny's Toys. It occupied the Upper Level of the vacant Elder-Beerman. This store lasted only a couple of years. Both levels of the store eventually became a relocated Steve & Barry's.

New stores that opened along with, or soon after, the change to CINCINNATI MILLS included Guess Factory Outlet, Casual Corner Annex, Wilson's Leather Outlet, Spiegel: The Ultimate Outlet, The Suit Factory, Margarita's Authentic Mexican Restaurant & Cantina and the Danbarry Dollar Saver Cinemas (in the Super Saver 8 spot).

The mall changed hands again, on April 3, 2007. The Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group and San Francisco-based Farallon Capital Management, Limited Liability Company formed a joint venture to acquire the holdings of the Mills Corporation.

Mills' mall renovation had not been entirely successful. By January 2008, there were sixty-six operational stores out of nearly two hundred spaces. The writing was on the wall...The Simon / Farallon joint venture sought to unload the albatross they had inherited. In December 2008, it was sold to North Star Realty, an operative of Raleigh, North Carolina-based Whichard Realty. 

With the transaction went the mall's moniker, as the Mills name was not a part of the sale. On March 4, 2009, all references to "Mills" were removed from signage and promotions. A third name for the complex was announced...CINCINNATI MALL. 

The super-sized center, which had been in various stages of ascendancy and decline for over 20 years, limped on. Tenants such as Media Play, Saks Off Fifth, Steve & Barry's, Bearean Book Store, Guitar Center, Urban Behavior and the Showcase 10 Cinemas, came and went. 

Perhaps the biggest nail in the coffin was driven when bigg's, the last remaining charter tenant, was shuttered in June 2008. Soon after, the entire East Wing of the mall was closed. The remainder of the 1,436,000 square foot buying behemoth was occupied by just forty stores and services.

World Properties Incorporated, of Floral Park, New York, acquired the struggling shopopolis in March 2010. They announced a 10 million dollar renovation which was to add a sports complex, complete with an ice rink and volleyball courts.

In addition, the mall, now promoted as a "multi-purpose driven facility", was to undergo another remarketing, with business, medical, educational and traditional retail tenants being courted. As a facet of this change in direction, the name of the complex was officially changed to FOREST FAIR VILLAGE in March 2012. 


An impediment to any retail renewal was the loss of the mall's Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, a tenant since late 2000. The store relocated, into a store at THE STREETS OF WEST CHESTER lifestyle center, in 2016.

Sources:

http://www.cincinnatimall.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati Magazine
The Dayton Daily News
The Syndney Morning Herald
http://cinbizjournals.com (Cincinnati Business Journals)
Hamilton County, Ohio property tax assessor website
Butler County, Ohio property tax assessor website
http://www.abandonedonline.net
http://www.scribd.com / Mike Rivest
http://www.davemenninger.com

"Cincinnati Mall" article on Wikipedia
www.forestfairvillage.com