Tower Place Mall in Cincinnati

Tower Place Mall in Cincinnati

I abhor malls, but they serve a purpose. When we moved to Cincinnati 8 years ago, I went to the now-defunct Tower Place Mall to get some boring work clothes, new underwear, etc. This kind of shopping is not really worth talking about, but its absence is.

It was really convenient to be able to take care of stuff like this right in the neighborhood, instead of venturing out to the ‘burbs. Kenwood Towne Centre? I’d rather die than spend an afternoon there.

Anyway, this mall seemed to be dying a slow death for a long time. For example, Nine West moved out and the De-Bugg Bedbug Elimination System moved in. Retail spaces were being used as meeting or office spaces, or sat empty, their windows decorated with the work of local artists. The place started emptying out more rapidly, and I only ever stopped in here to use the restroom.

One day earlier this year, the restroom was finally closed and, as I looked around, I noticed that everything was finally gone. Feeling as though I was the only person who’d survived the zombie apocalypse, I took these photos.

Tower Place Mall in Cincinnati

Tower Place Mall in Cincinnati

I went back the next day but the place was completely closed to the public. Luckily I’ve got these bizarre photos, including a panorama [click the photo to enlarge]:

Tower Place Mall in Cincinnati

In early May, I stopped by TJ Maxx on the edge of Tower Place Mall and found that it, too, was leaving downtown. Woe is me, where shall I buy socks and cheap sunglasses now?

TJ Maxx in Downtown Cincinnati

Tower Place Mall is going to be turned into a parking garage, with a bit of street-facing retail or restaurant space on the first floor, while the parking garage across the street will be razed and replaced with a high-end apartment building/parking garage. The new name is Mabley Place, recalling the Mabley & Carew department store, once located next door in Carew Tower:

Tower Place Mall in Cincinnati

I’m no expert on these matters, but it seems to me that there’s a ton of parking in downtown Cincinnati, and almost every residential project focuses on high-end apartments. Meanwhile, despite a rising population in the Basin, running mundane errands right in the neighborhood isn’t getting easier and, in some cases, options are disappearing. High-end boutiques and destination restaurants are great and all but don’t solve day-to-day problems for residents.

Whenever I post anything about the Basin, I tag it “urban life,” which is counter-intuitive because Cincinnati’s version of urbanity doesn’t entirely dovetail with my understanding of the term. Maybe I want this place to be more urban than it actually is.

17 thoughts on “Tower Place Mall in Cincinnati

  1. I love the death of malls. They demonstrate the inflexibility of homogeneous zonal planning, it inability to flex and bend with swinging economic and social flux. Imagine if this had residential spaces intermixed with shops. It could almost be a village, but the rental per square is too high for such lofty living, not everybody wants to live the suburban dream. Good photos by the way.

  2. Thanks for your comment! A mall in the heart of downtown may seem incongruous [although Circle Center in Indianapolis appears to be a success], but it does fill the need for convenient shopping in the neighborhood. I hate malls but love to be able to run these mundane errands in the neighborhood, and that’s been getting more difficult around here.

  3. The thing about this project is that it started at least a decade after the suburban mall boom in the 80s, and way after the demise of department stores (yes, I can remember when there were at least 4 downtown!). By that time, everyone had found other alternatives. Plus, a lot of the stores in Tower Place *were* high-end — Tiffany’s, etc., or touristy (which locals don’t shop at, only visitors). Now, there are so few jobs in this area that nobody can afford to shop at full-price stores like we used to, and that is all that is left downtown.

  4. Anne, thanks so much for your comment! I’m not sure that I entirely agree with you, though.

    For high-end options, Tiffany and Saks are still downtown, as is Macy’s, the mid-priced choice, and Payless is now the only discount store left [that I can think of]. Eight years ago, downtown had Nine West, Victoria’s Secret and [this is where I’m fuzzy on the specifics, but I think there a couple of these] Banana Republic, Limited, Express, NY&Co. or some such. Plus there was TJ Maxx.

    So, when we first moved here, I was able to do all my “boring” shopping right in the neighborhood, in the mid-range and discount stores mentioned. My point is that, when it comes to specific “special” purchases, I’m totally willing to travel, but this kind of no-nonsense, functional shopping was really convenient at the time.

    Over the past several years, downtown/OTR has celebrated an increase in population and, while I’m not sure that office jobs have increased, I think they’ve at least held steady. Can someone confirm or correct this?

    At the same time, there are several high-end boutiques in the area, but they’re not where one might go for the “boring” shopping I’m specifically focusing on here. There are also many more restaurants and bars, many of them high-end, so it seems like the residents and visitors are spending money in the area.

    What seems to be lacking are the sorts of amenities that don’t come with bragging rights — dry cleaners [there’s one downtown and there was briefly one on Vine St. in OTR], low-profile clothes shopping, non-concept restaurants, etc.

    I’ve heard from numerous neighbors over the years that they shop for groceries “where everyone else shops” — in the suburbs. I can’t imagine wanting to live here if that were my life. I try to shop in the neighborhood as much as I can, for groceries and anything else. To do otherwise just doesn’t really seem urban.

    In my case, I find myself increasingly doing any kind of clothes shopping when I’m not in Cincinnati, because that ends up being the most convenient way to avoid the local suburban malls — it’s also kind of ass-backwards if you think about it, traveling with half-filled luggage just so I can buy socks and t-shirts when I travel.

  5. That’s what I mean — there were and are high-end options, but nothing else but that remains, and nobody can afford those anymore. Back in the day, with a variety of department stores (Saks, but also Shillito’s, Pogue’s, and McAlpin’s, so there was a range in price) plus many other options (for example, speciality stores that were useful and not too pricey such as M. Hopple), downtown was THE shopping place. Now there does not seem to be much available.

    As for groceries — well, there are dozens of places there, more than any other place in town. My mom who is in her 80s does about 90% of her grocery shopping downtown. Butchers, bakers, Findlay, florists, drug stores — I don’t know what more people want! Every other neighborhood is trying to get a farmer’s market, maybe once a week.

    What I think is, we no longer know how to shop, or maybe no longer have the lifestyles that support the old shopping ways. We want it all, and we want it in one place, and we want it affordable. I have kids, so I have to drag them along.

  6. Anne, the grocery complaint makes no sense to me at all — that’s something that just isn’t lacking around here. Between Findlay Market, Vine St. Kroger and the various small shops downtown, there are tons of options, even though the days and hours may be a bit limited for some people.

    Personally, I’m not a fan of one-stop mall shopping. I go to Kenwood maybe once a year, and it’s always only because I need to go to the Apple store, and then I leave as fast as I can. Maybe that’s what most people prefer, though, which would explain the dwindling options elsewhere.

    Quimbob, I’ve been familiar with Circle Center in Indy for the past 14 years and, while I wouldn’t call it cool or unique or whatever, it seems to do pretty well — there are all kinds of chain stores, restaurants, a multi-screen movie theater, etc. I don’t know if it thrives, but business seems brisk, as far as I can tell.

    When we were there a few years ago, Michael got harassed by an overzealous security guard on a Segway because he dared to have his hood up indoors. It was a ridiculous incident, maybe spurred on by the trouble in your link. Malls seem to be magnets for groups of youths, so I’m not entirely surprised that there are some incidents [maybe more likely in an urban setting because you don’t need a car to get there].

  7. I went to Circle Centre once back when it was pretty new & a downtown mall was pretty odd back then. At least you could see it.
    The supermarket thing is kinda loopy. If you have one, you are just going to have a harder time filling all the vacant storefronts.
    Am I correct in thinking there is a hardware store in OTR?

  8. If you are interested in the entire history of Tower Place Mall, including the original vision, what actually transpired and what actually led to its closure, I can give you the entire story. I was around when it was built between 1988 and 1990 and I helped handle some of the details of the closure plan in 2012. Downtown Cincinnati could support more retail than currently exists there, and I am confident you will eventually see more day-to-day retail return with the continued addition of residential development. Tower Place Mall as you’ve photographed it was not a “mall” at all. Rather, what you saw was simply a central food court and hub connector for a larger, actual mall concept that was never fully realized. The reasons why the full vision was never realized are a collection of stories too voluminous for here. In addition, virtually the entire life of Tower Place Mall spanned a period of continued decline in inner-city retail spending, which is correlated to various other data particular to that period. As it stands, 2012 appears to have been the bottom-out for inner city population, and with the surge in revitalization over the past decade, the inner city retail numbers presumably bottomed out sometime earlier. The fact that the city’s population decline has turned around and is finally gaining (for the first time in my lifetime), is a fact that cannot be understated. In terms of statistics, that’s the horse that pulls the load. Urbanization is on the rise nationwide and retailers haven’t failed to notice. A suitable solution will emerge as the underlying fundamentals continue to improve the big picture in Cincinnati. E.g., Target Express: http://www.startribune.com/business/240803311.html#V64oiqZosMPL4W61.97
    Take care and thanks for the photos.

  9. Quimbob, Roh’s Hardware used to be on Vine St. in OTR. It closed, and the facade is now at the American Sign Museum. There is still Acme Lock & Key downtown. This is the sort of mundane retail I was talking about — people mat not brag about having a neighborhood hardware store, but it sure comes in handy.

    In terms of an urban supermarket, many people go to the Vine St. Kroger on foot, which naturally limits their load capacity. That place is fine for smaller purchases, and the management has been responsive to making changes in the selection. Findlay Market seems to attract a combination of pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers, and offers a ton of parking. When people call the Basin a “food desert,” I think they’re just using a trendy buzzword without considering the details of this area.

    Clinton, thank you for filling in more details about Tower Place. I never realized that it was incomplete; I just thought it was rather small. Also, I should add that, when we first moved to Cincinnati, I thought all of that indoor shopping was one place. In fact, Tower Place Mall and the Carew Tower Arcade have different property owners.

    I wish the Arcade were a thriving indoor shopping destination, because it’s a grand space! I walk through there as often as I can, just to take in the eye candy. I’d love to have more legitimate reasons to stop in.

    I also have to add that I’m not a proponent of the urban mall, or of the chain stores I mentioned by name. They did fill a need, though, one which the more recently opened boutiques don’t.

  10. It seems likely that the types of residents being encouraged to live downtown – YPs, say – are the same demographic that does an increasing share of its shopping online. The same forces that are killing malls and general retail might even be stronger in an urban setting. I wonder if what’s most likely to succeed are the smaller, city-sized Targets, dollar stores, etc, which cater to the purchases that someone doesn’t want to wait for two days to arrive.

  11. Ben, that’s a great point, and probably encompasses more people than just YPs. Every time I go home to NYC, I’m surprised at all the ads I see for various delivery services — why move to NYC if you take advantage of all these reasons not to leave the house?

    Of course, I just got the shoes I’d ordered from Zappos, which is my way of avoiding suburban mall-shopping.

  12. I use to work at Tower Place mall at the Express/Express men. We had to close our store due to high volumes of shrink (theft). Other stores had this problem but tower place was absurb. We would try our hardest, but with three entrances (one leading to a walkway to another building) and little security we were helpless. Gangs of 5-10 people would come in and just start swiping entire tables. That lead to lack of available items for actual shopping customers. The mix of theft and slow business put the nail in the coffin for us. Even getting a deal on our leave, we were hemorrhaging money there. Sad but true. I know that was what shut down Victoria secret, bath and body, and Nine west also.

  13. Amanda, thank you for sharing your experience. It’s a bummer! I never found those stores have the best selection [maybe partly because of theft], but they were decent enough and convenient. It’s too bad to have lost them altogether.

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