Wednesday, May 28, 2008

so long southwyck

Southwyck Sign
A large domed centre court with a long set of steps that were ideal for kids to run up and down until they ran out of breath. A nearby carousel when running lost its charm. Restaurant chains such as Friendly's, Frisch's Big Boy and McDonald's that were suited for young'uns. A department store named after the king of the jungle.

Welcome to wonderland for a kid on a family vacation in Toledo, Ohio in the late 70s/early 80s.

***

Southwyck Entrance
The death notice has just been signed on another element of my childhood. As of June 30, Southwyck Shopping Center in Toledo will shut its doors permanently.

Fountain's On
Opened in 1972 on the west side of Toledo along US 20 (Reynolds Road), the anchors by the time we shopped there were Montgomery Ward and Lion, a local department store chain which operated two locations in the mall (the main store on the east wing, a home store on the north end that replaced an earlier tenant). My parents usually had good luck shopping at Lion, while my main memories are trying on clothes and tasting a Mon Cheri chocolate for the first time after having seen them advertised on television.

The Anchor
Former main Lion store, later Dillard's

Lion was part of the Mercantile Stores group of department stores, which were purchased by Dillard's in 1998. I recall my parents going back to Southwyck for the first time in years after the purchases and coming away less than impressed with the products offered by the new owners.

Center Court
The centre court, once crowded with kids. The carousel is obscured by the flag. The Montgomery Ward wing is to the left, Lion Home Store straight, Lion main store to the right.

Old McDonald's
The Taste of Nations on the right was McDonald's, one of the few mall branches I saw during those years. It had brown tiling similar to the old look the branch across from the Royal Ontario Museum on Bloor Street, with the cashiers set deep in the restaurant. Friendly's was nearby, which specialized in well-decorated ice creams sundaes (usually involving a cone "hat").

Coney Island at Southwyck
The mall's demise got rolling when Montgomery Ward closed in 2001. Two years later, Dillard's closed their home store, leaving their main store as the sole anchor. Proposals to redevelop the mall came and went, the stumbling point being financial disagreements between the property's various owners that meant neglect for the mall itself. Tenants, such as the coney island above, closed but left their storefronts from whichever era they opened in. Chains like GNC that are the last to turn out the lights in dying malls hung on.

Montgomery Ward Corridor
Looking towards Montgomery Ward

Hearing that it had become a "dead mall museum", I stopped in last May on my way back from a New York-Lancaster-Pittsburgh roadtrip. I felt like I was walking through a graveyard, with a dozen or so distractions from the retail tombstones lining the corridors. Walkers outnumbered shoppers and security guards looked half-asleep. The colours in the centre court dome panels had faded or replaced with mismatched glass.

No Calls Today
Even the phones had taken a hike.

If Nothing Else, There's Bath & Body Works
Dillard's (Lion) main store wing

Once upon a time the Toledo area had four malls: Southwyck, North Towne, Woodville (the other Toledo mall we shopped at, whose main oddities were carpeted floors and a tire store mixed in with other shops) and Franklin Park. The first two died, the third is barely breathing while the latter keeps growing. Despite these failures, two large outdoor "lifestyle centres" have sprung up in the south end. One, Fallen Timbers, struck the final death blow to Southwyck when Dillard's moved their store to the new complex a few months after the photos in this post were taken. If the ownership details are worked out, the current plan involves transforming much of the property into yet another lifestyle centre. If the plan comes to fruition, will a new Glass City retail death race begin?

Southwyck at Sunset
Southwyck 1972-2008

All photos taken May 18, 2007. Flickr user johnnygracie has posted a set of Southwyck photos taken this month.

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