In the 1950s and 1960’s, Lake County was booming both in prosperity and population (nearly doubling during this time from 75,979 in 1950 to 148,700 in 1960), transforming from largely rural villages and farms into modern postwar suburbs. Due to this expansion, a shopping mall was planned for the growing population, also becoming a symbol and institution of modern American suburbia. It was decided that this mall would be built in what was then known as Mentor Township, which at the time was a largely rural area and more off the edge of the Cleveland Metropolitan Area. The Great Lakes Mall today has become the epicenter of the Mentor Avenue retail complex, with stores stretching from Willoughby to Painesville, being the seventh largest retail market in the State of Ohio. (Which is also the seventh most populous state in the country.) This mall is so influential in Northeast Ohio that people from Cuyahoga, Geauga, and Ashtabula Counties also shop at this mall. However, when and how did this mall become such a Lake County and Northeast Ohio institution? Let’s go back to the beginning when this mall was brand new.
The Great Lakes Mall was first opened in September of 1961. Back in those days, shopping malls were novelties that most people at the time never had been. (The oldest shopping center that is known as the first fully enclosed, climate controlled shopping mall is the Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota, which is close to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and was built in October of 1956.) Many states and metropolitan areas did not have malls at this time. If people wanted to do special shopping, they would have had to go to Downtown Cleveland or whatever downtown was close. Also the area that the mall is at, was originally a strawberry field, with little else surrounding it. When the mall was first being developed by Edward DeBartolo, people at the time thought it was ridiculous to build a mall in the “middle of nowhere.”
When the mall first opened, it was an open air complex, with a small enclosed area in the center of it. The original anchor (major) stores were a small JC Penney, Newbury, Kroger Supermarket and Fisher Foods Supermarket. (Older malls from the fifties and sixties used to have supermarkets) The mall was also much smaller, covering only 275,000 square feet, versus the 1.3 million feet today and was more of a community based center. In 1964, May Company (now Macy’s) was added to the north side of the mall and also this wing of the mall became enclosed. In October of 1969, Higbees (now Dillard’s Women) came to the mall and Sears came in 1970. By the end of the 1960s, the mall was fully enclosed, looking more like the mall that people know of today. In 1977, Joseph Horne Company or Horne’s (now Dillard’s Men) was added.
In 1989, the mall was renovated, replacing the concrete floors for marble, adding Grecian columns, a food court, removing Newbury’s for more trendier stores, and making the mall in more pastel colors, such as pink and light blue. Higbees changed to Dillard’s in 1992. May Company would change to Kaufmann’s in 1993 and then to Macy’s in 2006. Horne’s changed to the Men’s Dillard’s sometime in the first half of the nineties. The last major renovation was in 2011, in time for the mall’s fiftieth anniversary. The Grecian columns were replaced, the pastel colors were replaced with beige and browns, parts of the middle of the floor were carpeted, more comfortable seating was added, and the food court was renovated. Dick’s Sporting Goods was added to the mall in 2014.
The Great Lakes Mall has stood the test of time in the wake of dead malls, the opinion that malls are outdated structures that destroyed traditional downtowns, along with the development of both Lifestyle Centers and Online Shopping. It is one of the few older malls that was designed as such and still functions as one, now being the oldest fully enclosed shopping mall in the State of Ohio.