Eastwood Mall evolves, reinvents itself – and thrives
- By MICHAEL ROKNICK Herald Business Editor
- Mar 2, 2023
NILES, Ohio – Hopping on top of a big plastic turtle figure at Eastwood Mall’s playground, two-year-old Hannah Cross pretends she’s going on a wild adventure.
“Go fast,’’ Cross urges the man-made turtle.
Unsettled, the Cortland tike moved on to another figure.
And that’s pretty much what the Niles mall has been doing – moving on to face a far different retail landscape since the rise of internet shopping.
“What was Eastwood Mall was 20 years ago is much different than we are today,’’ said Joe Bell, director of corporate communication’s for the mall’s owner, Cafaro Co.
Eastwood touts itself as being the fifth-largest shopping area in the U.S. in measuring total space under roof.
Housed on over 100 acres, Eastwood said it had 13 million visitors last year.
The mall itself opened in 1969 with a list of anchor retailers from a different era. Sears, Strouss’, Montgomery Ward, and Woolworth department stores were its breadwinners.
But those retailers have either gone bankrupt, gone out of business or were gobbled up by bigger outfits.
Its anchor stores now still are chain department stores – Boscov’s, Dillard’s, JCPenney, Macy’s, and Target. Dillard’s been a full-service department store there for years, and the mall managed to save as clearance store, where Dillard’s sells products that shoppers likely won’t buy unless it’s at a steep discount.
“That’s a big growth area now,’’ Bell said. “We’re seeing more retailers going this route.’’
Along state Route 46 on the east side of the mall complex, a Bass Pro Shops is settling into the former Levine Furniture location, and Meijer is close to opening its combination retail and grocery store on the former site of the Kmart SuperCenter. Both stores are located in free-standing buildings. Other smaller retailers and a new restaurant are coming, Bell said.
The mall’s playgrounds and aquarium were created to draw families.
Attracting young families is crucial for retailers as adults between 20 to 45 are in their prime spending years. It drew Hannah’s parents, Alyssa and Josh Cross.
“We’re here at least once a week,’’ Alyssa said. “When it’s cold and rainy, we like to walk inside the mall.’’
And yes – they buy at the mall’s stores.
Eastwood has the traditional stores all housed under one roof, but there’s a bevy of other retailers, restaurants and other businesses in plaza-like dwellings or stand-alone buildings.
There’s other things that sets it apart. The complex has a cosmetology and medical education school. A workout center also is inside the mall.
“We’ve got a doctor’s and dentist’s office and an art studio, too,’’ Bell said.
The 30,000-square-foot Eastwood Event Centre was created to house events from weddings to conferences. It can be divvied up to create five spaces.
Thought was put into the operation. A Residence Inn by Marriott is connected to the center to handle overnight guests for events.
“You can walk from one to the other without going outside,’’ Bell said.
The Mahoning Valley Scrappers, a short-season minor league baseball team, is based a Eastwood Field, a stadium at the northwest corner of the Eastwood complex.
Eastwood is owned by the Cafaro Co., which is guided by the local Cafaro family. With over 50 properties nationwide, Cafaro has developed more than 30 million square feet of commercial space in 14 states. That makes it the largest privately-owned shopping center development and management company in the U.S.
Cafaro’s headquarters is located in a separate section of Eastwood.
The mall’s current occupancy rate is 90 percent, a tad lower than competitor Simon Property Group’s 94.5 percent mall occupancy rate as of Sept. 30, 2022. Simon is the largest U.S. mall owner, and its properties include Grove City Premium Outlets in Springfield Township. In 1996, the Youngstown-based mall and retail developer DeBartolo Realty Corp. merged into Simon.
But Eastwood is leaps and bounds ahead of the Shenango Valley Mall in Hermitage, which lost Sears and Macy’s as its anchor tenants plus slews of smaller merchants. Penney’s is the remaining anchor store still open.
Last summer, the Shenango Valley Mall was bought by Butterfli Holdings LLC, an affiliate of Pepper Pike, Ohio-based Flicore LLC. The city of Hermitage is working with the new owner to develop the mall and surrounding area.
Eastwood is a 20- to 45-minute drive for the majority of Mercer County residents. and there are familiar faces here.
In 2021, Reyers Shoe Store made the painful decision to end its 135-year run in downtown Sharon and settling inside the Eastwood Mall. Store co-owners Mark Jubelirer and his brother Steve said the move was critical to keep the business alive as Eastwood has far more shopper traffic.
“We’re thrilled to be in Ohio’s best mall,’’ Mark said.
The shoe store is still learning about its new clientele.
“We’re still working on what the market wants,’’ he said. “But shoppers here are learning we pride ourselves on better service and better footwear. We’ve won two national service awards since we’ve been here.’’
Sharon-based Daffin’s Candies, which still operates its main store in Sharon as well as a handful of outlets in nearby towns, has rented a store inside Eastwood for a dozen or so years. The store moved to a new location inside the mall to make room for Boscov’s new store in 2021.
“This has been a wonderful move for us,’’ Mandy Meyer, the store’s manager said. “This location has a lot more shopper traffic.’’
Meyer explains that the store is now located next to an entrance.
“The first thing people smell when they come in is chocolate,’’ she said with a laugh.