Trish Mayhorn’s earliest memory of Northland Mall is tagging along with her mother to the Lazarus department store in the 1970s and getting a pair of Stride Rite shoes.
“We would go there maybe a couple of times a month,” she said. “There weren’t a ton of malls in our area then.”
As a teenager, Mayhorn, now 52, worked in the catalog department at the JCPenney there, and her eventual husband, Jay Mayhorn, worked for Sears.
The Westerville woman said she misses the atmosphere at the mall that closed 20 years ago this month and the retail opportunities that it provided to the neighborhood.
“That part of town … deserves to have business and focus on it,” she said.
Thousands of shoppers flocked to Northland in its opening days, and it quickly became a popular destination. Its success continued over the next 30 years, but it began seeing a decline in the late 1980s and into the ‘90s as new malls began opening across town.
Columbus City Center opened Downtown in 1989, followed by The Mall at Tuttle Crossing on the West Side in 1997. Easton Town Center, located on the East Side, opened in 1999.
But it was the opening of Polaris Fashion Place on the city’s Far North Side in 2001 that marked the beginning of the end for Northland as shoppers and retailers left the mall. Originally scheduled to close on Halloween in 2002, it couldn’t even last that long, shutting its doors on Oct. 9 with the mall almost empty.
The mall’s demise was part of a national trend, according to Boyce Safford, a former city development director who is now executive director of developer Columbus Next Generation Corporation.
“Malls like the way they were built were becoming obsolete,” he said. “Stores wanted better locations, more direct access to the freeway, and so they were eventually going to change.”
Now, though, 20 years later, the space where Northland once stood is thriving once again.
The area is still providing retail, just on a different scale as it offers a mix of grocers, restaurants, city and county offices, and businesses catering to the growing immigrant community.
“I feel that the Morse Road corridor has made a great comeback,” said Alice Foeller, cofounder of Elevate Northland, a nonprofit group that helps development in the area.
Northland Mall: The beginning of Columbus’ retail boom
Construction on the 71-acre site began in June 1963 by Cleveland-based real estate developer Visconti-Mead-Jacobs, and the open-air mall, originally called Northland Shopping Center, opened its doors Aug. 13, 1964.
At the actual ribbon-cutting ceremony on opening day, attendees included Columbus Mayor Maynard Edward “Jack” Sensenbrenner; Lazarus president Charles Lazarus; Sears director Charles Kellstadt and Richard Jacobs, vice president of Visconsi-Mead-Jacobs.
Along with the department stores, the shopping center housed stores such as The Limited, Kay Jewelers and White’s Furniture. It also had a 1,000 seat-movie theater and clock tower.
An estimated 150,000 people shopped at Northland during its first three days, filling up the mall’s 4,500-car parking lot. And its success led to the creation of two other “-land” malls in Columbus — Eastland Mall in 1968 and Westland Mall in 1969.
Northland was enclosed in 1975, as indoor malls were becoming more popular, and welcomed its final anchor, JCPenney, in 1980.
Judith Cockrell, 46, a longtime Northland resident who now is director of Elevate Northland, said the mall was the place to be in middle school and high school — both for area residents and celebrities. She remembers a trip to The Gap with her mother in the ’90s that turned into a memorable run-in with the hip-hop group Arrested Development, who were in town for a concert.
“I could hear my mom saying, ‘You look so familiar,'” she said. “And when I came out of the dressing room, it was Arrested Development!”
Newer malls lead Northland to go out with a whimper
By the end of the 20th century, Northland’s future was beginning to look grim due to the growing competition from newer malls and the prospect of Polaris adding competition on the north side of town.
After a years-long legal and political battle with Polaris developer Herbert Glimcher, Jacobs turned Northland and Westland malls over to its lenders, Cigna, in 2001, still owing $40 million on the mortgage. Later that year, Lazarus, JCPenney and Sears left Northland for Polaris, with 12 more stores following suit in January 2002. By the time Northland closed in October, only General Nutrition Centers remained.
“The mall held no grand going-out-of-business sale or farewell celebration,” The Dispatch reported at the time. “Thirty-eight years and hundreds of thousands of shoppers ended with Mary Grabill and a small bag of vitamins and power bars.”
Transforming from Northland Mall to Northland Village
When Northland closed, the city of Columbus bought the mall in 2003 for $9.2 million and directed the now-defunct nonprofit Columbus Urban Growth Corp. to redevelop the land.
After the space was demolished the following year, plans stalled. Safford said the city was in talks with Walmart to open a store on the site, but nothing materialized.
In 2007, The Stonehenge Company stepped in to redevelop close to 60 acres of the space, which would be called Northland Village.
Company President Mo Dioun said his plan to transform the Northland Mall site for the next generation was personal. When he, his wife and daughter moved to Columbus in 1980, they lived in the Northland neighborhood Forest Park East and often spent time at the mall. Additionally, he wanted to create a retail center for the new Americans moving into the area.
“I’m an immigrant myself,” said Dioun, who originally is from Iran. “I came to our wonderful country 50 years ago … so that was very important for me.”
The first tenant at Northland Village in 2011 was Menards, making it the first Greater Columbus location for the Wisconsin-based home improvement chain. Dioun said getting Menards on board was not easy due to Northland’s reputation of being an unsafe neighborhood, but Stonehenge worked with the company’s corporate office, providing them with data to show the store’s potential in the area.
Also moving onto the site that year was the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services. Others followed, including the Ohio Department of Taxation, Franklin County Dog Shelter, Northland Performing Arts Center and restaurants including Chipotle, Jimmy John’s and McDonald’s. A Kroger store moved from the other side of Morse into a brand new building in 2016.
Dioun said there are about 25 tenants on the property currently, with the complex almost full.
“It (Northland Village) is one of the highlights of my 35 years being in this business, and I’m very proud of it,” he said. “It is a true example of a good public-private collaboration, which has paid off very well.
“I don’t think people remember there was a mall up there where Kroger and everything currently sits,” he said.
Elevate Northland’s Foeller, who also is president of the Northland Business Association, said the future of the Northland community is businesses operated by new Americans, such as Couscous House in Northland Village and Saraga International Grocery, located down the street.
“The lesson of Northland Mall is, here were these big giant corporations like Sears, Lazarus and — poof! — the whole thing went under,” she said. “Whereas now, we have these little businesses owned by people in the community.