Middletown [Butler County], Ohio
Middletown, Ohio was first settled in 1791. Many locals believe that it was so named because it is, more or less, midway between Cincinnati (to the south) and Dayton (to the north). In fact, it was named "Middletown" due to its location at the middle of the farthest navigable point on the Miami River, traveling north from where it enters the Ohio River.
The downtown business district of this city of 52,000 was, for years, the primary shopping destination for the entire region. It was said that one could find most anything they could ever want to buy within the four blocks of stores where Central Avenue and Broad Streets intersected.
This started to change in October 1958, when the MIDDLETOWN SHOPPING CENTER opened, in the city's eastern environs. In an attempt to curb the retail store exodus from downtown, the city government formulated a plan to close-off the central business district along Central and Broad and build an enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall. Plans were approved by city commissioners in December 1968.
Meanwhile, by the summer of 1973, the downtown area of Middletown was akin to a battle zone. The two central streets were excavated; pedestrian access to existing stores was made nearly impossible and more than a bit dangerous. Several local businesses along the future mall corridors were soon out of business.
To add insult to injury, two other existing CITY CENTRE MART anchor stores would go dark. The 3-level (93,700 square foot) Middletown-based Central Store was shuttered soon after the enclosed mall was dedicated. A 3-level (42,700 square foot), Cincinnati-based Mabley & Carew went under in 1978. A 5-level (33,300 square foot) J.C. Penney closed its doors in 1981.
Most all commerce in Middletown had -or was- moving to the east and nothing could stop this trend. The first defection from downtown had been done by Montgomery Ward in 1964. Moreover, new discount mart-type stores were built in the eastern outskirts. These included Fashion Fair (1963), Rink's Bargain City (1966), Hills (1972), Ayr-Way (1973) and Kmart (1978).
Eventually, the City Of Middletown was faced with the problem of maintaining a nearly-deserted inner-city mall. Annual upkeep on the aging structure was hitting the 500 thousand dollar mark by the late 1990s and the mall was also badly in need of repairs. Something had to be done.
A new Downtown Redevelopment Plan, proposing the removal of the enclosed mall corridors and some adjacent structures, gained momentum. The wrecking ball was brought in in July 2001. In December 2002 , a new downtown Middletown was dedicated.
The MART / MALL had been demolished, with only its parking garage left standing (this would eventually be razed, as well). One could, again, drive clear through from Verity Parkway to Main Street. Central Avenue and Broad Streets were returned to their pre-1973 state!
The demolition of the mall and replacement of store fronts and streets required some 13 million dollars in city, county and state funds. The Feds, who had contributed nearly 5 million dollars to build the structure, were not helping, this time around, to get rid of it.
Personal recollections of the author
The Cincinnati Enquirer / "City Centre Prospects Debated" article / Janet C. Wetzel, correspondant / Thursday, March 4, 1999
The Cincinnati Enquirer / "City Centre Estimate: 10.3 M" article / Janet C. Wetzel, correspondant / Saturday, September 11, 1999
The Cincinnati Enquirer / "Leaders Hope Mall Has Life" article / Michael D. Clark, correspondant / Wednesday, April 11. 2001