Middletown [Butler County], Ohio
Middletown, Ohio was 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 has been 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 a 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.
The new enclosed mall, and its associated structures, were designed by Daniel T. Meehan & Associates of Cincinnati. The MART was to include two multilevel parking garages, two office towers and two newly-built anchor department stores.
The second, a Dayton-based Elder-Beerman, would have occupied the southeast corner of the 4-block site. After years of unsuccessful negotiations, Elder-Beerman cancelled plans for a CITY CENTRE store and built, instead, at a new mall developed in the southeastern environs of the city.
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 closed in 1978. A 5-level (33,300 square foot) J.C. Penney was shuttered in 1981.
Most commerce in Middletown had -or was- moving to the southeastern environs of the city. Nothing could stop this trend. The first defection from downtown was done by McAlpin's, in 1959. Montgomery Ward followed suit in 1964. By this time, new discount stores were also being built. These included Fashion Fair (1963), Rink's Bargain City (1966), Hills (1972), Ayr-Way (1973) and Kmart (1978).
Meanwhile, 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 and some adjacent structures, gained momentum. The wrecking ball was brought in in July 2001. In December 2002 , a new (MART-less) 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, once again, drive on Central Avenue from Verity Parkway to Main Street.
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 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