TOWN & COUNTRY DRIVE-IN SHOPPING CENTER
East Broad Street and Robinwood Avenue
Whitehall, Ohio

The first post-war shopping plaza in the Buckeye State was the brainchild of Columbus' Don M. Casto, Senior. The open-air strip complex was built on a 12 acre plot, situated 5.3 miles northeast of the Ohio State House.

Located in the newly-incorporated suburb of Whitehall, the site stretched along East Broad Street. At the time, the area was considered remote and off the beaten path...which resulted in the the project being derided as "Casto's Folly".

Details of the prospective shopping center were divulged to the local media on July 5, 1947. A groundbreaking was held November 11, 1948. An initial twenty-store section was designed by C. Melvin Frank. Its official grand opening took place March 6, 1949. In attendance were Columbus Mayor (and eventual Ohio Governor) James A. Rhodes and Whitehall Mayor Howard O. Barr.

A second segment opened between October 1951 and January 1952. It featured a 1-level (20,000 square foot) Columbus-based Union Company, which was a division of Chicago's Marshall Field's. There was also a (24,000 square foot) Big Bear supermarket.

By the mid-1950s, the complex, known as simply TOWN & COUNTRY CENTER, encompassed ten retail buildings and over 400,000 leasable square feet. It covered 25.6 acres and went by the alternate name of "MIRACLE MILE" (although it actually spanned only .5 of a mile from end-to-end).

Aside from the Union Company, TOWN & COUNTRY was anchored by a branch of The Boston Store, a Columbus-based chain operated as a division of Dearborn, Michigan-based Federal's. There was also a dry-goods-only J.C. Penney.

Charter inline stores included Lil' Kiddy Shop, Stately's Apparel, Sarah's Yarn Shop, Edward's Rexall, Sam's Shoe Service, Eavy's Restaurant, Harry's Beauty Salon, a branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, an S.S. Kresge 5 & 10 and Kroger and Albers supermarkets. It was a requirement that all businesses be open six days a week until 9 pm. At the time, this was a radical concept, as stores tended to close by 5 pm.

The General Cinema Corporation Town & Country Cinema opened, as a freestanding structure, on September 21, 1966. It was located across the street from the shopping complex and was shuttered September 25, 1986. It was converted into a cinema draft house in 1991.

Meanwhile, a renovation was done to the shopping center in 1975, with new facades and canopies installed. The Union Company had been doubled in size with the addition of a mezzanine level in 1967. It was rebranded as a Halle's ["Hal-eez"] boutique store in May 1980. A Lazarus Capri Shop had taken over the Boston Store in 1973. It moved into the Halle's spot when that space was vacated in 1982. This store was shuttered January 31, 1992.

A second shopping center renovation had commenced in 1986. The western store block was demolished and replaced by a new structure. This housed a 1-level (53,000 square foot) Big Bear supermarket. The relocated store opened October 31, 1987.

As the 50th anniversary of TOWN & COUNTRY CENTER approached, the Casto Company decided that a third renovation of the property was in order. A "Main Street USA" motif was used, with stores given new brick facades and awnings. The parking lot was also reconfigured.

Big Bear closed for good in January 2004. Its south site store block was acquired by Kroger in March 2017. The company plans to replace it with a Kroger Marketplace in the near future. TOWN & COUNTRY CENTER, excluding the (77,300 square foot) south store block, encompasses approximately 516,600 leasable square feet and houses thirty tenant spaces.

Sources:

www.doncasto.com
Franklin County, Ohio Tax assessor website
Columbus News Index
www.bigbearstores.com
www.columbuslibrary.org
www.cinematreasures.org
The Columbus Dispatch
www.columbusmemory.org
http://www.columbusunderground.com
https://www.bobevans.com


FAIR USE OF TOWN & COUNTRY IMAGES:

The graphics and photographs from The Pittsburgh Press, Milwaukee Journal and Columbus Metropolitan Library illustrate a key moment in the mall's history that is described in the article. The graphics are of lower resolution than the originals (copies made would be of inferior quality). The images are not replaceable with free-use or public-domain images. The use of the images does not limit the copyright owners' rights to distribute the images in any way. The images are being used for non-profit, informational purposes only and their use is not believed to detract from the original images in any way.