A dead mall
Severance Town Center was my first destination upon arriving to a cold and snow-covered Cleveland. I took the Rapid up to the Little Italy station before completing my trip on the number 9 bus down Mayfield Road. It was treacherously icy (at least to this southern fellow) but I trudged through the drifts to make my way to one of the brightest spots in the retail facility, the Home Depot occupying the south-westernmost position of the mall.
This really is a tale of two malls. As I made my way up the outdoor walkway past the Marshall’s, foot traffic dropped tremendously. It was nearly silent as I reached the more northeasterly section of the building and the now vacant, hulking former Wal-Mart.
Very little remains of Severance Town Center’s original incarnation. The shopping center has been completely demalled with all storefronts facing directly outward except for one little section abutting the old Wal-Mart. This was the Crossing, and the only remaining indoor portion of the entire complex.
I’m not sure if this space still holds elements of the original indoor corridor, but the décor was lavishly early aughts, dominated by thick, earth tone colored flooring next to bold splashes of color. But otherwise, the place was empty and more than a little creepy. The ceiling lights were turned off so the tile floors and empty storefronts were only illuminated by the weak rays coming through the skylights and a random lit lamp close to the ground. The Crossing had room for maybe ten shops at the most, so it wasn’t long before I had exited the other side.
The mall façade facing the northwest was even more dead than the opposite side. Inhabiting the bottom level of the space formerly occupied by Wal-Mart was an old cineplex, now called Front Stage, though I saw no signs of activity in its vicinity. Walking further to the southwest past more unleased spaces and down the graded parking lot from the upper to lower levels, I passed what is the only truly original remaining part of the complex, the stinger built off of the main building anchored by Dave’s Market.
Severance Center opened in late 1963 as the state of Ohio’s first enclosed, suburban shopping mall. Both original anchors were Cleveland based, including the venerable Higbee’s as well as Halle’s. The building footprint was your basic, common to the sixties barbell with Higbee’s occupying the northeast anchor spot and Halle’s at the opposite end. The mall saw much competition added to its market through the seventies and eighties and large-scale improvements were taken out in 1986. This added a food court and additional anchors to replace Halle’s, which had closed in 1982.
The upgrades helped Severance Center last in its primary form for several more years, but by the nineties it faced a crossroads. Much of the original indoor portion was demolished and was replaced with exterior facing edifices more attractive to big box stores. But even this has not been able to save the mall as anchors AJWright, Conways and the aforementioned Wal-Mart are no longer a part of its footprint.
It’s too bad that so little of the original building still remains, but at least it still stands, for the most part, and has never been completely discarded like younger peer Randall Park Mall just to be replaced with a distribution warehouse. But this is one that I’ll be watching, and hopefully it survives unlike so many of its neighbors.