It promised to be “a new world of shopping adventure.”
Back in 1969, Woodville Mall would be Toledo’s first enclosed shopping center, boasting 87 beautiful stores, 5,000 free parking spaces and the luxury of shopping in a comfortable 72-degree temperature year-round.
Shoppers could tempt themselves with a new wardrobe, have their hair done, do their banking, get their car serviced, grab a bite to eat and pick up a few groceries - all under one roof.
“The only shopping center you’ll ever need,” said a handy pocket mall directory given out to guide shoppers to such stores as LaSalle’s, J.C. Penney and Sears Roebuck & Co., along with Fanny Farmer, the Tie Rak, Docktor Pet, Parklane Hosiery or the House of Nine. And don’t forget the 12 shoe stores.
But that was then…
The 40th anniversary of the Woodville Mall’s opening recently came and went without fanfare.
But Helen Hahn couldn’t help but remember. The Northwood woman, now almost 90, was the manager of the Memory Lane fine gift shop – one of the original stores that welcomed shoppers during the mall’s grand opening April 17 to 19, 1969.
“I had been the manager of the gift shop at the Hospitality Motor Inn off Miami Street, and I saw an ad in the paper for the job opening at the mall,” Hahn said.
“Like just about everyone, I was excited about the new mall coming to Northwood,” she said. “We had the Great Eastern Shopping Center - and that was a big deal when it opened – but this would be something special.”
After an interview held at a local hotel, she was notified that she was hired and was told when to report to help set up the shop.
The mall was abuzz in the days just before the opening – alive with the sights and sounds of last-minute construction, nonstop deliveries and store employees hustling to get the shops ready, Hahn said.
With little time to waste, she hired a staff of eight women and a stock boy, who were assisted by a crew from Memory Lane’s Cleveland headquarters in setting things up.
“It was fun unpacking all the beautiful merchandise,” she said. “That was the part I liked most of all – doing displays and setting up new shipments when they came in.”
“It was really something,” she said. “When we finally opened, it was very exciting, not just for the shoppers but for the employees too.
A feeling of elegance
“When you came into the mall to go to work, there was such a feeling of elegance,” Hahn recalled.
“Just inside the front entrance, there was a beautiful bridal shop. The theater and offices were down there also,” she said. “The mall was known for its many shoe stores. And there was a fine ladies dress shop – the kind that had salespeople who assisted you.”
She recalled the dancing fountains and greenery in the marble center court – the site of many special events, including Junior Achievement Trade Fairs, Boy and Girl Scout exhibits, art shows, school exhibits, flower shows, antique and car shows and boat shows too.
“The Toledo Symphony even came to perform at the Fox Theatre,” Hahn said.
“The holidays were especially exciting - parents brought their kids to visit Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny,” she said, adding that her late son Jeff served as the Easter Bunny for a time.
“This mall was a beautiful addition to Northwood, but it never seemed to get off the ground,” Hahn said. “I was on the first board of directors and we would get the figures from the DeBartolo offices (the mall’s owner), and ours were always way down at the bottom, even from the beginning.”
She could only speculate as to why.
“There was talk when the mall was built that they were going to build another road that would make it more easily accessible from Oregon – I guess they’re still talking about that,” she said.
“Having a bus run out this way would have helped also,” she added.
“Maybe some people had an aversion to crossing the river and coming here,” she said. “There was a feeling that we were all farmers over here.
“And I don’t know why, but some of the stores did not carry the same type and quality of merchandise as they did downtown or at other stores,” Hahn said.
A few years after the mall opened, Memory Lane became Miscellaneous and Hahn left her position as manager. She took another job at Woodville Mall, working as a part-time area manager at LaSalle’s before becoming an administrative assistant at Owens Corning.
On a recent rainy morning, Hahn made an early trip to the mall for our interview. Walking from the all-but-deserted food court, past the once-grand center court to a bench in the north concourse – the Elder-Beerman wing – near where Memory Lane was located she took a seat.
Mall walkers hurried on their way along their course around the mall’s periphery, avoiding buckets placed to catch drips from the leaky roof. They kept their eyes straight ahead, not looking at the paper-covered windows and storefronts where labelscars from previous store signs are still readable.
“It’s very sad and even kind of spooky here now– like walking into a mortuary,” Hahn said. “Usually if I come here, I just drive to one of the anchors and leave.
“It’s just too sad to walk through the mall now,” she said.
“I made many friends working at the mall – friendships that lasted for years and years,” Hahn said.
Helen Hahn recalls her days as the manager of the Memory Lane shop at Woodville Mall. Over 50 percent of the 87 business firms in the mall were managed by women, who formed the Woodville Mall Business and Professional Women’s Club. The “Breakfast Club” group “networked” at the Harvest House Cafeteria before work. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)