Sue Grover started her business in memory of her son, David Meyer Jr., who passed away three months before his 11th birthday.
“He passed away and my son Jonathon suggested we do something in his brother’s memory, so we opened up the sports memorabilia store. I won a lawsuit and took the money to open up my first store 16 years ago,” Grover said.
Since then, her business has been operating in the Woodville Mall, although Grover admits “it’s been a struggle.” Now, she and about 20 other business owners are scrambling to figure out what to do next.
|Debbie Reynolds, co-owner of The Gift Gallery
at Woodville Mall, warms her hands on a lava
lamp-part of her inventory. The temperature in
the unheated mall was just above freezing.
(Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
Business tenants may soon be forced to close if the mall gets shuttered because of health department violations. At press time, merchants were waiting for information about a court date when a judge would rule on a mandatory closing date.
“It’s all up in the air,” Jessica Ruetz, manager of Deb shop said Thursday morning.
Brian Ballenger, Northwood law director, said he cares deeply about keeping businesses open, but it may be the Wood County Health Department that has the final say. The 778,000 square foot mall was the first of its kind in the greater Toledo area, opening in 1969.
“We’re trying to hang in there. We’re betting for Northwood to give us until the holiday season. We’re scared that they might not do it,” Grover said. “If I don’t make my money back for the holidays, I lose everything I’ve done. It’s not just me; it’s the people next door, too.
“Why didn’t anyone notify us a couple months so we could have gotten out and been established somewhere else? Nobody has told us anything (up until recently).
“Right now, I’m just focusing on getting the money in order to move. It’s expensive. You get all your Christmas stock in here, and now we’re being told to pack it up in boxes to put it in storage. We don’t have the money to do a lot of stuff that people think we can do because we put it all into one egg. We’re asking the public to please make their phone calls and plead with whoever is making this decision to please allow us to stay through the Christmas season to make this money so we can move and we can stay in Northwood,” Grover continued.
Grover added, “Media put in that the mall is closed, but as of right now we are open for business. We need to figure some way to rush something because we’re being told that they are doing an injunction to close the mall and they might close the mall on (last) Friday to the public. That’s not good because we need the sales.”
Ironically, one of his first priorities as the new owner of the mall was to repair the roof and replace much of the carpeting, Mike Kohan told The Press in November 2009.
The New York businessman said the purchase price was $700,000.
“The condition was worse than we thought. But that’s OK, we are up for a challenge,” he said after he and associates visited the area to inspect the mall and introduce themselves to local officials.
Kohan had been buying malls throughout the Midwest and said at the time he was still assessing the Woodville Mall’s condition but was planning to invest in extensive renovations.
Grover claims that the current mall owner and its manager made promises that were not kept, and that theme has been repeated by other business tenants.
“We were told that the heat was going to be fixed, and it never was. That’s just it,” Grover said.
Grover said she and other tenants have been told not to discuss any possible lawsuits. Grover, who is originally is from Kentucky and the only employee, says she is considering moving to Great Eastern Shopping Center if the mall is closed.
Out of business sale
On Wednesday, Debs clothing store received its final planned merchandise shipment…and started a “going out of business” sale.
“I think we all kind of knew that eventually this mall would probably see its last day,” Ruetz said. “We just didn’t know when it would be and we didn’t expect it would be two weeks before Christmas.”
Like other merchants, she hopes the store will be able to remain open through the end of the month.
“Our store does really well in this location, for the mall being in the condition that it’s in,” she said. “This week, since the news came out, we got a lot of calls to see if we were still open and what’s going on.
“Right now, we have a full store – 7,000 square feet of merchandise –that we have to sell or ship out and that can’t happen overnight,” she said.
Deb – the only corporate store in the main area of the mall – employs 10 people. “We have a good staff,” Ruetz said. “I’ve had most of my girls here for two-plus years – it’s like a little family. We’re all very sad that we won’t be working together.
“A couple people may be able to transfer to another location, but the only other store in the area – on Airport Highway at Holland-Sylvania – is pretty fully staffed,” she said.
Ruetz, who has been at the Woodville Mall store for seven years and with the company for 11 years, says her future is uncertain at the moment.
Mall made sense
Despite the problems with the building itself, Patrick Falgout said his location at the mall was well suited for his business.
The owner of Hobby Outfitters moved his store in June from Sylvania Avenue in Toledo to the mall where he had been operating a race track for radio-controlled vehicles since 2004.
Sylvania Avenue has been undergoing extensive repairs that hampered access to his store, Kalgout said last week. So moving to the mall – and closer to the track – made sense.
The store has drawn customers routinely from throughout Northwest Ohio, he said, including Port Clinton and Sandusky.
“We don’t rely on a lot of foot traffic,” he said.
Cloth tarps hung in the doorway and Falgout and others in the store wore sweat shirts or coats. A bucket to catch dripping water sat about 25 feet to the right of the entrance.
He described the lease rates at the mall as “very reasonable” but added he paid for some roof repairs out of his own pocket. Falgout said Hobby Outfitters employed nine.
Keep doing business
Debbie Reynolds, co-owner of The Gift Gallery, is also hoping to make it through the holiday season at the mall. “I talked to the (Northwood) city administrator and he said to continue doing business until we hear otherwise,” she said. “It was a slow week because, I think a lot of people thought the mall was already closed.”
Earlier this year, Reynolds and her partner had signed a three-year lease with a five-year option for extension. “Of course we’re disappointed,” she said, adding that she planned to attend an “open house” for merchants seeking space being held at the Great Eastern Shopping Center Thursday evening.
The mall’s closing is sad, not just for her and other merchants, but also for the customers.
“I’ve had kids ask me where Santa is,” she said. “A lot of people talk about the train they rode here at Christmastime – so many have great memories from this mall.”
Woodville Mall holds a special place in Reynolds’ heart as well. “I met my husband here, back when we were both in high school,” she said.
“I worked at Hot Sam’s and he worked at Hanover Shoes,” she said. “He’d come over to get a pretzel and a Pepsi. He’d bring me roses and slip notes under the door.
“In fact, my manager, Mrs. B. knew I was getting engaged before I did,” she said.
Bobbie Adams-Roach, owner of “Treasures” was in the process of packing up the merchandise in her shop, located near The Andersons entrance of the mall.
“Why delay what’s inevitable?” she said. “It’s not a matter of if we have to get out, it’s a matter of when.”
For now, she’s exploring the idea of finding another location, but has no definite plans to relocate.
Todd Stricklen, co-owner of Tech Junkies, is also looking at spots at Great Eastern and for space in Oregon. He began moving into the mall last February and opened in March. He said he had no warning that the mall might be closed.
“We need to make money through the holidays, and of course, there a lot of people out there who need repairs and are looking to buy a new computer or buy a used one,” Stricklen said.
Stricklen and his partner have been in this business for a long time working for other people until they finally decided to start their own business. They are the only two employees. They, too, felt good about what seemed to be happening at the mall a few months back.
“We didn’t know at that time when we moved in, there were promises that the heat would be fixed and by next winter we’d have heat. The thing about my unit is, I had a small leak in the back, and the maintenance man went up there and fixed it, and after that I never had any problems. I had a really good unit, and I really can’t complain about my unit, but no heat, though,” Stricklen said.
“I thought (former mall manager) Juanita (Jones) was doing a good job of revitalizing the Woodville Mall,” Stricklen continued. “I grew up in Millbury there and I was really hoping that’s what would happen, but there were a lot of promises there that were broken. After that, business has only been sustained for three months and now we are pulling out. I’ll take my losses and move.”
Driving around looking
Jerry Weigel, a senior financial advisor for Newbridge Securities Corporation, has been in the mall since 1993. Previously, he had been a teacher in the Oregon city school system.
This past week, he was driving around looking for a new location.
“I’d like to be on this side of town. This is where my clients are,” Weigel said.
He had a heavily-decorated office, provided his own maintenance, and managed to keep heat in his office, which is located near the Sears department store. Sears, which owns its own space, and The Andersons, will not be affected by the health department’s decision.
“I put a lot of money into it fixing it up and I’ve been there a long time,” Weigel said.
Weigel said he, too, had no idea this was coming, and his office is filled with collectibles and office equipment that must be packed if he has to move. He and his secretary are the only employees.
Non-profit in limbo
Audrey Johnson, executive director for the Jamil Lewis Multicultural Center for the Arts, also remains in limbo as of late last week.
“We are just kind of waiting for what the next step is going to be. No one is saying anything. It’s a very unfortunate situation because we had just actually signed a lease for five years and we were given every indication that there were things being done for the upswing of Woodville Mall. So, we were committed to it. We are a non-profit organization that does art activities with youth, so we use the gallery space and the business space to raise awareness of our project and for the sale of art. We’re kind of in our beginning stages of getting everything set up,” Johnson said.
“We’re trying to figure out where to go from here. We’re definitely staying with our minds open as to what should happen next. We are presently just kind of up in thoughts. We don’t know what to do, where to go. There’s a lot going on for our organization, so we’re hoping that someone will give us some space so we can continue the art mission.”
Although a non-profit, she said the Christmas season is important to her organization, too, because of the sale of artwork and the events it organizes.
“We just finished up a program with a career center on the east side, and today (last Thursday) is actually the Christmas dinner for the kids and their parents at the career center, and they will also be exhibiting the artwork from a six-week photography class with the seventh and eighth grade kids,” Johnson said.
Businesses in limbo
Also in limbo is MPWA Combat Sports, which opened a 7,000 square foot former storefront in the mall about a year-and-a-half ago. Co-owners Brian Shotwell and Antony Sharples, an Oak Harbor native, train boxers and wrestlers.
“I’ve wanted to start my own club pretty much since I got out of school,” Sharples said. “It’s kind of my goal to one day have my own club.”
Mustafa Bourawi, owner of Dollar Mart and Paris Perfumes, is also an Owens Community College mathematics teacher. His Dollar Mart store has been open 12 years, and Paris Perfumes even longer. He, too, says he needs to stay open through the holidays.
Others include WRSCSports.com, Fashion Outlet, WF Smithers, Lonax Famous Labels (recently closed), The Country Store, Atenee’ Cafe (recently closed), The OK Wok, Citizen Tax Service, First Nails. The Variety Shoppe Auctions, School Matters, a buy and sell Avon cosmetics booth, and a real estate agent has a booth set up.
First Nails has been in the mall for 16 years, and some of the businesses were the property of the mall owner with inventory inside, but not open to customers. WRSC Sports has already made a commitment to move to the Weber Block at Main and Front streets in East Toledo, said co-partner Al Singlar.
(Press staff editors Larry Limpf, Tammy Walro, and J. Patrick Eaken contributed to his report.)