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J.C. Penney Set To Close At Troubled Eastland Mall

outside of J.C. Penney Eastland building
Debbie Holmes
J.C. Penney at Eastland Mall will close by mid-May.

After years of turmoil, Eastland Mall remains open, but it’s under new ownership after it was auctioned last month.  And the mall’s future looks bleak as one of its anchor stores prepares to close.

Outside J.C. Penney’s Eastland store, no signs warn it will close.  Inside, shoppers see much less merchandise available. 

“It’s a bummer.  It’s a bummer.”

Shopper Viky Bogdans says she was unaware of Penney’s plans.  Declining sales have doomed the store. The attached mall attracts fewer shoppers. The former Lazarus Department store remains empty.

Some shoppers say they don’t feel comfortable spending money here.  Mother of three Lindsey Inyang only came to Eastland to find a bargain at J.C. Penney.

“And tell me why you don’t come here, because apparently a lot of people don’t because the store is closing.  The customers honestly, the young children that come in, the crowd, the cursing, things like that," said Inyang.

Retail consultant Chris Boring says there’s not enough retail business inside of Eastland Mall.  Once J.C. Penney closes, Sears and Macy’s will be the anchor stores left at the mall. Several smaller clothing, shoe and jewelry stores also vie for mall shoppers.

“I don’t think you’re going to find enough to fill a million square feet of retail space, that’s what Eastland mall has right now, and most of that is vacant once Penney leaves," said Boring.

Boring doubts Eastland can survive. He says other options could include offices, commercial, recreation, hospitality or industrial uses. 

“I think Northland could be a blueprint for what happens at Eastland," said Boring.

Boring adds the entire Hamilton Road corridor has suffered since the 1990s when big-box stores located outside of mall areas.

“Instead of locating near the malls which at the time were Northland, Westland and Eastland, they formed their own corridors on Brice Road and Sawmill Road and Mill Run.  So that’s one thing that happened to Eastland is a lot of the retail traffic went away from south Hamilton Road and went to Brice Road and later on to 256,” said Boring.

Owner of Oohs and Aahs Hair Designs near Eastland Mall, Byron Woods says the mall though has been good for his business. 

“Eastland mall brings people into the community that we would like to serve and that we have an opportunity to advertise to and to market to, so yes they do have a very important part in the other businesses that are around them,” said Woods.

Woods’ enterprise now includes a nail and beauty salon four doors down from his main shop.

Hair stylist Latisha Griffin trimmed her customer Robbin Evans’ hair as they remembered busier days around  Eastland Mall.

“My grandmother used to take us there all the time when we were kids.  This was like the mall to go to,” said Griffin.

“It was wasn’t it?  Remember Northland had dried up. And everybody was coming to Eastland. But I used to go to Northland as a kid.  But when you came out here it was like a whole different world, like ooh we doing something, you know, yeah,” said Evans.

Evans adds while she will miss J.C. Penney she does not like the atmosphere at the mall. Last summer two people were injured in a shooting inside the mall.

Retail consultant Chris Boring says there’s a lesson to learn from Eastland’s mistakes.

“Being less reactive and being more proactive and anticipating some of these problems down the road.  It seems like no one really steps in and takes drastic action that is needed until it’s too late," said Boring.

Boring sees more retail locations in Columbus taking a hit as E-commerce siphons off more growth and demand from traditional businesses.

City officials commissioned a study 8 years ago on revitalizing Hamilton Road and the Eastland area.  Then the recession hit and nothing happened. The mall’s new owners have not revealed future plans for Eastland. 

Debbie Holmes began her career in broadcasting in Columbus after graduating from The Ohio State University. She left the Buckeye state to pursue a career in television news and worked as a reporter and anchor in Moline, Illinois and Memphis, Tennessee.