Thousands bid final farewell to Shenango Valley Mall before its fall

May 4—HERMITAGE — Hundreds bid their final farewell at the Shenango Valley Mall in Hermitage on Saturday on what was billed as "End of an Era, Beginning of the Future."

"This is way beyond what we anticipated," Mark Longietti, Hermitage's director of business and community development, said of the crowd.

Throngs of visitors walked through the mall's walkways, serving as a reminder of the huge crowds it attracted for holiday shopping in its heyday. And that includes Hermitage City Manager Gary Hickson. He served on the city's police force in the 1970s and was on hand for Saturday's four-hour event.

"During Christmas shopping back then, the parking lot was packed and we had to direct traffic to get in and out," Hinkson said.

The mall, which about three dozen storefronts, opened in 1968. The remaining few tenants — less than 10 — were told by mall owner Butterfli Holdings LLC that their leases will end May 31. The company is affiliated with Flicore LLC, a Cleveland-area developer.

JCPenney, the mall's last anchor retailer, held its final sale and closed permanently Sunday.

When the mall opened at 1 p.m. Saturday, a JCPenney's clerk said the store sold out of all goods in its jewelry section in 16 minutes.

Macy's and Sears closed their mall department stores in 2017. Both retailers have been shedding stores nationwide for years as they deal with falling sales.

Malls nationwide are meeting the same fate as consumers have shifted buying more from online sites versus traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.

"The mall was on its way to this a long time ago," said Ray McCauley, a retiree who lives in Hermitage, as he strolled the mall's main concourse.

John Fair of Hermitage also was among the crowd. Fair retired as a banker with the former McDowell National Bank then embarked on a Realtor career before he made his final retirement.

"I use to be a manager at the McDowell Bank branch that was in the mall," he said. "That was something real new back then."

That bank branch closed decades ago.

Outside vendors were invited for just this day to sell their wares. Among them was Matt Abrams of Youngstown, owner of Amara Brands, which offers skin care, candles and fragrance products.

"I'm trying to open a market here and get a foothold," Abrams said.

Those in high school during the last quarter of the 20th century defined America's malls, Longietti said.

"This was where you hung out," he said.

Butterfli will raze the mall to clear the way for establishment of Hermitage Town Center, a mixed-use development to contain retailers, commercial businesses and potentially housing. A message left at the company's office on Friday didn't generate an immediate response.

In a brief interview, Hinkson and Hermitage Assistant City Manager Gary Gulla, who also attended the event, talked about those plans. They and other city officials met with the developer on Friday and were told the mall's last official day of being open was May 31.

"They said they plan to demolish the mall later this summer," Hinkson said.

But that isn't a simple task. Butterfli must submit a demolition plan to the state Department of Environmental Protection and the city for separate approval.

"They also have to work with utility companies on how their services will be halted during demolition," Gulla said.

Butterfli representatives didn't reveal any specific plans on the redevelopment or what retailers they're wooing to settle in the development.

"They did tell us they had a strong interest from multiple retailers," Hinkson said.

Both men said the city did all it could to entice JCPenney to relocate its store in the area. Hermitage officials sent two letters to JCPenney headquarters offering help in finding a new location.

"We never heard back from them," Hinkson said.

Hermitage received about $5.5 million in state funding for the mall's redevelopment project. The two men said they were approached by people at Saturday's outing who were misinformed.

"Some people think the city owns the mall," Gulla said. "We don't."

And more still thought the city can dictate what retailers must settle in the development.

"We can't," Hinkson said. "There's only so much we can request."

For many this day, the most powerful mall memories weren't spoken. Visitors were encouraged to write their mall remembrances on sticky notes that were tacked up on a display.

Fair wrote about being a manager at the bank's office.

"Good memories," he said.