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Eastwood Complex Evolves as Market Demands Change

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NILES, Ohio — Not even the late William M. Cafaro could have imagined the scope of commercial development in and around the Eastwood Mall today, nearly a half-century since the developer began site work there.

Cafaro, a pioneer of commercial mall development in the United States, began moving ground in 1967 and officially opened the first enclosed shopping mall in the region with a ribbon cutting Sept. 17, 1969. Helping him cut that ribbon were his wife, Alyce, his daughter-in-law, Phyllis, and Miss USA Wendy Danscomb.

“I’m not sure he could have envisioned what is here today,” says his grandson, Anthony Cafaro Jr., who was named co-president of The Cafaro Co. along with his brother, William, after their father, Anthony Sr., retired from that position in 2009. “I think he’d be extremely proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish as a family.”

Today, the entire complex is considered one of the largest – if not the largest – contiguous commercial retail development in the United States under a single private owner.

Most of the land once was the Eastwood Golf Course situated in Howland Township, just off U.S. Route 422 and state Route 46. Niles annexed the former golf course as a condition of supplying water and sewer services so development could begin.

The first tenant in the Eastwood Mall was Sears, and the department store still anchors the western end of the mall. At the outset, the shopping center included household names such as Strouss’, Montgomery Ward, Woolworth’s and an A&P grocery store. “We still have retailers that were here from the beginning,” Cafaro says. Strouss’, then owned by the May Co., became Kaufmann’s and later Macy’s. “There was a multi-million dollar renovation of that store in 2012, and they’ve been very successful through the years,” the co-president says.

Other original tenants also remain, Cafaro says, including the Roffler Family Hair Center, which started in 1969 as the Eastwood Mall Styling Salon.

Aside from the national chains, locally owned businesses have found that the Eastwood Mall is a prime location to set up shop.

“We’ve been in the mall for about 15 years,” says Matt Miller, owner of Image Arts. His business provides custom services, such as photo restoration, T-shirts, mugs, artwork reproduction, analog-to-digital video transfers and printing. “There’s a laundry list of things we do for people.”

When the business started 15 years ago, Miller says, there was a consensus that it would be best to lease space in a strip plaza. “We were one of the few that started in a mall,” he says. “The Cafaro Co. has been very good to us. They’ve worked with us so we could build the business.”

Over the last 15 years, Miller says he’s watched retailers come and go, but his small business has gradually improved every year. “This summer, we’ve been busier than ever,” he reports. “We get a lot of repeat customers.”

Many of the initial tenants are long gone – Montgomery Ward, Woolworth’s and A&P were retail giants from another era – but in their place are retailers with a more modern appeal such as Old Navy, Target and H&M, Cafaro says. Stores such as Forever 21 and H&M attract younger buyers, while more traditional customers prefer retailers such as Macy’s.

Adding to even more diversity, Cafaro Field – now Eastwood Field – opened in 1999 and today is the home of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the Cleveland Indians Class A minor league baseball team.

This ability to adapt and remain keenly aware of trends in consumers’ tastes is critical to the mall’s success as well as the extensive commercial development that surrounds that anchor complex, Cafaro says. “The great thing about Eastwood is that we don’t target a specific age group or demographic. We want to appeal to everyone,” he says. “We try to keep up with the times, keep fresh, and understand what consumers demand.”

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Since the mall opened in 1969, more than 200 retailers, restaurants, offices, entertainment venues, specialty shops, hotels, movie theaters, service businesses – even the baseball stadium – have opened on Cafaro-owned land in and around the mall. Collectively, the mall and its sprawling out parcels are known as the Eastwood Mall Complex, which encompasses 180 acres.

“We literally have three million square feet of development all within eyesight,” Cafaro says. “It’s not something you see elsewhere.”

Joe Bell, spokesman for the Cafaro Co., says the company estimates that an average of 40,000 people per day visit the Eastwood Complex. “It’s bigger during the holidays, but that’s the annual daily average accessing the complex,” he says. About 2,500 are employed at the various stores, shops, restaurants and services, he says, that number doubling during the holiday season.

According to a 2014 traffic count by the Ohio Department of Transportation, Eastwood Mall Boulevard handles on average 27,680 vehicles per day.

“This is really the downtown of Trumbull County,” Cafaro says. “It’s a combination of shopping, dining, lodging and entertainment.”

Plus, Eastwood’s complex is much more convenient when compared to other retail centers in the Mahoning Valley – especially high-traffic corridors such as U.S. 224 in Boardman, he relates. “That’s a five-to-seven mile stretch of retail and restaurants from Poland to Canfield. Depending on the time of day, the time of year, it could take 30 to 40 minutes to get from one end to the other. Here, that’s not a challenge.”

In May, The Cafaro Co. completed the move from its Youngstown offices on Belmont Avenue to a new, sleek corporate office building that’s attached to the mall. Also recently, Primanti Bros. opened a restaurant at the Eastwood complex as did Rise Pies, a pizza franchise owned by Boardman-based Muransky Companies. Meanwhile, a new Hampton Inn & Suites plans to open its doors in September and work continues on the Eastwood Events Centre, a multi-purpose venue to accommodate meetings, banquets and conferences up to 1,000 people.

“We’re finalizing arrangements with potential operators now,” for the events center, Cafaro reports.

By the end of this month, the company plans to begin a “several million-dollar” renovation program at Eastwood Mall, Cafaro says. The renovation – the first major update in 10 years – involves replacing carpeting, installing new light fixtures, making some exterior improvements, and the installation of a large LED full-motion video screen in the southern food court. The improvements should be completed by the holidays.

The prospects and opportunities for the future of the development don’t stop there.

In July, The Cafaro Co. announced it had purchased another 105 contiguous acres in Howland Township behind Eastwood Field and has plans create a mixed-use development there. “We call it Enterprise Park at Eastwood,” Cafaro says. “We’re looking at health care, residential, condos, apartments, office use. And there’s an increasing demand for business parks in Trumbull County,” he says. “We think we can create a very modern environment for that.”

Cafaro says the development of this land is an indicator of where his company is headed, hinting what the Eastwood Complex could become over the next two decades. “The key to the success of Eastwood has been our ability to adapt and evolve to the changing consumer demands in the community,” he says.

Cafaro reflects that when the mall was first developed, its biggest draw was the large retailers. “We had anchor stores and maybe one restaurant,” he says. “Anymore, restaurants are drawing the traffic.” This, he elaborates, opens up the opportunity for more dining establishments.

Over the next 15 years, it’s likely retail space at the complex will contract – online shopping, for example, has affected bricks-and-mortar retail across the board – while other amenities are added to the complex.

“You’ll probably see a more mixed-use element – an assisted living center, offices, a large number of dining opportunities,” he predicts. “People eat out much more frequently, and that’s something you can’t do on a smartphone.”

And there are aspects of the market still underserved, a void Cafaro says he’d like to fill.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a full-scale grocery store here, especially in the organic, high-end market,” Cafaro says. “If I had a wish list, I’d love to see something like a Whole Foods. That would be the concept of the future as this market continues to mature.”

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Eastwood Mall to Begin Multi-Million Dollar Upgrade

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.