Cafaro, DeBartolo Legacies Honored at Eastwood Mall 50th

NILES, Ohio — The Eastwood Mall played host Sunday night to a massive celebration to mark its 50th anniversary.

A crowd of more than 2,000 guests that included local celebrities, elected officials, mall merchants, store employees and even mall walkers turned out to dine, drink and dance at the center court of the mall, which the Cafaro Co. opened in 1969.

Kiosks and bars operated by restaurants located at the mall complex lined the main concourse of the mall and the corridor leading to the main entrance. Celebrity impersonators portraying Hollywood and music icons including Elvis Presley, Marilyn Munroe, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Cruise performed on a temporary dance floor installed at center court or posed for pictures with guests. Upstairs in the mezzanine, a bar called “The Ritz” was operating, named for an early establishment operated by Cafaro Co. founder William M. Cafaro.

All was part of a party to mark not only the retail complex’ half-century, but to remember the legacy of two area developers, Cafaro and his friend and occasional rival, Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. The two were early partners in the development of the Southern Park Mall, which opened the year after Eastwood, before DeBartolo’s company took over the Boardman property.

The two have been variously described as “pioneers” and “giants” of the shopping center industry, said Anthony Cafaro Sr., retired president of the Cafaro Co. “Both of those are appropriate descriptions,” he said.

Cafaro, who worked on the survey crew when the mall was being developed, said his father and the man he affectionately referred to as “Mr. D” were both exceptional, “totally different” in some ways and similar in others.

Among the traits they shared were their work ethic and perseverance, he recalled. Neither sought publicity or acclaim, but when offered they accepted with “appreciation and humility,” he said.

“They automatically commanded respect and attention,” he added.

DeBartolo’s daughter, Denise DeBartolo York, also offered brief remarks at the event. She worked with her father for 30 years, from the day she graduated from college until his death, she recalled.

“He was a beacon and an inspiration in my life,” she said.

Both her father and Cafaro were “great businessmen, but most importantly they were wonderful dads,” she said. The two men’s “vision and foresight changed the landscape of retail,” she added.

Denise DeBartolo York offered remarks about her father, Edward DeBartolo Sr., who developed Southern Park Mall with William Cafaro.

“Even these two visionaries could never have envisioned what the Eastwood Mall Complex has become over the past 50 years,” said William Cafaro, son of Anthony Cafaro Sr. and co-president of the Cafaro Co. The complex today encompasses more than 3.2 million square feet of space with more than 200 retailers, 35 dining establishments, three hotels, two theaters and a 6,400-seat baseball stadium.

“It’s a place where for 50 years people have made memories,” said Anthony Cafaro Jr., William’s brother and the Cafaro Co.’s other co-president.

While Eastwood is a place of nostalgia, he continued, Sunday’s festivities were as much, if not more, about the decades ahead than those past. While the mall has long been identified with international brands such as H&M, Victoria’s Secret and Macy’s, he cited the growing presence of local entrepreneurs such as the recently opened MiMe, which manufactured 3D-printed portraits utilizing additive manufacturing, and Gracylane, which started as a holiday store more than a decade ago and now has half a dozen stores throughout the region.

He also talked about nationally known names like Auntie Anne’s pretzels owned by the Muransky family, or the Dairy Queen, Panera Bread and O’Charley’s restaurants at the mall complex operated by Covelli Enterprises.

As far as what the future holds, plans will be disclosed in the coming months for transforming the former Sears space in time for the 2020 season, and build out will begin later this year for the long-discussed Eastwood Event Center, which will be open by late summer 2020, he said. Columbus Hospitality Management has been chosen to operate the space.

“And once final approvals are secured, in 2020 we hope to break ground on one of our most ambitious projects in the Mahoning Valley since my grandfather first broke ground on this site in the 1960s,” he said. “We believe Enterprise Park at Eastwood will not only strengthen Eastwood’s standing in the community but will also serve as a catalyst to spur additional development and job creation in the Niles, Warren and Howland communities.”

The shopping mall industry is going through a “difficult transformation,” DeBartolo York acknowledged. Southern Park, which is now owned by Washington Prime Group, recently announced a redevelopment project that will include demolition of its vacant Sears store and creation of an outdoor greenspace that will feature bandstand, athletic field and retail spaces.

“We have to change and diversify and make it more of a community center and an entertainment and restaurant mecca,” she said.

The Cafaro Co. earlier this year purchased the former Dillard’s building at Southern Park. Anthony Cafaro Jr. said Cafaro Co. officials are “pleased to see” Washington Prime’s plans and looks forward to collaborating with the company to “identify the best use” for the building.

The evening’s program also featured remarks from U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, and Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio; Trumbull County Commissioners Dan Polivka and Frank Fuda; and Niles Mayor Steven Mientkiewicz.

Mientkiewicz called the mall the “economic driver for the city and for Trumbull County as a whole,” while Johnson hailed the Cafaros for their “business genius,” innovation and ingenuity.

“Thank you for believing in this community,” Ryan said. “With all of the success, all of the money, you guys have never forgotten where you came from.”

Yet to be completed in time for Sunday night’s event was a bronze statue to commemorate William M. Cafaro that will be installed at the mall’s main concourse when finished. The work “should be ready in the very near future, certainly before the holidays,” Cafaro spokesman Joe Bell said.

“We would have loved to have it ready to night but it just wasn’t in time,” Bell said. “That’s OK. It’s not about the statue. It’s about the occasion. It’s about honoring our founder and his good friend, Edward DeBartolo.”

Pictured above: Anthony Cafaro Sr. addresses those in attendance at the 50th anniversary of the Eastwood Mall.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.