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Another Ohio downtown loses its department store



Published: Fri, November 16, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Another Ohio downtown loses its department store

Soon only two of Ohio's three Cs -- its biggest cities -- will have downtown department stores. Succumbing to a trend that smaller cities throughout the state have suffered through over the last two decades, Cleveland is losing its last downtown department store. Columbus and Cincinnati still have theirs.

No one in Cleveland was much surprised by the announcement that Dillard's Inc. is closing its downtown store in January. The building had housed Higbee's, a merchandising entity in Cleveland since 1860, before becoming Dillard's in 1992. In recent years, only four of the building's 10 floors were open to shoppers.

Part of a trend: The way America shops has been in a state of flux for a half century. Post-war shopping plazas and suburban sprawl began chipping away at the downtown market share in the 1950s. The enclosed malls that started popping up just about the time Baby Boomers got their credit cards in the 1970s quickly took their toll.

The Higbee store in downtown Youngstown, which had been McKelvey's to generations of shoppers, closed its doors in 1982. The downtown Strouss' store in Warren closed in 1983 and was followed in 1986 by Strouss' closings in downtown Youngstown and New Castle.

The going-out-of-business sales had a funereal air about them. Downtown workers, who had come to know salespeople by face if not by name, sheepishly made their last purchases -- as if, perhaps, the store wouldn't close if no one went to the sale. That, of course was not true.

Downtown department stores that had once been run as family businesses, with portraits of the founders hanging on the wall, had been swallowed up by large chains, and those chains did not tolerate stores that produced minimal cash flow and marginal profits.

Cleveland's advantages: Even coming during a business downturn, the Dillard's closing will be kinder to Cleveland than the loss of the McKelvey and Strouss-Hirshberg legacies were to Youngstown. Cleveland still has three major league sports downtown, as well as Playhouse Square, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Severance Hall, hundreds of small shops and restaurants and tens of thousands of office workers.

Still, as Mark Gastman, a Dillard's vice president said, "When people go to a football or baseball game or go out to dinner, they're not shopping after they do it."

Downtown Cleveland will have a hole in its center for a while where Higbee's once was, but it won't have to reinvent itself to fill that hole. Other cities should be as lucky.




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