“Join me and we can haunt Akron with our dead mall spirits.”- Rolling Acres Mall
The next Rolling Acres, a scary place to shop, many things have been said about Chapel Hill Mall of late. The past four years have not been very kind to Chapel Hill and that’s an understatement. YouTube videos, blogs, news articles, you name it have been very outspoken about Chapel Hill and for good reason. In 2019, the city of Akron was about to shut down the water throughout the shopping center due to the lack of bill payments which would have closed its doors. Towards the latter half of 2019, Ohio Edison also threatened to shut off power to the mall because of the aforementioned lack of bill payments which would have forced the mall to close as well. Now barely surviving in 2020, the mall is under another threat for a large sum of unpaid back taxes against the mall which, if not paid soon, will force Summit county to foreclose on the property. *Crying Mall emoji.*
Chapel Hill Mall was built in 1967 by Forest City Enterprises and R.B. Bucholzer. The mall is one floor featuring 3 anchor stores and 860,000 sq. ft. of retail space. Chapel Hill was supposed to be the first enclosed shopping center in the Akron Area but, due to extended construction, Summit Mall in Fairlawn was completed one year prior. Despite that, for a long period of time, Chapel Hill was the most successful mall in the Akron area which is hard to imagine for shoppers in 2020. One of the developers of the mall, R.B. Bucholzer, found an old native American council circle on the site of the property sometime back in the 1930’s and thus inspired the name Chapel Hill. The mall was also renovated sometime in the early oughts and many of the original features throughout the interior are hard to find in 2020. Located snug between the cities of Akron and Cuyahoga Falls, Chapel Hill Mall supplies (ed) thousands of residents from both surrounding cities with a place to eat, shop, and stroll.
I’ve been a frequent to Chapel Hill Mall since I started going to school at the University of Akron 3 1/2 years ago. Since first visiting my freshman year (I’m now a senior) I’ve been able to watch this decline slowly but surely. Sadly enough, I see no situation in which this mall lasts more than a year. When I first visited I wouldn’t even call it a dead mall. Sure it wasn’t anything like summit over in west Akron, but it also wasn’t a bad place to do some shopping. Like I said before though, a lot has changed in the past four years.
In 2017, Sears closed down their Chapel Hill location and, like so many other malls we’ve talked about, once one anchor closes often times another one will go down right after that. In 2018, Macy’s shut their doors at Chapel Hill and that anchor is now being used only as a Storage of America. It doesn’t get much better after that. Due to the lack of anchors pulling people in, many stores inside of the mall began closing, both retail and in the food court. Now, in 2020, JC Penney announced that their anchor will be closing this April, leaving many employers without work. With the closure of JC, Chapel Hill will be left with zero retail anchors and what seems to be about a 20 percent occupancy inside of the mall. Nonetheless, on just an average Saturday afternoon here in Akron, I decided to do some shopping and go to my favorite mall in the area for what could be my last visit.
We’ll begin with the exterior. Chapel Hill is a good looking mall from the outside in my opinion. Despite its age blemishes, parking lot potholes, ugly oughts signs and add-ons, it has some real dead mall beauty. First, we see the main entrance which I had on the featured image up top being consumed by Rolling Acres. A grand entrance for sure, and much more grand than Summit, this mall really has some great bones. When you enter through here you are met with a carousel and the food court with its two whole restaurants: Charley’s Philly steaks and an Asian restaurant as per usual with any mall. We’ll get to the inside later on, but first let’s take a look at the lovely exterior.
Here we have what was once Macy’s and is now Storage of America.I love the massive lights on the side of the building which the storage company kept after Macy’s left. The main entrance here really reminds me of that shattered glass entrance to the department store at Rolling Acres. In five years I wouldn’t be surprised if this looked the same way that did pre-demolition. Google some pictures, they won’t disappoint you.
Onto the former Sears. Upon closer inspection, you can see just how bad of a shape some of these pillars are; extremely rusty.Very scarce looking structure but I love it, and the Sears scar is strong with this one.
“Hey bro where do you get your ink done?”
This Sears was also equipped with an auto center and this one is astounding. It looks like it’s been closed for fifteen years but surprisingly it’s only been four.Sorry the back-lighting was bad. Like the main anchor, this building is very rusty and the parking lot is in piss-poor shape.
The JC Penney on the other hand is without a doubt the most handsome anchor to this mall regardless of shape.And yes, a lot of these pictures are taken from my car because Akron is fucking cold. Nevertheless, the tan paint with white outline on those curved ’60s pillars is by far the best architecture this mall has got.
Something I had mentioned before which I don’t particularly enjoy are the oughts additions to this mall. These cheap Eastgate Mall-looking additions don’t add anything in my opinion and, rather than make the mall look fresh, just make it look like it’s hiding from what it truly is. Check out this sign.It just doesn’t fit with the rest of the mall. That’s why I often don’t like renovations and add-ons. Aside from that, though, the mall has a really cool water tower in the parking lot, reminiscent of the infamous Florence Y’all! water tower in greater Cincinnati at Florence Mall.Sure it’s shaped a lot differently, but it’s still a water tower in a mall parking lot.
So that’s the outside, let’s move on to the interior.
Like I said before, the mall doesn’t have many original touches due to its early oughts renovation but let’s step inside from the cold and take a look at what it’s got.
We’ll start with the main entrance. Here you can see the carousel being used by one child, very creepy if you think about the echoing music.Turn around and you’ll see the magnificent food court.Really happenin’ huh? The ceiling has a disco ball for some reason.Keep in mind this was probably 2004 when this was put in. I’m not quite sure what the thought process was here. Not that I would be opposed to a mall disco, though.
In the next picture you can see the only two restaurants which I had mentioned before: Charley’s and an Asian place which can be seen slightly on the left.FYI, the loaded fries at Charley’s are goat fire. On your right is Party City and the restrooms.
As we continue to the center of the mall you will see a cool black marble fountain, the entrance to JC Penney (for now) and, instead of an actual skylight, a pretty painting of the sky.
Mall Worker: Mr. Owner, the skylight is leaking we need to get it fixed ASAP!
Mall Owner: Just fill it in and paint a sky on it, nobody will notice.
Me: Oh Mr. Mall Owner you are incorrect my friend.
We continue to the right and see a cute kids ride just sitting there begging for money like a homeless person. Not for drugs or anything: this is more of a Toy Story situation where they just want to be played with.Moving down the corridor, you can see there is not a single occupied store; every single one of them is vacant.I believe this whole corridor has a Bath and Bodyworks, a Footlocker and maybe one big and tall shop.
Here’s a video as I approach the end of the corridor. All you can hear is Heaven is a Place on Earth as it echos throughout the walls and the footsteps of me and this crazy mall walker babbling on to himself.
When you get to the end and you are met with our former Macy’s.Check out this awesome neon sign on the right, though.Before the wrecking ball hits this place I gotta get my hands on that, working or not.
As we get back to the center of the mall, we will now be making our way down towards the former Sears.As you can see, there’s not much different on this side. There’s a Finish Line, a Shoe Dept. Encore which I frequent every now and then, and maybe one other store.Picked up some sick Levi’s high tops in here that day and even got my white Reebok’s back in Fall from here. Honestly this is a great place to grab shoes: they have a wide selection and everything is super cheap. A+ shoe store in my book.
As we approach the end of the corridor you can see what used to be Sears, given away by its famous white tile.Also feat. more fake skylights. Unlike many of the other malls I’ve visited recently such as South Park, and Great Northern, the natural light in here is quite poor. Where those malls would have real skylights, Chapel Hill has paintings and dim can lights which were freaking out when I took this picture. Take a look at the one up top in this video.
Post apocalyptic vibes here in the falls.
Also noted by the old Sears entrance was this incredibly dated Directory.Still featuring Sears and Macy’s, I’m assuming this is from no later than 2016.
As our tour of Chapel Hill has come to an end, I feel sad and somewhat slapped in the face knowing that this may have been my last ever visit here. This mall doesn’t deserve the fate it will soon receive. About 4 years ago, when doing fine business-wise, Chapel Hill just got hit with closure after closure and, with not enough notice to recover, it was doomed. The closure of JC Penney in April will drive even more people out of this place and if those back taxes aren’t paid this upcoming month, this mall will soon meet its demise.
The thoughts of this becoming the next Rolling Acres, while plausible, is something I do not see happening. If anything, the mall will be torn down before it is given a chance to rot because this location, unlike Rolling Acres, is a far more prime retail area. As I’ve said before, we are the only ones who can do anything to change these rapid closures of once thriving malls but shoppers must act quick before the malls become truly dead like Chapel Hill. Though I would love to see dead malls become popular and thriving once more, I know that deep down in my heart it is too late for anything to be done at Chapel Hill. Though its death is imminent, the memories will last forever…
Mall Maniac Rating:
From a shoppers POV: 2/10
From my POV: 9/10 (only slightly biased)
Check out my Back to the Future musical parody titled Back to the Past which was filmed in the parking lot of Chapel Hill Mall. You won’t be disappointed! Find it on YouTube @ ZTV Akron After Hours.
“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”- Princess Leia Organa (Chapel Hill Mall)