Saturday, September 29, 2001

Birthday party for Florence Mall

Founders celebrate 25 years with weekend events

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE — C.M. “Hop” Ewing remembers the day in late December 1973 when he and a group of businessmen stood in a snowstorm and broke ground for Mall Road, the first step in the development of Florence Mall.

        The mall, which opened in 1976, is celebrating 25 years of business in Florence, capped with ceremonies this weekend including a ribbon-cutting by Mr. Ewing, who was mayor of Florence and spearheaded the effort to bring the mall to the crossroads near Interstate 75.

[photo] C.M. “Hop” Ewing former mayor of Florence, had the water-tower sign changed from Florence Mall to meet state and federal regulations.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” the 76-year-old retired teacher said modestly of his part in the birth of Florence Mall, the first large enclosed two-level mall in Greater Cincinnati. “I happened to be the mayor, and I worked with others who were interested in the mall.”

        Mr. Ewing, a native of Trimble County, came to Florence in 1947. “Walton was bigger than Florence in those days,” he said with a laugh. “We were the bedroom community for people working in the plants like the Seagrams distillery on the Ohio side. Population was around 1,200.”

        Developer Wally Steinshimer came to Mr. Ewing in 1972 with a plan for a retail development on U.S. 42 at the I-75 junction, but Mr. Ewing wanted something more, something bigger.

        “Wally wanted to build an outdoor type of shopping center, but I said. "No, if we are going to do it we'll do it right with an enclosed mall,'” he said.

        The now famous tower was built in 1973 to supply water pressure to the area. The state told Florence it couldn't advertise “Florence Mall” on the tower because the mall wasn't built yet. Mr. Ewing had painters make minor changes so it read “Florence Y'All” — and a legend was born.

        He said the state also informed the city it would supply plans for Mall Road but the city would have to supervise construction.

        “That just pleased me no end,” Mr. Ewing said. “That's exactly how I wanted to do it. A group of us from Florence went to New York to sell the bonds to finance the road construction, but the bond people told us we had to break ground before they would talk to us.”

        Back to Florence, out with the shovels and a bulldozer to scratch off some dirt where there had been farms, and then another flight to New York where $1.3 million in bonds were sold.

        The mall was developed by Homart Development Co., a subsidiary of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Sears was one of three anchor stores when the mall opened, along with Shillito's and Pogue's. Another 87 specialty stores filled out the mall, and JC Penney became the fourth anchor a couple of years later.

        Diane Ewing Whalen, Mr. Ewing's daughter and the current Florence mayor, watched the mall grow and prosper.

        “When I was a kid, we used to ride the bus to downtown Covington or downtown Cincinnati to shop,” she said. “That all changed when the mall opened. Eventually most of the larger Covington stores closed because everyone was going to Florence Mall.”

        Mrs. Whalen emphasized that Florence Mall continues to be the engine that keeps the city's retail business base healthy.

        “We want all our businesses to do well, but the key to that is the success of Florence Mall,” she said. “The city is continuing to do what it can to make the mall area more attractive to shoppers.”

        City officials are now looking at a remake of Mall Road, including sidewalks, curbs, gutters and medians to assist pedestrian shoppers.

        Former Miss America Heather French Henry, wife of Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, will make an appearance at the mall today, and Mr. Ewing will make a brief address this afternoon in what he calls his “last official act for Florence Mall as the former mayor.”

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