Belden Village Mall marks 50 years of growth
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second story in a series looking at Belden Village Mall, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in August.
JACKSON TWP. Belden Village Mall has made a difference in many ways for Jackson Township and Stark County for 50 years now. The mall has attracted shoppers from Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas, Cuyahoga and most of the surrounding counties since opening its doors on Aug. 6, 1970. Plus, it has provided vital tax revenue for township safety services and government operations.
Higbee’s, Sears and O’Neill’s were among the first big stores to open. Other memorable stores opening in those early days included Rogers Jewelry, Spencer Gifts, Stern & Mann, Cleveland Tux, Baker’s Shoes, Camelot Music, Walden Books, Davis Organs, Casual Corner, Stern and Mann, Halle’s, and many more. Then, there are the restaurants that have come and gone, some inside the mall and some that were build in the parking lot surrounding the mall.
To consider the entire economic impact the mall has had on Jackson Township and the county, the numerous strip malls and plazas that surround the mall have also generated local employment and local taxes as well as bringing untold amounts of visitors to the area during the past 50 years.
“Belden Village mall is nearly one million square feet of retail space, it has been the hub that others built around," said Jackson Township Fiscal Officer and Economic Development Director Randy Gonzalez. “The mall generated three interstate off ramps for the area and it is still a key component of property taxes for Jackson schools, safety forces, parks and other Jackson government services. Sales taxes generated from Belden Village Mall are a vital part of Stark County government including the sheriff, courts and other criminal justice operations along with other arms of Stark County government.”
The history of the mall started in the late 1960s when the Higbee Company purchased the land the mall sits on and some of the surrounding property. Two of the main representatives were Higbee President Herb Strawbridge and Higbee Vice President of Public Affairs James Day. They worked with Harry S. Belden III, then head of the Belden Blake Corporation; Belden’s brother, Marshall, owner of M.B. Oil and Gas; and his sister Elizabeth Martin. Blake and Strawbridge went to Lehman High School together and were part of the track team.
Former editor and reporter for the Canton Repository and The Massillon Independent, Flo Lynn, wrote an article where she reported how Strawbridge got interested in the land, “Henry came to me about the family owning a farm where Belden Village is now. And, when I-77 was cut through, it split the farm leaving a major part on the southwest corner of Everhard and Whipple Avenue and a small plot of ground on the northeast corner which they later sold to Gold Circle.”
Strawbridge went on to tell Lynn that the Belden’s thought Higbee’s should put a store in the shopping center with Gold Circle. Strawbridge didn’t think it was large enough for a mall but starting looking at the land on the southwest corner and Lynn quoted Strawbridge as saying, “So as we began to look at and study the other Belden land on the southwest corner, I recognized it as potentially a very hot piece of property for an entire shopping center.”
According to the Mall Hall of Fame blog, in addition to the many well-known retail stores at the time that opened in the new Belden Village Mall, there was a Fazio’s supermarket. The shopping hub or the area surrounding the main mall was also home to the Belden Village Twin Cinema 1 and 2.
“The mall is visited by thousands from many other areas, next time you're there take a look around and notice all the license plates from other counties," Gonzalez said. "The shoppers drawn to the area by the mall helps all those around it, restaurants, small and large shops of many types along with a host of other benefits are generated by Belden Village Mall. For 50 years, the mall has been the hub of good business. We thank them and hope for many more years of success and growth.
The mall has not changed much during the past 50 years, but this past year saw some of the most dramatic changes when the Sears store closed and Dick’s Sporting Goods, Golf Galaxy, Dave & Buster’s took over that space. The newly relocated retailers did some major remodeling and added some new store fronts on the one corner of the mall. The front of the mall received a facelift in the summer of 2016.
Some of the newer restaurants along the front of the mall include Melt Bar & Grilled and Scramblers. The Burntwood Tavern and Bravo! have been longtime restaurants built on the mall’s outparcels in the parking lot.
The mall has received a facelift a few times. In 1987, a food court was added in the area where the Fazio’s space was located, and Sears added a partial second level in 1995. It has also had numerous stores get rebranded along the way.
Higbee’s would be purchased and renamed to Dillard Department Stores in the late 1980s. O’Neil’s found new ownership from Cleveland-based The May Company in 1989 and would later be purchased and renamed again to Kaufman’s with new owners in 1993. Kaufman’s would then become Macy’s in 2006.
The mall itself has been through a few name changes and owners in the past 20 years. It was purchased by Sydney, Australia’s, Westfield in late 2001 and renamed to Westfield Shoppingtown Belden Village. The mall was sold again in 2013 to Starwood Retail Partners and the name reverted to Belden Village Mall. Starwood owns the mall today.
Regardless of who owned the mall or the name it carried or even the stores and restaurants that have come and gone or changed names, one thing has stayed the same over the 50 years, the loyal shoppers who have continued to make the mall a successful mainstay for the area.
Jackson Township Trustee Todd Hawke said, “Looking forward to economic growth in Jackson Township, the Belden Village Mall will be just as much of an integral partner as it was in creating the initial economic growth and retail hub within the area," said Jackson Township Trustee Todd Hawke. “The mall continues to evolve and look at ways to maintain a productive footprint, by not only working on the internal area, but looking at out facing store fronts and out lots on the property. As a Township, we appreciate all of their efforts to maintain relevance in the marketplace and their service to not only the residents of Jackson Township, but residents throughout the region as well.”