Building an Icon – Rolling Acres Mall

In 1964, on Akron’s west side, The DeBartolo Corporation was building the city’s first enclosed shopping center, Summit Mall. On the northeast side, Akronite Richard B. Buchholzer had partnered with Cleveland developers Forest City Enterprises and was in the beginning stages of building Chapel Hill Mall. Malls were going up everywhere across the country and it only seemed logical that Akron’s south side would be next. When studies showed the demand existed and with major department stores showing interest in the area, Buchholzer and Forest City concluded that the time to start planning Akron’s third major mall was now.

Two years later the group would settle on a 260 acre site on Romig Road located in the city’s southwest corner. The initial plan was to build a near twin to Chapel Hill. A single layer shopping mall flanked by two anchor department stores. In the acreage surrounding the center the group panned to build a 200 suite motel, medical and office buildings, and some 900 apartment units.

This artists rendering of Rolling Acres Shopping Center showcases Forest City Enterprises second major Akron project – a twin to the already existing Chapel Hill Mall – in which an 800,000 square foot center bordered by apartments and office buildings.

But Rolling Acres wasn’t the only shopping center being planned for the area. In the nearby city of Barberton a group was planning the Austin Mall Development, a smaller enclosed mall that would be surrounded by a new housing development.

Both projects faced major setbacks from area residents with many believing that the shopping centers would reek havoc on downtown retail in both Akron and Barberton. It was also thought that a shopping center would stunt downtown urban renewal projects.

Though Rolling Acres and Austin Mall were both eventually given the green light for rezoning, the Austin Mall never materialized.

The architectural rendering shows the first phase of Forest City’s development at Rolling Acres. Forest city also owned 127 adjacent acres which they had planned for commercial and high density residential.

After years of delays, construction at Rolling Acres would finally get underway in 1973. The shopping center was built in two phases. The first phase being the malls main level and the initial two department stores. The second phase would be the addition of a promenade level and three more department stores.

Original development plan for Phase I of Rolling Acres Mall shows the main level of the mall and plans for a future lower level.

The full first year of construction was spent grading the rugged landscape and transforming it into a workable site so the foundation of the mall could be laid. Once the initial foundation was in the rest of the project took only eleven months to complete.

Rolling Acres was nearing its opening. All of the years of planning and manpower put into the construction were finally becoming clear and the end result was truly beautiful. A modern wonder of retail was finally coming to life.

An excited Ray Kapper who was Chairman of the Planning Committee, speaks to The Beacon Journal on construction finally getting started at Rolling Acres.

Prior to the malls opening there was a special preview ceremony and private reception held at the mall where Rev. V. Stan Hampson pronounced the blessing of the mall and consecration of The Court of the Twelve Trees using a thousand year old Hawaiian chant.

After the mall was given it’s blessing, Ruth Ballard, wife of former Akron mayor John Ballard gave a champagne christening for the spectacular fountain that sat at the center of The Court of the Twelve Trees underneath a massive spaceframe skylight.

Some of the lucky group that was privy to the mall preview celebration.

At long last, the big day had finally arrived. The grand opening. The original twenty stores would be a perfect representation to the company’s philosophy of meeting the needs and demands of shoppers of all ages and incomes. A family could spend the whole day at the mall, take in a movie at the cinema, let the kids play video games at Play Palace, and then cap the day with dinner at Der Dog Haus.

Rolling Acres Mall Grand Opening
Rolling Acres adopted RA, The Friendly Giant as their mascot. Named after the Egyptian sun god, RA would appear in many advertisements throughout the early years. He even made an appearance at the grand opening.

The opening was a success. New stores would open on a near weekly basis. In addition to this success, Rolling Acres was also becoming more than just a retail outlet, the mall was becoming a center of community activity with special activities and events ranging from meeting Santa or the Easter Bunny, to meeting celebrities such as the Budweiser Clydesdales or getting to ring a life-size replica of the Liberty Bell. There was always fun to be had at Rolling Acres and the community loved it.

Rolling Acres Entrance
Originally posted by Tony Parks in the Rolling Acres Mall Memories Facebook group, this photo shows the entrance how it may have appeared at its opening.

Riding high off their achievement of a successful phase I it was now time for the company to turn its attention to phase II. But that’s a story for another time. Stay tuned!

Need to feed your nostalgic Rolling Acres craze? Be sure and check out this video walkthrough of the mall.

Could Things Have Been Different For Euclid Square Mall?

Originally constructed in 1977, Euclid Square Mall was certainly never the Cleveland area’s biggest or most flashy mall, but it most certainly deserved a better fate than it would eventually suffer.

Could things have been different? Maybe. Let’s look back at some times that could have possibly changed the fate of Euclid Square Mall.

Euclid Square Mall Entrance
Entrance to Euclid Square Mall – Image credit Nicholas Eckhart’s wonderful Flickr account.

In late December of 1997, The Zamias Services Company would close a deal on the  purchase of ten mall properties from Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Included in the deal were Euclid Square Mall and 9 other malls scattered throughout the eastern and midwestern states. With the deal the company was looking to grow their already impressive portfolio of 35 shopping centers.

At the time of purchase, Euclid Square Mall was still a somewhat respectable center with vacancy rates at 15%. Though these numbers were below average for the Cleveland market, they were still nowhere near as bad as the 29% vacancy rate at nearby Richmond Mall or the 31% rate at Randall Park Mall.

Renovations at Euclid Square Mall

Renovations at Euclid Square Mall
With Simon-DeBartolo already renovating the nearby Richmond Mall could a swanky facelift have saved Euclid Square?

In an effort to improve the vacancy numbers at Euclid Square, Zamias Services did a study of the mall which looked at multiple renovation and redevelopment plans for the property. Some of these plans included a complete renovation, a conversion to a power center, completely demolishing the mall and repurposing the site into an apartment community, and one plan even looked at turning the site into a golf course.

Euclid Square Mall as a Power Center
For better or for worse, the power center idea never unfolded.

Sadly, none of these ideas ever came to fruition. One year later the mall would lose a major anchor when Kaufmann’s would relocate to the nearby and newly renovated Richmond Mall. This loss would only help contribute to the soon to be rapid rise in vacancy.

Euclid Square Mall Directory
This 1999 mall directory shows there was still some life left.

Even after losing an anchor there still may have been a chance of turning the place around as the mall still had some signs of life but by 1999 it had seemed that Zamias Services had given up. Shortly later in 2000 Zamias would sell the mall to North Carolina real estate investor Haywood Wichard.

Haywood not only looked like a business class villain from an 80s movie, he also played the part to near perfection. He cared zero about the mall, the jobs it created, or the people that worked there. He cared only about one thing and that was turning a profit on his investment. Mr. Wichard was quoted in the Plain Dealer as saying “We are willing to sit there and hold it until a use comes along. Somebody will come along eventually who will need that property.”

Haywood Richard Euclid Squares Death Nemesis
Haywood Wichard – Was he wise to not dump money into the mall or is he the reason the mall doesn’t exist today?

In just a year under Haywood Wichard’s ownership vacancy rates soared to 87%. By 2002 the mall’s remaining anchor, Dillard’s, converted the store to a clearance center and closed off access to the second level of the store. In 2004 Haywood eventually gave up the idea of ever turning a profit on the property and sold the mall at a loss to local businessman Ted Lichko.

Whereas Haywood Wichard seemed like a villain, Ted Lichko seemed like the unlikely hero that Euclid Square needed to save it from certain doom. Lichko was mostly known operating United Furniture but also was in the business of purchasing run-down brick apartment buildings and rehabbing them into safe, affordable housing. He had even bought and turned around Conneaut Shopping Center so it seemed like he could really make this happen.

Lichko’s first plan was to fill the other vacant anchor store. His idea was Outlets USA. Despite the name, Outlets USA was not your typical factory outlet, but more of an upscale flea market set in a department store consisting of a gallery of vendors selling wares such as furniture, cigarette lighters, tires, and scratch and dent appliances. Outlets USA would feature 150 spaces for vendors on the first level of the former Kaufmann’s store and if that was filled up they would open up the second level.

Outlets USA Euclid Square Mall
Outlets USA – Not just an outlet shopping mall.

Next, Lichko would focus on revitalizing the mall’s interior. His first order of business was to reactivate the beautiful fountain system. He put his team to work to clean up the mall interior and get the stores into move-in ready condition. Lichko hoped that the mall could rebound by using a “main street” mix of offices and stores. Lichko even had educational organizations evaluating areas of the mall as potential business school campus.

One of Lichko’s first orders of business as the malls new owner was to reactivate the malls beautiful fountain system.

Initially Lichko’s plan would pay off. Outlets USA’s grand opening weekend would attract nearly 13,000 customers. One of the food vendor’s, “The Dog House” actually ran out wieners! It was a hit and customers even commented to the Plain Dealer on how great it was for the mall to be back open and about how wonderful the mall looked.

The success however wouldn’t last. Outlets USA would close just two years after opening, with Litchko citing that the vendors were a bad mix with the mall. And just like that, the mall was headed back on it’s course of failure.

A shuttered Outlets USA at Euclid Square Mall – Image via Nicholas Eckhart’s wonderful Flickr account.

And that is basically the end of the line for Euclid Square. Though it did have somewhat of a resurgence as a place of worship. In 2013 there were as many as 24 different churches located in the mall. However in 2013 the mall also lost it’s last retail client when the Dillard’s Clearance finally closed its doors.

In late 2017 the mall would eventually meet its doom after many years struggle.

In 2016 the mall would be condemned by the city of Euclid and a year later demolition would begin.

So, could things have been different for Euclid Square? Maybe. But with fierce competition from upscale centers like Crocker Park and Legacy Village it would be hard to imagine a world where Euclid Square would still be a successful shopping mall. Heck, even Richmond Mall who underwent major renovations is now closed.

 

 

Will that be on your O’Neil’s card today?

In today’s world it’s hard to imagine life without the convenience of credit cards. But it wasn’t until the early 1900s when stores would begin issuing tokens to only their best and wealthy customers. These customers would be given the convenience of presenting their tokens to sales associates at checkout and then be billed at the end of the month, much the same as modern credit accounts.

Charga-Plate employee
Grace Wallace, an employee at Charga-Plates happily operates a notching machine to make new cards for customers.

By 1929 charge accounts would account for nearly half of all retail sales for stores who offered them. It wasn’t long after in 1935 that a standardized card based bookkeeping system known as Charga-Plate would gain popularity. Similar in look to a soldiers ‘dog tag’ these new plates would be notched with the customers name and address. The plate would simply be placed in a machine with a charge slip placed on top and then a ink ribbon would imprint the customers information onto the charge slip.

Employees of O'Neil's Akron preparing the new Charga-Plate system

In 1946, The Charga-Plate system would come to Akron, Ohio. The M. O’Neil Company, Polsky’s, and Yeager’s would all adopt the system and issue an Akron Charga-Plate which customers could use at any of the three stores.

Akron Ohio Charga Plate
Back side of an Akron Charga-Plate. These cards would be good at the three largest downtown Akron department stores.

O’Neil’s would continue to use the system up to the late 50s when they would establish their own line of store credit cards. These new cards would closely resemble the credit cards we are familiar with today though they would function similarly to the Charga-Plate with rollers imprinting the face of the card onto a sales receipt via carbon copy paper. This is the reason that some credit cards still have raised numbers to this day.

Vintage 60s O'Neil's Credit Card
A 70’s era O’Neil’s charge card courtesy of Leo Noser.

In 1969 the magnetic strip on the back of credit cards would be developed by IBM who still consider the invention one of their 100 greatest contributions to society. Initially this new technology was much to expensive and it wasn’t until the 1980s that many company’s went away from the imprint style machines to the new magnetic strips.

Now with just a swipe of a card an electronic machine would send the customers information to the card issuers computer and within seconds the computer could verify if the customer had sufficient credit to complete the sale.

Oneils charge advertisement akron ohio
Charge it at O’Neil’s Rolling Acres.

Customer’s at O’Neil’s would continue to swipe their cards until 1988 when owner The May Company would merge their O’Neils division into May Co. Cleveland and over time rebrand the stores as May Company.

 

The Joseph Horne Company Enters the Cleveland Market

In 1976 The Joseph Horne Company would open their second Ohio store and their first in the Cleveland market at the brand new Randall Park Mall. Though they were considered the new kid on the block in Cleveland, The Joseph Horne company had already been in business for 127 years with 13 stores in the Pittsburgh area as well as a branch location in Youngstown.

Though the Joseph Horne Company was part of the much larger Associated Dry Goods Company the move was still considered “gutsy” as the Cleveland market already featured retail heavyweights such as Higbee’s, The May Company, The Halle Brothers, JCPenney, and Sears.

Joseph Horne Company Randall Park Mall
Architectural rendering of the future Joseph Horne Company at Randall Park Mall – Image via Cleveland Public Library Image Collection.

Looking to make a splash, The Joseph Horne Company spent nearly 3 years on design  and construction of the Randall Park store making sure to place extra emphasis on the stores interior design quality. After all, what better way to accentuate the quality of the items being sold than to show them off in the most attractive environments and settings?

Joseph Horne Randall Park Mall
Exterior at Joseph Horne Company, Randall Park Mall

When finally completed the store would be sheer elegance from top to bottom with genuine wool carpets, real teak wood floors imported from Bangkok, velvet wallcoverings, brass accents, and in one area gold leaf molding around the ceiling.

The company’s hard work would pay-off though. On the stores opening day busloads of people jammed the aisleways to get their first look at the new kid from Pittsburgh. It was so busy there were lines just to get in. One frustrated shopper was quoted in The Plain Dealer as saying “What good is it to come to a store if you can’t even get in?”.

Joseph Horne storefront
One of the interior entrance’s to the Joseph Horne Company at Randall Park Mall – Image via Pinterest

Just inside the stores main entrance shoppers would find the men’s sportswear department with light ash wood cabinets and wall trim and a pattern of burgundy and gold carpet squares.

The stores central core would house a 58 foot bay area where two escalators would carry shoppers to different departments on each level of the store. This area would be dominated by a 23 foot high crystal chandelier. The chandelier would take 4 months to build and weigh in at a lofty 2,300 pounds with 1,900 of that in crystal alone. Dark mirrors would line the walls surrounding the escalator to reflect the lights of the chandelier throughout the escalator well.

The massive at chandelier at Horne’s weighed over a ton!

Directly beneath the chandelier was the cosmetics department which had a geometrically designed carpet of brown and white color.

From cosmetics following along the herringbone patterned teak wood path would bring you to the nearby accessories department, where shoppers would find handbags, jewelry, and scarfs all showcased in a Brazilian Rosewood display cabinet trimmed in brass.

Joseph Horne COmpany
Accessories department at Joseph Horne Company Randall Park store. – Image via Stores of the Year

The houseware’s department would feature a sunny yellow tile quarried in California. The area also had display racks made of butcher block and knotty pine and an 8×8 copper hood to showcase the stores wide assortment of brass pots and pans.

Joseph Horne Company store
Houseware’s department at Joseph Horne’s. – Image via Stores of the Year

In the juniors department walls were lined with mirrors and accented with neon. A large white neon “JR” would be a beacon shining bright to indicate the departments target age group and lure young customers in.

Hornes junior department
Plenty of mirrors and neon in the juniors department at Horne’s Randall Park store. – Image via Stores of the Year

Even the dressing rooms at Joseph Horne’s had an extra touch of class, with louvered doors trimmed with brass “S” shaped handles.

If that weren’t enough, the store also boasted a restaurant on the third level, Josephine’s Eating and Drinking Emporium, that could seat 150. With an impressive collection of art and antiques along and plenty of window seating to offer patrons breathtaking views of the North Randall countryside, Josephine’s was the perfect dinner spot to wind down a long afternoon of shopping.

Some of the fine dinner values available at Josephine’s Eating & Drinking Emporium.

Waiter! I’ll take the Quiche Lorraine please.

A Look into the World of Spencer Gifts – 1974

When I think of Spencer Gifts I think of lava lamps, strobe lights, Farrah Fawcet posters, cheesy sexual themed games and “gifts”. One think I don’t really think of however is catalogs. But that’s how things all started for Max Spencer Adler when he founded Spencer Gifts in 1947, by selling mail order novelty items via catalog.

What comes to mind when I think of Spencer Gifts – Image Credit: u/darkoffice on Reddit

I recently happened upon one of these catalogs from 1974 and thought I would share a few of my favorite items, some of which I honestly wish I could still purchase today.

Take this portable flamethrower for example. At just $9.95 I would honestly look forward to going outside and clearing the sidewalks if I had one of these! So light and easy to use you can clear sidewalks one-handed.

Spencer gifts flamethrower
The Amazing Low-Cost Jiffy-Jet Flame Gun. Actually outperforms more costly foreign made flame guns.

Or perhaps these 20/20s? In a day where we put so much strain on our eyes straining at computer screens and cell phones maybe a pair of these could actually help in adjusting to reading fine print. I’m honestly somewhat interested in how these work. I really do want to try a pair.

Spencer Gifts 70s ad
Reading Marvels. Helps read fine print and far away signs!

Here’s one you don’t see anymore and probably for a good reason. The old fuzzy toilet seat. A great idea in theory until Uncle Bob comes over and has a few too many beers and his aim starts to diminish. Then your left with a wet, smelly, stained, but cozy toilet seat. Sure you can wash them, but they’re just never the same after.

Fuzzy toilet seat cover
The Furry Toilet Seat Cover – Soft as a cloud.

After eating 4 sausages, a hearty serving of corn, and crinkle cut carrots with peas you probably wont feel much like doing the dishes. No problem! With this new 3-way skillet you can cook everything in the same pan! And it’s non-stick! I would be stunned if there isn’t still something like this on the market. Seems perfect for one of the “As Seen on TV” stores.

The 3-Way Skillet – perfect for baby food or left overs.

And once you drive down 4 sausages your waistline might take a bit of a hit. No worries, just slap on the midriff belt to control unsightly bulges and “bay windows”. Thankfully they’ve finally done away with that annoying crotch piece.

Not just for women anymore. The midriff belt adjust for a perfect fit.

This is honestly my favorite item in the catalog. A pre-seeded 15 foot carpet of flowers for a buck? How cool is this? I would buy this for myself and as a gift probably even at a significantly higher price.

Roll out the carpet! 15 feet of flowers for a dollar.

You’ve just done up your hair and want to go check on your flower carpet. But look, it’s raining outside. No problem. Laugh in the face of those thunderstorms and protect your hair at the same time in this fashionable see-thru bonnet. Surely there must still be a market for this out there. Bring it back!

Even a high bouffant is spared with the fashionable rain bonnet from spencer gifts.

Amazingly there were no strobe lights or lava lamps in this catalog but there was still this classic. The fiber optic flower globe. I had nearly ever other weird lighting accessory available  from Spencer’s growing up except this one. I feel like I owe it to myself to finally find one. eBay here I come…

Spencer gifts lights
Dim the lights and let the radiant vision enchant you!

Nearly 75 years later, Spencer Gifts no longer offers their mail-in catalog. But it’s hard to deny the novelty chains success while so many other retail chains have failed.

Blueprint Archive – Radio Shack at Mellett Mall

Mellett Mall (later Canton Centre) in Canton, Ohio would open for business in 1965 and shortly after in 1968 Radio Shack would follow suit and sign their first lease with the mall. At the time of opening, Radio Shack’s offerings included the sale and servicing of high fidelity stereos, citizen band radios (CB), televisions, tape recorders, and electronic components, equipment and supplies.

Radio Shack Blueprint
1984 elevation drawing for the Radio Shack store at Mellett Mall.

In 1984 Radio Shack looked to move its store to a new location and they would land next to Abbott’s Cards and Gifts in the malls east wing which was anchored by Montgomery Ward. The blueprint pictured is the architect’s elevation drawing and floor plan for that relocation.

Radio Shack Mellett Mall
Image showing the completed Radio Shack storefront in the malls east wing.

In 2001 Montgomery Ward would go bankrupt and close their store at the mall putting the future of the entire wing of the mall in jeopardy. Under new management the land that the east wing stood on was sold to Walmart.

Despite multiple attempts from mall management to relocate, Radio Shack would stay in this location until the wing was closed for demolition forcing management to terminate their lease.

Canton Centre Mall Directory
Canton Centre Mall Directory. The General Cinema Theatre as well as the entire Wards wing would be demolished in 2004.

Interestingly, the malls breaking of the lease with Radio Shack would end up costing ownership 40,000 dollars due to a clause in the original lease.

Looking for Continuity at Randall Park Mall

The Oxford Dictionary defines continuity as the unbroken and consistent existence or operation of something over a period of time. Continuity is by no means is one of the first words that might pop into your head when thinking of Randall Park Mall. After all, the mall had a fairly short operating life of just over 30 years. But in 1976, when the mall was nearing it’s grand opening, continuity would be the perfect word to describe the DeBartolo Corporation who were busy erecting regional shopping centers at a frantic pace to keep up with consumer demand and fierce competition from rival developers.

Edward J DeBartolo
Edward J. Debartolo in front of his “Continuity” sculpture. Image courtesy of the Leo Noser Collection.

This continuity at which the company would operate would be the result of the DeBartolo Corporation’s ability to handle all aspects of shopping center development in house. From site selection and design, all the way to leasing and operations. The DeBartolo Corporation handled it all and they were quite good at it.

Thus It would only seem fitting for the DeBartolo Corporation’s crowning achievement of building and operating the world’s largest shopping mall, that they would look for the perfect piece of art to help convey the company’s image to the public in a grand fashion.

Werner Neblung
Werner Neblung, the artist behind Continuity with his son Rick directing work on one of their sculptures.

The DeBartolo Corporation would commission Werner H. Neblung, an immigrant German artist and owner of Railco Metal Craft to construct his “Continuity” piece after it had been selected from a sketch and a two foot model.

When completed Continuity would be in the shape of a ten foot cube consisting of one continuous (hence the name) ground and polished piece of polished eight inch aluminum tubing. The sculpture would weigh in at 2000 pounds and would rest on one of the end points of the cube. where it would be perched high atop a seven foot tall pyramid.

Continuity by Wener Neblung. Image via Randall Park Memories Facebook group.

Neblung would actually fabricate the entire piece completely in his studio and when complete the sculpture would receive a full month of grinding and polishing to achieve its perfectly smooth and shiny look.

Sculpture Randal Park Mall
The brushed aluminum of Continuity goes marvelously with the bright red carpets of Randall Park Mall. Image via Stores of the Year Volume I.

This striking sculpture would most certainly catch any shoppers eye from either level and from any viewpoint in the mall and would become the focal point of the lower level of the mall opposite the Higbee’s entrance.

Christmas at Randall Park Mall
During the holidays the sculpture was double perfectly as a Christmas gift. Image via Randall Park Mall Memories.

Though Randall Park Mall is long gone, rumor has it that the sculpture was removed before demolition and is currently hidden in a storage unit at the Thistledown Racino in North Randall.

 

The JOX JAG by Thom McAn

When you think of shoes made for BMX biking you probably think of Vans, Vision Street Wear, Airwalk, or maybe even Converse All Stars. But it was actually Thom McAn who in the late 70s introduced the first ever specialty BMX shoe.

JOX BMX ad
JOX – The shoe named just for you!

The company’s JOX brand had already been around for a few years and was mostly known for making low-cost and somewhat low-quality athletic shoes when they partnered with Renny Roker, a BMX promoter and owner of the JAG BMX team to help design the JOX JAG. The shoes were completely constructed with the rider in mind, featuring sturdy soles and a special mag wheel style tread to help keep grip of the pedals.

Renny Roker – Legendary BMX promoter would lend a hand in creating the JOX JAG.

Riders loved the shoes, if not for their quality then for fact the Thom McAn company showed genuine interest in the BMX sport. In addition to Team JAG, the company would soon become a sponsor and official shoe of Team Schwinn. Thom McAn would also be an official sponsor of the BMX World Championships.

The JOX JAG would be one of Thom McAn’s top selling shoes every year it was produced, though in the mid-80s the JOX brand changed gears and began trying to  market to actual jocks by making knock-off’s of hot selling basketball shoes with their own JOX “pumps” and Jordan look-alikes. Needless to say this would be a failed venture and soon the JOX brand would fade.

JOX JAG High Top Shoes
Soon the company would add high-tops to their JOX JAG line

It’s a shame really. It really seemed like JOX were on to something with their JOX JAG. If you look at the models pictured above they look strikingly similar to the Vans, and Airwalk shoes that would be wildly popular a few short years later.

An interesting side note the JOX JAG would be the first and only product ever produced by Thom McAn that would be named after an outside person or company.

Jox JAG BMX shoe
The JOX JAG shoes featured a special tread to help riders keep a grip on their pedals.

“There’s not a lot you can say about a good tennis shoe. I guess that’s what I like about Jox, I don’t have to think about ’em.”
Anthony Sewell – Captain of Team JAG and wearer of JOX JAGs

Greetings From Booklein Family Reading Center

Founded in 1927 the Klein News Company of Cleveland got its start as a local distributor of magazines and newspapers. As paperback books started gaining popularity, publishers would utilize distributors such as Klein to help bring the new low-cost books to market. To help spur interest in these new inexpensive books the company would donate them to area libraries as well as organizing bookmobiles to help acquaint students with them.

The Klein News Company wasn’t just an innovator in bringing paperbacks to market though, they were also innovators in technology. In the 1950’s and 60’s the company was the first in Cleveland to use the initial generation of IBM Computers to help improve the company’s operation efficiency.

Booklein Summit Mall
Postcard from the Booklein store at Summit Mall in Akron, Ohio.

By the 70’s The Klein News Company was the area’s prominent distributor of paperback books and was looking for a way to expand their sales even further. With supermarkets being the backbone of paperback and magazine sales at the time it only made sense to try and enter into a similar retail market, the shopping mall.

The company would bring their new idea to life with Booklein (pronounced book-line) Family Reading Centers. Though the name translated from German means “little book store”, the store was actually named after the company president, George Klein. Despite the name, Booklein was always first and foremost a magazine shop. The store stocked “all the magazines you’ve ever wanted to read…and then some”.  But it wasn’t just all books and magazines at Booklein. The store also featured tobacco, candy, maps, calenders, and of course, lottery tickets.

Booklein flyer rolling acres mall
Booklein – For all the magazines you’ve ever wanted to read…and then some.

In addition to the Summit Mall store The Klein News Company would go on to open Booklein shops at Great Lakes Mall, Rolling Acres Mall, Randall Park Mall, and Sandusky Mall before abruptly exiting the retailing market in 1984.

I have many fond memories of the Rolling Acres store as Booklein and later as Churchill News and Tobacco. The store was a must visit every time I would go to the mall. It seemed that no matter what age I was or what hobbies I had at the time, the store would have a magazine to cater to my needs.

Rolling Acres Bookstore
Booklein at Rolling Acres Mall

“We don’t just sell books, we serve our customers with a smile-that’s why we call ourselves ‘The Friendly People Place'”
Toni Lack – Manager at Booklein, Summit Mall from The Beacon Journal 1978

Hickory Farms – The Summer Sausage Kings of Toledo, Ohio

Cheese wheels.
That was the plan. Cousins Richard and Earl Ransom thought there was a gap in the market needing filled for a shop offering old-time wheels of swiss and cheddar cheeses, just like they did in the days of their youth. Customers would be able to get their orders cut fresh, straight from the wheel. In 1950 they would take their vision to market, setting up shop at a home show in Toledo, Ohio. Their shop would be so successful at the home show that the cousins would soon be setting up kiosks at shows and fairs across the country.

Dick and Earl Ransom, The Summer Sausage Kings of Toledo, Ohio. (Toledo Blade)

Building off their success of cheese sales, the Ransoms would introduce a new product in 1956, “The Beef Stick”, a four pound, two foot long smoked summer sausage. They would also rename their business to Hickory Farms after their new product’s hickory style smoky flavor. The new beef stick would be the perfect compliment to their cheeses and with customers loving its flavor it would soon become the company’s cornerstone product. Business was booming for Hickory Farms and in just three short years the cousins would be selling 1.5 million pounds of summer sausage at their many kiosks and by mail order.

Hickory Farms Beef Stick
Winner of the coveted California Gold Medal.

It was time to expand, and in 1959 the Ransom’s opened the first Hickory Farms retail outlet in Toledo, Ohio. The new store would adopt what would go on to be the company’s signature look, a country motif, complete with wagon wheels pressed into service as lights. beams criss-crossing the ceiling, and red barn style storefronts. Staff would be dressed in red and white checkered shirts with denim skirts.

Believing so strongly in their products, the Ransom’s thought they had the finest quality products on the market and their way of convincing their customers of this was to offer plenty of free samples. And it worked. After just small a taste of beef stick, the customers were hooked.

The classic country look of Hickory Farms storefront.

In the early 60s the Ransom’s began offering franchises of the stores and soon after  Hickory Farms were popping up everywhere and by 1968 they would be celebrating their 100th store opening.

Also in 1968 the already world famous beef stick would achieve new heights so to speak being selected as one of the menu items for the Traleika Traverse Expidition, a trek to the top of Mt. McKinley in Alaska. The beef stick was selected for its keeping qualities and its high calorie per weight value.

Would you like to try a sample of our double smoked summer sausage before you head over to GTE Phone Mart?

Over the years the Hickory Farms beef stick has won numerous awards and medals and has yet somehow been delegated to become the gift you get people when you cant think of anything else to get them. Though I must say I’ve yet to ever hear of anyone ever complaining of getting it as a gift.

As for the Ransom’s? They sold their stakes of the company to General Host in 1980 for 40 million dollars ending their two decade plus reign as the summer sausage kings.