The Halle Brothers – Belden Village Mall

In 1970, after a hiatus of nearly 15 years, the Halle Brothers decided to return to the Canton, Ohio market in grand fashion, with an anchor store at the brand new Belden Village Mall. After over a year of extensive market research the Halle Brothers would determine that the Stark County area was already being more than adequately served by a number existing of full-line department stores. They needed a plan. Something different.

Halle Brothers Belden Village
Exterior entrance to Halle’s at Belden Village Mall from the company’s 1970 annual report.

So the Halle Brothers came up with “The Shop Concept”. With this new concept the Halle Brother’s would buck the notion of being a traditional department store selling items such as sporting goods, camera’s and toys, and focus strictly on higher end fashions and offering only quality merchandise from select lines. In this way the Halle Brothers thought they could better serve the needs of area residents.

The Halle Brothers also realized there would be other retailers already offering similar lines of merchandise at comparable prices. They would attempt to overcome this hurdle by stressing innovation in merchandising techniques and offering high quality service.

Halle's Belden Village
Halle’s Interior entrance at Belden Village Mall Grand Opening.

Now that the company had their business model, they needed someone who could bring their innovation into reality. They brought in Rudi Baumfield of Gruen and Associates. Rudi was somewhat a legend of retail design at the time, he was the man who designed the first enclosed two level shopping mall in the United States as well as designing more than a dozen Joseph Magnin stores on the west coast.

Belden Village Canton Ohio
What’s Happening at Halle’s in Belden Village Mall.

Rudi’s plan would feature wide aisles, bright colors, and subtle lighting. There would be thick carpeting throughout the store with the exception of some small surfaces in the men’s department and at the entrances, which were covered in black tile. The various departments would be recessed from the main aisles and be decorated in their own distinct manner, giving the illusion of small shops rather than a department store.

Halle Brothers Belden Village
A showcase of the Rudi Baumfield designed store featuring the artificial skylight as a centerpiece.

The store would feature a stunning 20 X 116 foot artificial skylight in the center of the sales floor. The skylight consisted of four colors of plexiglass arranged in randomly rising and falling four-sided pyramids almost looking like an optical illusion.

Halle's Belden Village
Closeup view of the pyramid like optical illusion skylight.

In addition to being one of the most appealing retail outlets in the area, the Halle Brothers also stressed that one of the most important factors to running a successful operation was the quality of service. And they would make sure of this at their Belden Village store. Out of a near 700 applicants for jobs, they selected only the top 120.

Higbee’s – Randall Park Mall

In the early 1970s Edward J. DeBartolo was quickly becoming one of the biggest single developers of shopping centers in the country. Already having a strong foothold in the Northeast Ohio market owning and operating Great Lakes Mall, Summit Mall, and Richmond Mall, DeBartolo was planning for something bigger for the area. Something like maybe the biggest shopping mall that anyone had ever seen.

Ed Debartolo Sr.
The king of shopping centers, Edward J. Debartolo and son Eddie more than likely scheming on where to build the next mall.

So in 1973 construction began on Randall Park Mall in North Randall Ohio. The mall would be a massive 2,200,000 square feet and its size would unseat A. Alfred Taubman of the Taubman Company as the “Builder of the World’s Largest Shopping Center” and cement Mr. DeBartolo’s legacy as the true king of mall developers.

Higbee's Randall Park Mall Under Construction
This 1974 image from Higbee’s Annual Report shows the interior construction of Randall Park Mall from the viewpoint of the Higbee’s store entrance.

A shopping center of such grandeur would of course need some pretty remarkable anchor stores, and where better to start than with a Cleveland local, The Higbee Company. Higbee’s, already having been in the business 116 years, had truly blossomed into the area leader in full service department stores when they opened their ninth store at Randall Park in 1976.

Higbee's Randall Adventure Game
Higbee’s Randall Adventure Game featuring the many departments of the store from the Cleveland Plain Dealer Special Randall Park Mall Grand Opening section.

With the Randall Park location, the Higbee Company would look to open their fanciest store yet. A two level store of 195,000 square feet. The upper level of the store would house a complete fashion center for the entire family with departments such as The Signature Shop for men, a complete Designer Shop for women featuring many of the top brands, a Pro Shop for sports clothing, and of course the Junior Area and Student Shop for the kids.

Make a name for yourself in the Higbee’s Signature Shop for Men.
Higbee's Footwear department
Fancy footwear for the ladies from all the best brands.

On the lower level of the store you could find additional departments such as Housewares, Gifts and Gourmets, Books, Toys, and Form & Function, an all new contemporary furniture and home accessory shop which borrowed strongly from the highly successful Higbee’s Westgate Home Center.

Gifts at Higbee's Randall Park Mall
Gifts and gourmet abound on the lower level of the new Higbee’s at Randall Park Mall.

It’s easy to see how one could get caught up and make a whole day out of a trip to Higbee’s alone. There was even a restaurant, The Racing Silks Dining Room, where customers could stop and have lunch or visit The Pronto Room for a quick coffee or nibble.

Randall Park Higbees restaurant
Fine dining in The Racing Silks Restaurant at Randall Park Mall.

The Great Department Store Mini-Bike Craze

In 1959 the Michrina Brothers would deliver their first mini-bike prototypes to former Indianapolis 500 winner Troy Ruttman to sell at his car dealership. These first prototypes were known as “Lil Indians” and they would spark the craze that had little kids begging their parents for a mini-bike. Other brands would soon follow, Taco, Bonanza, Arctic Cat, and Rupp, just to name a few, and soon the major department stores would be selling their own mini bikes as well.

Montgomery Ward Mini Bikes
Advertisement showcasing the 1970 line of Montgomery Ward Mini Bikes.

Montgomery Ward’s offerings into the market included the “sassy” 323 which at only 3hp was no speed demon but certainly still looks like a lot of fun, the “lively” 424 which came with shocks and a 4hp engine, and the “swingin” 525 which packed a full 5hp, 2 speeds, and racing wheels.

Penney’s offered similar bikes, but with slightly cooler names like Big Blue, El Tigre, Swinger, and the super cool chopper inspired Duster with its high-rise handlebars and backrest.

JCPenney Mini Bike
JCPenney had a solid selection of mini bikes.

And Sears? Yeah well, Sears was Sears. Though as a kid I would have been absolutely delighted beyond belief to have woken up on Christmas to find myself a new owner of a Puncher, it’s also quite obviously the least cool of the bunch.

sears Mini Bike
The complete Sears mini-bike lineup featuring “The Puncher”.

In 1973 mini bike sales peaked at 140,000 units from over a hundred different manufacturers. There was even a new sport “Mini-Bike Soccer” which had racers from both teams merging at center field at full speed for the opening kick-off (I hope they were wearing helmets). Just a few years later in 1976 the craze was over and mini bikes fell out of favor with kids who now wanted dirt bikes. Blasphemy.

Sears – Tri-County Mall

“This is Sears Today” is theme Sears chose to introduce their model store to the Cincinnati area.
1967 – Tri-County Mall

The two story store (pictured above) featured 52 different departments including an auto center and a restaurant. In the 60’s Sears had the philosophy of which it was obligated to purchase as much of its merchandise as possible locally. In 1965 alone Sears purchased merchandise worth nearly 37 million dollars from 70 different Cincinnati manufacturers.

2018 – Sears at Tri-County Mall

The above image shows a view of the Sears storefront at Tri-County Mall in Cincinnati two days before closing its doors for good in 2018, marking the end of a magnificent 51 year run at this location.

1987 Sears Video Wishbook – Santa’s Favorites

In 1987 Sears released their first in-home video catalog featuring an exciting collection of Sears exclusive electronic toys.

Sears Video Wishbook VHS

Some fun things to watch out for in the video:

  • Joey’s sweet shirt
  • Hillary being a great big sister offering to teach Joey to use the Computron
  • Ronny learns the true meaning of Christmas
  • Electronic toys can be fun
  • Humble Hillary admitting they could be better kids



Go ahead and put me down for a Lobo II and a Talking Computron.

I have no idea if Sears continued the idea of the video wishbook in following years or if this was a one year and done thing, though it does seem like a good idea as near the end of the 80’s nearly 90% of american homes had VCR’s, and in the 80’s we all loved our Christmas catalogs.

Missed out on all the great toys? You can still get one of these retro inspired buttons from Untitled Colours.

Bon-Ton Merchandising Stategies

On a recent road trip to visit some closing Bon-Ton stores, I decided to take a look in the dumpster behind the the Olean Mall store. This video cassette is one of the wonderful treasures I found that day.

Bon-Ton VHS tape

In “Merchandising Strategies” you are introduced to several of the Bon-Ton’s “Core Merchandising Strategies” such as gifts, impulse items, and differentiation of product to set the Bon-Ton apart from other similar stores.

Next its on to learn about the private brands behind the success of Bon-Ton such as Ruf-Hewn, Laura Ashley, Cezani, and Living Quarterss

You will also be introduced to the product development team who give you a one on one detailed behind the scenes profile for each of the Bon-Ton’s private brands.

Without any further ado Mallwalkers presents to you, “Merchandising Strategies”. Enjoy.

Still awake after watching “Merchandising Stategies”?  Check out this wonderful Rolling Acres Mall video from 2003 to help cleanse your eyes, mind, and sprit.


Store Showcase: Burdines Florida Department Store

Between the 1970s and 1980s Burdines was flourishing, and it was time to refine their image. The answer…”the Florida Strategy”. To separate themselves from the competition, Burdines would offer products tailored to the tropical climate. Sunshine fashions, if you will.

Burdines Florida Storefront

When other department stores were selling routine winter merchandise, Bourdines would continue to offer warm weather products. Bathing suits, shorts and skirts, and linen pieces were continually on the floor with a few cotton sweaters and wintertime coats mixed in.

Burdines Shopping Bag

Burdines paid special attention to meet the popular demographics of each store depending on its location. For instance Burdines carried an extensive juniors line in their Gainesville location, which is home to the University of Florida as well as Santa Fe College. While other locations carried styles befitting of the Palm Beach socialite, or tailored to the Northerner now living in the Sunshine State.

Burdines Florida

Bourdines designed the store interiors with an overall tropical atmosphere. The color scheme was coastal and the designs were that of palm trees and the ocean. There were atriums, skylights and ceilings painted sky blue with just a few scattering clouds.

Burdines Florida Storefront

Burdines flawlessly captured the sense of style, fashion and aura that is Florida and will forever remain “The Florida Store”.

Burdines Credit Card

Catalog Department: Montgomery Ward

Montgomery Wards storefront

Most of you remember Montgomery Ward not only for their department store, but also for their catalog. Or more lovingly called the “Wish Book”.

Montgomery ward Christmas 1980

Aaron Montgomery Ward started the nation’s first mail-order business in 1872 when he issued his first catalog, a single sheet price list of 163 items. Montgomery Ward would remain a leader in the catalog industry for the next 113 years.

Montgomery ward catalog sales

In 1975 the catalog division of Montgomery Ward was operating catalog order desks in all 433 retail stores in addition to 555 catalog stores and 1,288 catalog sales agencies.

Montgomery ward sales slumpingWithin 4 years of opening their first retail store Montgomery Ward started to see the retail sales overtake the catalog sales. Sadly catalog sales would continue a slow and steady decline.

The company ultimately made the decision to close the catalog division and cease publication with the last catalog being issued in December 1985. That was the final Christmas edition.

Montgomery ward catalog showroom

The prestigious Grolier Club, America’s oldest society of bibliophiles, named the Montgomery Ward catalog as one of only one hundred books that had most influenced the life and culture of American people.