Mike Kotler's Commentary

Posted October 2, 2005 (user submitted)

For a period of just over 10 years, downtown Dayton, Ohio had its own enclosed mall. Arcade Square, which started life around the turn-of-the-century as an indoor farmers' market, is actually five separate buildings built around an ornate 3-story rotunda with a glass dome on top. It took up most of a city block bordered by: Third and Fourth Street to the north and south, and Main and Ludlow St. to the east and west respectively. The Arcade had an entrance on 3rd and 4th streets and two entrances on Ludlow. Main Street had access through the Arcade's lone anchor, McCrory (which also had a 4th St. entrance that was kept locked). A walkway with a glass canopy direct to Main St., to be located in an existing alley between buildings, was proposed but never built.

Converting the Arcade into a mall environment involved, among other things, repainting the trim around the rotunda and refurbishing the glass roof sections. The first and second floors were used for retail, with 3 escalators installed to run between them, while the third floor became offices overlooking the rotunda. Restrooms would be on the basement level, accessed by two sets of stairs. A big glass elevator served all four floors.

Unlike most malls, which tend to be filled with national or regional "mall chains", the Arcade was primarily occupied by local "mom-n-pop" shops. This made for a few truly unique businesses. The only chain stores present here were Casual Corner, Waldenbooks, a sandwich shop called The American Way, and the McCrory anchor.

The local stores included: Charlie's Crab -- an upscale seafood reastaurant, which took over half the 2nd floor around the rotunda. Charlie's Raw Bar and Saloon -- another seafood place literally located right beneath its pricier cousin. Arcade Seafoods -- a fish store, which also sold sandwiches and had limited seating. B.P. Gogg's -- an upscale restaurant, located on the second floor right behind the original brick facade facing Third St. Coca-Cola Museum -- one of the more unique shops from when the Arcade first opened as a mall, the owner had a huge collection of Coke memorabilia on display. He also had an old-time soda-jerk counter and a jukebox. The place was later renamed "An Old-fashioned Soda Bar". Sadly, this was one of the first new spots in the Arcade to be closed, the reason being something about attracting too many kids and/or running counter to the "snob appeal" the Arcade was supposedly trying to establish. A long candy counter (whose name escapes me) -- located right on the edge of the rotunda, they sold the first brown (chocolate) licorice I've ever had. Rinaldo's, a popular local Italian bakery, opened an Arcade outpost to sell their baked goods. Named "Li'l Rinaldo's", it wasn't long before they expanded their store to include on-premises baking. Overbey's Emporium - gourmet foods etc. Always Christmas - sold Xmas trinkets and decorations year-round.

A few service-oriented business also located in the Arcade: Wright-Pat Credit Union Dayton Business Graphics - I seem to recall they used high-end Apollo workstations to produce the kind of color computer graphics that were unfeasible with the primitive PCs of the day.

When the video game craze began in the early 80's, a video arcade was placed in the basement near the restrooms. It was given the clever name "Arcade Arcade". It did not last long, though, as you had to be 21 to enter; could it be that the more avid Pac-Man players were just a bit younger than that? The restaurant B.P. Gogg's, which had a number of "cocktail" video games audible from the common areas, also had a 21+ policy. These age restrictions were put in to keep the Arcade from being overrun with kids and teens.

Food courts were not quite a standard in malls when the Arcade was opened. But the phenomenal success of the eateries that did open there quickly caused a problem with lack of seating. So much so, in fact, that one food stand resorted to renting an adjacent space just for seating, albeit for their customers only. The solution came in 1985, when a huge round hole was cut in the floor of the rotunda, turning the under-utilized basement level into a large food court. The food stands were moved downstairs and placed along the sides while plentiful chairs and tables were put in the center section.

Food vendors, other than the ones listed above, included: Hot Dog Builders Pizza Boy Potato Works Xar's, a Greek deli

By the 1990s, the city decided it was time to expand on the success of Arcade Square. Unfortunately, the plan was to do this was via good old-fashioned urban renewal, a move which many people questioned. Two non-Arcade groups of buildings on the same city block were to be torn down: The structures at Main and Third (the "zero address" location for Dayton), home to a Rite Aid Pharmacy and a local upscale clothing store called "Donenfeld's", would be replaced by a post-modern high-rise office building, with space for retail on its lower levels that would directly connect to the Arcade proper. The buildings at Third and Ludlow would become a parking garage, something the Arcade never had of its own. A local grocery called "Liberal" (later "Metro") was in this space, but the garage would incorporate a new space for a supermarket. While both structures were eventually built, they were apparently "too-little too-late" to revive retail in the city's urban core. The Arcade closed for business in the early 1990s, shortly after the new high-rise opened, though some stores reopened for the following X-mas shopping season only.

My theories for the Arcade's demise:

  1. Parking in Downtown Dayton cost money and required some walking, whereas parking at the suburban malls was free and closer.
  2. Especially at the Third St. Arcade entrance, there was a problem with unsavory youths hanging around, and in some cases, intimidating the shoppers. This was exacerbated by the fact that the local public schools were making use of the city bus system for transport of secondary students, and the main transfer point for the busses is Third and Main, i.e., right out in front. Over time, this turned away many of the older and more timid customers.
  3. As with many smaller malls, the proliferation of "Big Box" retail in and around the city usurped most of the Arcade's potential shoppers.
  4. Closure of the McCrory anchor, along with the two major department stores located a block away or less. The 8-story flagship Rike's store (later Lazarus) was imploded in 1999, and the flagship Elder-Beerman was converted to offices. A few more blocks away, the 3-level downtown Sears shut its doors in 1993, and a locally-owned fashion-oriented department store called "The Metropolitan" closed back in the 1980s.
  5. Many downtown businesses relocated to the suburbs, especially the Poe Avenue corridor to the north and along the new I-675 highway to the south and east. This reduced the pool of lunch customers.

Gone are the occasional "Downtown Dayton Days" when you could get good prices on stuff. But like many downtown business districts, Dayton is seeing a small revival. With the opening of Fifth-Third Field for the Dayton Dragons Minor League baseball team, the Shuster Center for the Performing Arts (built on the Rike's site) and new housing along the riverfront, could retail be next?

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