Remember This: Original Crestview Hills Mall had plenty of ambition, but not enough stores, shoppers

A young George Clooney selling shoes wasn't enough
Posted at 7:00 AM, Oct 11, 2017

CRESTVIEW HILLS, Ky. -- If you build it, he will come. 

Contrary to the popular movie quote, that wasn’t quite the case with the original Crestview Hills Mall. 

As Cincinnati’s circle freeway, Interstate 275, neared completion in Northern Kentucky in the late 1970s, communities along the route began making plans for retail, homes and businesses. The tiny city of Crestview Hills naturally wanted to capitalize on this expressway that would divide it in half, so plans came together to build the Crestview Hills Mall. The 475,000-square-foot indoor mall would have capacity for about 90 retailers, anchored by McAlpin’s department store at one end and a yet-to-be-named department store at the other. 

By the early 1980s, it was a reality. The giant two-story McAlpin’s, featuring the Kopper Kettle Restaurant, and the adjacent mall with a handful of stores opened up to compete with nearby, and still new, Florence Mall.

McAlpin’s, which had Cincinnati roots, opened its first store in 1880 on Fourth Street, Downtown. The Crestview Hills Mall store was the retailer’s first venture into Northern Kentucky. Shoppers remember the infamous Moonlight Madness sales, when the store was open late and parking spots were hard to find. Although the store would have deals all day long, during hourly specials shoppers would run through the store, grabbing frantically at the bargains.

Another lesser-known attraction in those early years was the handsome sales guy in McAlpin’s women’s shoe department. Back then he was popular for being WKRC-TV news anchor Nick Clooney’s son. Before moving to Hollywood, young George Clooney was fitting ladies with their Etienne Aigner pumps or Sperry Topsider boat shoes.

The McAlpin’s store was on the north end of the mall, closer to I-275, with space for the second anchor to be built at the opposite end. Through the years, rumors swirled about what store would fill the space; many thought it would be Elder-Beerman, but that second anchor store never materialized. Meanwhile, most of the 90 or so storefronts remained empty.

Through the 1980s and 1990, smaller stores came and went. Shoppers might remember Orange Julius, Walden Books, Hit or Miss Clothing, Foxmoor Clothing, Lerner New York, Hair Performers, Coach House Gifts, a video rental store and a few chain jewelry stores. In later years, Dillard’s, which had purchased McAlpin’s, had an upscale furniture store in a large area of the first floor, and a vocational college filled up about a quarter of the second floor. 

But what the mall attracted most was people who wanted to exercise indoors. 

“I called it the Walking Mall,” said Paul Meier, current mayor of Crestview Hills. “They just could never get that second anchor store, and so the only thing to do there was walk.”

Sweet Tooth Candies, which sold handmade chocolates like dark opera creams and milk chocolate turtles, along with homemade ice cream and ice balls, was near the center of the mall for about 20 years. 

“The walkers are who kept us in business,” said Bob Schneider, store owner. “They would walk like crazy and then come in and get a banana split. We loved them.”

The 475,000-square-foot Crestview Hills Mall had space for 90 retailers, but it was never filled to capacity and failed to thrive as a shopping destination. (Photo courtesy of Kenton County Public Library)

Schneider, who still has a Sweet Tooth Candies on 11th Street in Newport, said his Crestview location could have been busier if there were more stores in the mall, but he was always satisfied with the amount of customers. 

“We were sad to leave; we loved it there,” he said. “We didn’t leave because of business but because they were going to tear the building down.” 

Meier, who has been mayor for about 20 years, was on City Council in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He was not in office when the mall opened but watched it tread water through the years. 

He remembers in the early 2000s a restaurant expressed interest in an out-lot. The zoning at the time had a set-back requirement, so that buildings would not be built close to Dixie Highway. 

“So we worked to get that zone change,” he said. “There was concern by residents with the change, but our objective was always to redevelop the space.”

The zoning was changed, the mall came under new ownership, and in 2003 Crestview Hills City Council approved a preliminary site plan for a new lifestyle center, with about 65 stores and restaurants and a new Dillard’s store. The new Dillard’s, which opened in early 2005, was built in the footprint of the original mall’s second anchor location. 

The second version of a shopping destination in Crestview Hills seems to be just what the retailers and customers were looking for. Unlike the first version, the outdoor complex has very few available storefronts and plenty of large and small stores and a wide array of restaurants. 

“The city is very happy with the Crestview Hills Town Center,” said Meier. “It all worked out.”