When Northland Mall, the city's first, opened more than 47 years ago, it was anchored by Sears and Lazarus.

When Northland Mall, the city’s first, opened more than 47 years ago, it was anchored by Sears and Lazarus.

The Lazarus family was more or less forced into it, according to the authors of a new book about the Columbus-based retail empire.

“They knew in 1950 if you built stores in the suburbs it was going to destroy the downtown store,” co-author David Meyers said. “They had already purchased property in the late 1940s to build suburban stores, and they stopped.”

Meyers and his wife, Beverly, and their daughter, Elise Meyers Walker, wrote “Look to Lazarus: The Big Store.” It was published earlier this year by The History Press of Charleston, S.C.

In the section of the book dealing with Lazarus mall stores, the Clintonville family wrote:

“The Westland (Mall) store (which opened as a free-standing site in the early 1960s) would eventually be rebranded Lazarus-Macy’s in 2003’s ‘Project Hyphen.’ Two years after that it was simply Macy’s in ‘Project Star’ before finally closing forever in 2007. The experiment had lasted 45 years, a more than respectable run. But some still maintain that it was the first nail in the coffin of F&R Lazarus and Co.

“While Lazarus probably would have preferred to roll out additional branches at a more leisurely pace, its hand was forced when Sears Roebuck and Co. purchased three large parcels of land on the North, East and West sides of Columbus for the purpose of constructing its own shopping malls.

“Unable to ignore this challenge on its doorstep, company officials approached the Chicago-based retailing giant about joining forces. Instead of being competitors, they would develop the properties together, sharing the costs and benefits. It was simply a matter of protecting market share.

“Northland Mall, located at Morse and Karl roads on the city’s Far North Side, was their first joint venture, with Lazarus anchoring the west end and Sears the east of the open-air plaza. Halfway in between, shoppers could ‘meet under the clock tower,’ the mall’s most notable feature. Opening in the spring of 1964 to record crowds, Lazarus Northland offered a three-level, 185,000-square-foot store with a separate 9,000-square-foot auto center.

“About one-sixth the size of the downtown store, Lazarus Northland was, nevertheless, considered a full-line department store. It housed fashions for men, women and children; a home furnishing and decorating center; major appliances, hardware and other staples; check cashing; bridal registry; a layaway plan; a coffee shop; a restaurant; and parking for 5,000.

“Expanded in 1968 and again in 1974 to a total of 228,000 square feet, the Northland store was also deemed a success, although Lazarus management knew that sales were not keeping pace with expenses. A crucial index, sales per square foot, was declining; they were spending more to earn less. The store finally closed in 2001 after 37 years and was converted into offices for the Ohio Department of Taxation. The mall’s end was no doubt hastened by the perception that it had become a magnet for unruly gangs of youth.”

— Kevin Parks