Mid City Mall is a shopping mall in Louisville, Kentucky's Highlands area. While called a mall, and containing an enclosed shopping area, it has features atypical of suburban American malls, such as a comedy club, bar, grocery store and public library. A 1994 article in Louisville's Courier-Journal newspaper argued that the mall could be considered the "crossroads" of Louisville, and described it as being "only part shopping center, because it is also community center, courthouse square and retirement-village rec room."
Mid City Mall was built on the site of the German Protestant Orphan's Home, which was founded in 1851 and moved to the 10-acre (40,000 m2) Highlands site in 1902. It remained there until 1962, but the structure and grounds were sold for $500,000 in 1959 to mall developers. The aging structure was demolished and the orphanage moved to Bardstown Road and Goldsmith Lane.
Developers then built what became Kentucky's second enclosed mall. The initial plan, unveiled in 1958, called for a $7.5 million, five-story mall with a pool in front on the Bardstown Road side and penthouse apartments on the top floor. The plan was gradually whittled down to a one-story plan with a lower level. The main developer of the project was Guy E. McGaughey, Jr., an attorney from Lawrenceville, Ill. The concept of an enclosed mall was very new. There were only a handful of enclosed malls in the US at the time. In drawing up the business model for the Mall, Mr. McGaughey had no basis for the rents. There was not a history for how much to charge the tenants for space, maintenance, housekeeping, repairs, trash pick-up, etc. Consequently, revenues were never enough to keep the Mall up-to-date and clean.
Construction began in March 1962 and the mall was completed in October of that year at a cost of $3 million. The shopping center formally opened on October 10, 1962, in a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Louisville Mayor William O. Cowger and Jefferson County Judge Marlow Cook. The mall contained 180,000 square feet (17,000 m2) of leasable space and 22 stores.
On June 21, 1964 an early morning fire that started in the Cherokee Book and Card Stop caused $200,000 in damage to the mall.
By the mid-1970s, the Bardstown Road corridor was in decline, and local leaders saw the sprawling mall as the epicenter of the problems. Complaints about crime, poor maintenance and deterioration of the structure were common. To force improvements to the mall, the surrounding neighborhood associations banded together and started a boycott of the mall in February 1975.
Partially as a result of the boycott, the mall went into foreclosure in Fall 1976, and receivership on January 1, 1977. By the end of the 1970s the mall was sold to the Metts family, who were more willing to improve the property and work with neighborhood leaders.
Inspired by the successful efforts to force positive change in the Mid City Mall situation, many who were involved formed the Highlands Commerce Guild in 1977, which continues to work to revitalize the Bardstown Road corridor as of 2007.
The mall entered into another decline in 1990 when Ames (formerly Zayre), an anchor store, moved out. The decline did not last long, as new businesses began moving in by mid-decade, which was marked by a $400,000 renovation of the facade in 1994. The former Ames site was converted to an 8-screen cinema originally called Baxter Avenue Theaters and now known as Baxter Avenue Filmworks, which opened in 1995.
A controversial element of the renovation were backless benches designed to deter people from sleeping in the mall. While the "bums" of Mid City Mall were notorious at the time, many were not actually homeless and some had been regularly visiting the mall for recreation for decades.
In 1988, a large thrift store called the Nearly-New Shop moved to the mall's basement, in a location that had previously been a roller skating rink. The Nearly New Shop remains in business at the same location today. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the basement featured the Derby Bowl bowling alley, which included a bar and game room. The east side of the basement, across from the Nearly New Shop, has featured a fitness gym, Jim Cain's Mid-City Fitness, since 1979.
Two branches of the Louisville Free Public Library merged and moved into the mall in 1993, occupying a space that had once been a Thrifty Dollar store.
Since its opening in 1962, the mall had been the home of Ehrmann's, a bakery in existence since the 19th century. The bakery closed its doors in 2003.
Another tenant who was there from the beginning was a Winn-Dixie grocery store on the Bardstown Road side. When the grocery chain pulled out of the Louisville market, the location was later occupied by another grocery chain called Buehler's Market. The company only lasted there a year and eventually became a Valu Market grocery.
Other longtime tenants include the Jewel Box, which opened in 1958 and moved into the mall at its opening in 1962, and The Laughing Derby at Comedy Caravan, formerly the Funny Farm.
In 1962, some of the tenants were:A & P (Atlantic & Pacific)
Bavarian Sidewalk Cafe
Citizens Fidelity Bank
Maison Beaux Beauty Shop
Maud Muller Candy Shop
Mid City Lanes (renamed Derby Bowl), a 24-lane bowling alley
The Marianne Shop
Zayre Department store (became Ames before closing in 1990)