Seven months after Rolling Acres Mall suddenly closed, all but one of the tenants who stayed until the bitter end have reopened in new locations.
At the end of October, the tenants received a notice from Tim Dimoff, local manager for mall owner Invest Commercial LLC, that they needed to vacate as soon as possible. The electricity was going to be turned off for nonpayment. (Two anchor stores not owned by Invest — the J.C. Penney Outlet and Sears — remain open.)
For some of the evicted tenants, looking back on the last days comes with frustration and hurt as they recount moving out in the dark and cold after the heat also was turned off. Many had to scramble to clear their stores and find new locations at the same time.
For others, who were able to move out quickly, there are no hard feelings.
Eli Choueiry, the last food-court vendor and owner of Eli's Char Grill and Big Star Pizza, said it took him more than three months to move out.
''It was not just in the dark. It was in the cold and I had to hold the flashlight in my mouth and unscrew stuff. Everything when it's cold and icy, you can't take the screws or bolts out. For three months, every single day I was in the mall alone,'' said Choueiry, who is trying to reopen under the name Big Star Pizza at 1372 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road in Copley Township.
He has hit some roadblocks in reopening after he says a contractor
did not return to set up his hood exhaust system in March, but Choueiry vows he'll open in a few weeks.
Choueiry is upset with the way things were handled for mall tenants who stuck it out.
''They did it before the holidays. We waited all these years there. Each time I wanted to pull out, they begged me to stay because they wanted to sell the mall,'' he said. ''I should have went out as soon as the new owner purchased the mall. That's what I should have done.''
Dimoff, SACS Consulting president who has been managing the mall for the owner, said he tried his best to accommodate the tenants.
''We didn't plan on it having to be the process that happened or as quick as it had to happen,'' Dimoff said. ''On the flip side, we were very, very accommodating to extending the days, weeks and time frame to help those people be able to get in and out of there in spite of the fact that utilities were being turned off.
''That was our only way of at least trying to help them and say thanks for what they'd done.''
No hard feelings
Rick Diamond, an owner of Diamonds Men's Stores, a tenant at the mall for years, said he had no hard feelings about the closing. Diamonds was able to find a nearby strip center next to Long John Silver's and is doing well, he said. The store stayed open in the mall until the lights went out and was reopened in its new location within a few days, he said.
''Our business is up from last year and that is with the challenge of a lot of people still not knowing we're there,'' said Diamond, who wanted to stay in the Rolling Acres area to serve his customer base.
''It's not a high-end area, that's for sure. If you walk in the store, it's a discount store. There's not a lot of men's clothing retailers in Akron, which is why when I was considering, 'Should I make a go?' we had so many customers that would find us wherever we went.''
Carey Suber, who ran electronics retailer Digital Palace with her husband, Ed, for two years in the mall, said they had a premonition, and about six months before the announcement, they opened another location in the Portage Lakes area.
''I think we all saw it coming,'' Carey Suber said. ''From the day we moved into the mall, we never saw any improvements being made.''
Moving out difficult
Suber said she and her husband persevered because they had a good customer base. However, moving out was difficult because of the lighting problems and, in particular one day, snow blocking the parking lot, prevented access with a truck.
Among the last tenants at the mall were some businesses that were not in retail sales.
A Time for New Beginnings Ministries, a nondenominational church, has moved to a small space at 992 Kenmore Blvd.
Pastor Annette Tuck said church members were able to move out quickly and have a service in their new location within a few weeks. The church was known for offering free clothing, toiletries and a meal, but has shifted to providing free groceries the first Saturday of each month at 10 a.m. at its new location. With the growing demand for food, Tuck said, there is a great need for donations of a truck, refrigerator and freezer.
Tuck, who also owned an engraving and embroidery store in the mall when it had more tenants, said it was sad to see things end the way they did.
''But things are what they are,'' she said.
Teaching after school
Darletta Stevenson, executive director of Universal Sports Academy, a nonprofit organization whose focus is to teach disadvantaged inner-city kids gymnastics and cheerleading, said she's unable to afford a new location, but has stepped up the organization's involvement in Akron's after-school program to teach gymnastics and cheerleading. She hopes to find a location to take her equipment out of storage.
Ken Stout, president of DriveTeam, a driver training company, had a small classroom in the mall and used the back parking lots to train corporate clients. Those operations have moved to the company's new facilities on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls.
All of the former tenants said they're not sure what will become of the mall.
Tuck said that if the mall would be revived or turned into a facility for education, her church would be back ''in a heartbeat.''
Since Diamonds is still on Romig Road, if the mall property is rejuvenated, it could benefit the store. But Diamond said he's not sure what will happen with attempts to sell the mall.
''We're in a very tough environment and people can't get money,'' he said.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at
330-996-3724 or blinfisher@