Tuesday, May 1, 2012

O'Neils - Sheffield Center

Photo courtesy of the Lorain County Historical Society
On Friday I spent a little time poking around the research library of the Lorain County Historical Society in Elyria and came up with this great vintage photo (above) of the O'Neil - Sheffield Center. It was part of the collection of photos donated by the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.

The O'Neil - Sheffield Center opened with great fanfare on Saturday, May 1, 1954. It was the first modern shopping center in Lorain County. According to an article in the Lorain Journal at the time, it was "heralded as one of the largest retail centers ever built in Ohio." The shopping center had 49 single-story units, covered by a canopy and surrounding a grassy courtyard.

At that time, O'Neil's of Akron was one of the leading department stores in one of American's fastest growing markets. By expanding into Lorain County at a location midway between Lorain and Elyria, O'Neil's hoped to tap into a potential trading area with a population of 200,000.

At the time of the ribbon-cutting, the shopping center included such local and national merchants such as Red Robin, New-Mode Hosiery, Thom McAn, Van's Apparel, Cotton Shop, Rosen Bakery, Modern Hardware, Probst Dairy, Crawford's Barber Shop and City Loan and Savings. Other stores opening shortly thereafter included Kresge's, Gray Drug, Chisolm's Boot Shop, Nobil Shoes, Mary Ann, Sally Don and Fisher Brothers Dry Goods.

The shopping center was a big hit as local shoppers embraced the convenience of one-stop shopping. Special holiday events such as appearances by Santa Claus as well as the Talking Christmas Tree became a part of many families' holiday rituals.

Of course, as the O'Neil - Sheffield Center prospered, Downtown Lorain's shopping district suffered. By the 1960s, the heyday of shopping in Downtown Lorain was winding down.

Vintage postcard
The O'Neil - Sheffield Center experienced a threat of its own when Midway Mall in Elyria opened in 1966. Suddenly it was possible to shop for hours without ever having to go outside. And like Downtown Lorain, the O'Neil - Sheffield Center suddenly seemed very old-fashioned.

Despite much talk, the plan to enclose the shopping center never materialized.

The shopping center struggled on through the 1970s. One of the few bright spots during this time period was the Lorain International Festival, which was held annually in the rear parking lot.

By the 1980s, all of the large stores were gone except for May Company (which had replaced O'Neil's in April 1967.) Both supermarkets had moved out and only 22 units were occupied.

In May of 1984 – exactly 30 years after its opening – the shopping center was sold. At the time of its sale, tenants included Olan Mills Studio, WZLE Radio, the Golden Ox restaurant, Januzzi's Select-a-Shoe and J.D. Andrews Men's Clothing.

The new owners hoped to revitalize the shopping center by making it smaller and thus more accessible and convenient for shoppers. A portion of the west wing of stores was demolished and the courtyard was removed. The entire complex was renamed the Centre of Sheffield.

New stores were added, including Finast (1987), Marc's (1990) and Goodyear Tire (1994). Unfortunately the shopping center lost its anchor store when May Company closed.

Today, it is almost impossible to look at the Centre of Sheffield and recognize its 1950s layout and appreciate its role as the first modern shopping center in the area. Nevertheless, many Lorainites will continue to have fond memories of the shopping center as the longtime home of the International Festival, as well as the Talking Christmas Tree.

The Centre of Sheffield today


Bob Kovach said...

I can remember when I was a kid Christmas shopping with my family the place was always jam packed.One memory that really stuck in my mind besides the talking Christmas tree was the constant sound of people wishing each other a "Merry Christmas"!

Drew Penfield said...

I have dim memories of shopping at the May Co. with my grandmother in the early 80's. When they closed the store it became the May Co.'s data center, which handled all the credit card stuff for the various divisions around the country. I got a job there after high school operating mailing machines that processed tens of thousands of credit card statements every shift.

Interesting to note how shopping downtown died, replaced by Sheffield Center, which itself was replaced by Midway Mall, which itself is now dying if not dead (last I heard.) I'm sure the developers have plans for the next big shopping mall that will someday take its place along the trail of abandoned buildings and empty parking lots.

-Alan D Hopewell said...

My grandfather occasionally cleaned the Sheffield branch of Central Bank out there, we shopped at O'Neil's, Pick -N- Pay, and went to see the fireworks there.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it was the Midway Mall that killed this shopping center which we went to a lot in the early to mid 60s. We would always go to the soda fountain counter at Kresge's. A vivid, awful memory is of a toddler who's older brother slammed the car door on his fingers and he was bawling and bleeding badly as the mother bathed his hand in icy water!

I also recall the magical way they decorated that center part at Christmas. Needless to say, the photos are depressing! Thanks for posting them though.

Wireless.Phil said...

I'm 63 and remember my parents taking me there with them, I never said anything, but I hated that place, still don't know why?

As I got older, I too went to afew stores in the area.

Anonymous said...

Loved that place.

Jay said...

I would love to know what the inside of May Co looks like. If anything remains.

Unknown said...

I remember in great detail about the Oneils Sheffield Shopping Center. I worked as a stock boy at the Pic-n-Pay Super Market from 1956 to 1958. We had our rehearsal dinner at Mcgravey's Restaurant in 1962. I will aways have fond memories of this place. Harold Young

Jason M said...

I have memories of my dad taking me here and visiting a store that had trains set up & running. Maybe a train shop or hobby store?? I was very young... probably was mid-to-late 1970's.

Anonymous said...

I worked at Robins in early 60s had a terrific boss ( mertle) & 2 friends there named kathy & helen ..now i see the area & its sad to remember what it was once compaired to now... loved so many stores long gone from that shopping center

Anonymous said...


Noelle Dagil said...

Growing up in Amherst in the 1950-60’s, My Mom would take my brother, sister and me to O’Neil’s for everything from school clothes, gardening supplies and the Boy Scout headquarters on the second floor ( I still have my pocket knife that my Dad bought me there).
Such fond memories of the Talking Christmas Tree in the courtyard and (if we were good) lunch at Kresge’s lunch counter!!