COLUMBUS, Ohio—For 20 years now, cigar lovers have sparked stogies at Tinderbox at Easton.
- Easton opened to the public in 1999 and has 190 retail, restaurant and entertainment spaces
- Many were skeptical about the success of Easton in the long run
- A new $500 million expansion will add several firsts to Easton
“We had a lot of hotel customers, and then we started gaining regular customers. But it took 2-3 years before we really got a good heavy flow of traffic,” said Bryan Joyce, Tinder Box Easton owner.
The tobacco store sells around 500 cigar brands, loose tobacco, cigarettes and smoking accessories.
But, it's also a bit of a hangout. And owner Brian Joyce— an aficionado.
“I had a passion for cigars and business, and I wanted to start my own small business. And, growing up, I went to my grandfather and grandmother's farm, so I started picking tobacco at a very young age,” said Joyce.
Joyce says Easton makes the perfect setting for Tinderbox.
“They always open stuff new, keeps it fresh. And by it being an outdoor walking mall, it really, really helps a lot. It's so much different than any mall,” said Joyce.
Differences that industry leaders say had many skeptical about the success of Easton in the long run.
“When you think about when it was initially established, to build an outdoor mall pretty much in the middle of nowhere, in a state where 4-6 months out of the year you don't necessarily want to be outside, it was quite a risk when they first started Easton,” said Alex Boehnke, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants public affairs manager.
Boehnke says that risk paid off for Easton, setting a new trend for retail.
“It's all kind of built around, to visually appeal to you, as well as for what they have to offer. And I think Easton does that better than anybody,” said Boenke.
And despite digital shopping growing in popularity, he says people still like going to stores and malls—especially when they can do more than shop.
“The amount of people still going to the store is still very high, but when they go, they want an experience. We kept on hearing signs of the retail apocalypse, but that couldn't be farther from the truth,” said Boehnke.
Easton is a 1300-acre mega property in the northeast side of Columbus. It was developed by L Brands and The Georgetown Company.
The Easton Town Center is the focal point for the development, and includes Steiner Management as a co-developer and property manager.
The indoor/outdoor mixed-use facility opened to the public in 1999 and has 190 retail, restaurant and entertainment spaces.
“Easton has always been about creating memories for families, for couples, for individuals that shop here. We want everyone to have an amazing experience,” said Jen Peterson, chief Easton Town Center chief executive.
Back then, it also brought a new project to Columbus—Planet Movies by AMC, a joint venture between Planet Hollywood and AMC Theatres.
Though the partnership ended, the theatre remained, becoming AMC Easton Town Center 30.
There have been a lot of changes at Easton Town Center over the past 20 years, including some of their tenants, upgrading and making new developments so that they can keep attracting customers.
AMC Easton Town Center 30 is one of those businesses that has been here since the very beginning in 1999. And there are a lot of changes that are keeping people coming in.
The theatre brought in its signature dine-in experience, making it AMC DINE-IN Easton Town Center 30 in 2012.
Guests can not only get their traditional concession items, but they can also order restaurant-style food and drinks.
In a statement, AMC Theatres said, in part, “We're thrilled that after 20 years, AMC DINE-IN Easton Town Center 30 continues to be so popular with Columbus-area moviegoers. Throughout its two decades of serving movie-lovers, the theatre has continued to transform as one of AMC's favorite ‘early adapter’ locations. With more exciting plans in the works for AMC DINE-IN Easton Town Center 30, we look forward to providing our guests with an AMC amazing experience for years to come.”
“There are over 30 brands that we call Easton originals, that started with us 20 years ago and are still thriving,” said Peterson.
And Easton isn't done providing new experiences yet for its 2 million monthly visitors.
“Behind me is ShopLAB… it’s our incubator space we launched last fall. It's over 500 sq. ft. dedicated to giving an online retailer or a retailer that has never tried out Easton, the chance to see what it’s like to operate in a center of this magnitude,” said Peterson.
Campo Marzio is an Italian accessories brand that has never had a full store presence in the U.S.
“The purpose of the ShopLAB is to make it seamless and simple for a brand to be able to launch here,” said Peterson. “So, the space is fully outfitted with lighting and fixtures with music… we have cameras and digital screens in there, all of which we have put in. All the brand really has to do is show up with their product.”
And a whole new experience is under construction.
The new $500 million expansion adds several firsts for the Town Center, like Chicago-based Forbidden Root Restaurant & Brewery.
“It's a pretty unique brand that really combines the art of craft brewing with interesting mixes and botanicals. So, I've likened it to be the Jeni's ice cream of craft brews,” said Peterson.
And providing additional living, working and playing space.
“The expansion is going to have a number of public spaces, one of them being The Yard, which is where we will program concerts and events… there will be a built-in stage there,” said Peterson.
And more attractions to make Easton an entertainment center for years to come.