It could use a little spit-shine and polish, but the Columbia Plaza is still a viable shopping center, 64 years after its first beginnings.

It was January 26, 1956 that the final decision to locate a 31-unit, $3.5 million dollar shopping center, Columbia Plaza, on former site of Sanitarium farm.  It would be one of the largest in outstate Michigan.  The decision came about after many months of study by a consultant, who said experience showed that shopping centers stimulate trade in other districts of community.

Almost three years later, on October 20, 1958, Columbia Plaza held its grand opening.  It was billed as “the city’s first one-stop shopping center”.  The half mile long strip of stores sported a total of 21 available spaces.  Fifteen stores were occupied at the time of the opening, including Kroger, Muir Drugs, Truesdell’s Fabrics, and Godde’s Pastry Shop.   A merchants association formed to coordinate the promotions of all the stores and to promote it as “the central shopping headquarters for Southwestern Michigan.”  The 1958 opening celebration had high school bands and featured ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson.  There were drawings for prizes and bargain sales.

Today, Columbia Plaza still has a dozen stores, and about 10 empty storefronts, not too much different than when it opened more than six decades ago.   Stores today include Harbor Freight, Timeless Furnishings, Family Dollar and Schlotzky’s, to name a few.

Here are a couple of ads we spotted in the paper over the years:

  • 1960 T. Grant’s, in the Columbia Plaza, men's suede jackets, rayon lined, are $9.47.
  • 1962 Shop Wrigley's in the Columbia Plaza for Super Specials...Campbell's Tomato Soup is 9 cents a can...Ballard or Pillsbury Biscuits are 7 cents for a tube of 10.
  • 1968 Get the Hawthorne Mustang Bike for $39 at Montgomery Wards, in the Columbia Plaza.
Willard Library Archive

Workers install signs March 24, 1971, on the new A Mart Discount, which replaced Battle Creek's two A & P Food Stores. The new store at the Columbia Plaza on South 20th Street was scheduled to open April 1, 1971 with more floor space than the other two stores combined. The A & P stores had been at 697 Capital Ave. SW and 270 W. Michigan Ave.   This store was located at the north end of Columbia Plaza, where Harbor Freight is currently located.