Easton Town Center transformed once-rural Northeast Side into busy corridor

Morse Road near Easton Town Center looks like plenty of other major road in Columbus.

There’s a Walmart, Sam’s Club, Best Buy, Office Max, Taco Bell, Wendy's and Chick-fil-A all within a stone’s throw of one another — not an uncommon sight throughout the 14th-most populated city in the United States.

But 20 years ago, there wasn't much life in that part of northeast Columbus.

Before Easton opened in June 1999, the Northeast Side was quiet with a "country type of atmosphere," said Elwood Rayford, chairman of the Northeast Area Commission.

“Mostly there was just all dirt and grass and trees,” said Jack Evans, manager of Evans Automotive Repair on Morse Road. "This place has just grown like crazy."

Easton Town Center ushered in national restaurants, hotels and businesses to the area.

Evans Automotive Repair, at 3440 Morse Road, has been in the area since opening in May 1976.

“Easton has brought a lot of people into Columbus, brought a lot of businesses,” Evans said.

The Kelly BMW dealership at 4050 Morse Road opened a year after Evans. The dealership has been under different names throughout its history.

“There was hardly anything across the street (before Easton),” Jody Wenger, store controller for Kelly BMW, said. “It was kind of barren. It was woods.”

Other businesses and residential complexes popped up as more retail moved into the area, and as Easton Town Center was in the planning stages.

Two apartment complexes also grew up near Easton. The Bradford at Easton, at Silver Springs Lane off Stelzer Road, has 324 units that opened in two phases, the first in 1997 and the second in 1998. The Elms Apartment, at Appian Way West near Morse Road, has 304 units and opened in 1974.

Wendy's opened a restaurant at 3906 Morse Road in summer 1995, just ahead of the Easton opening.

"The site was chosen because we anticipated Easton to be the premier and most unique shopping area in the Midwest, with an upscale residential area surrounding it,” Brett Rozanczyk, franchise vice president of SGR Restaurants, said in an email. “Plus, we knew Easton would be a great area for office buildings, too.”

CarMax decided to open a store near Easton in May 2005.

“We evaluate several factors when choosing sites, and we identified the Morse Road area as a growing retail corridor and a good fit for our growth plans,” a CarMax representative said in an email.

The Hartman Corporation, at 3216 Morse Road, has been in the business of selling sports cards and engraving trophies since 1968. Officials there said the company does get business from Easton shoppers, but also said the traffic can be a headache.

“At four o’clock, it’s almost a dead-still traffic out here that kind of hurts our business,” Vice President Gary Hartman said.

There's no doubt that Easton Town Center has brought significantly more traffic to Morse Road over the years. Traffic has doubled since Easton opened, said Nick Gill, assistant director of transportation and infrastructure development for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.  

“Traffic is nuts,” Evans said. “They never can keep the roads up to the traffic flow. When they widened it, at that point everybody jumps on it and it’s not wide enough again.”

Compare Easton of the '90s to Easton of today

Easton Town Center opened June 30, 1999, but before that the Northeast Side was mostly rural. Compare this aerial photo from 1996 with one we took in 2019.