Friday, July 15, 2016

Newmarket North Mall/Newmarket Fair Mall: Newport News, VA

A reality that is nothing new to the residents of Hampton Roads is that the area is overmalled.  Hampton Roads can be compared in many ways to Florida in how it is basically a huge sprawing suburban cluster of cities instead of a single city making up the area.  The result is that each city attempted to carve out its own suburban realm including their own malls to pad the city's tax base.  Mall developers, eager to oblige, built and built malls until malls both major and minor were all located within 5-10 miles of each other cannibalizing each other for stores, sales and shoppers.  This became evident quickly as the earlier malls died more quickly than most and the newer, larger malls found it difficult to survive.  This was certainly the case for Newmarket North Mall.

Newmarket North suffered for a number of reasons.  One was that it was developed using apparently outdated or at least not well researched data.  Constructed by the Hahn Company, the mall was not well positioned for the time it was built: a superregional mall opening in an area that was already becoming too blue collar to support it.  Newmarket North did not initially appear to be a rotten apple.  It had solid anchors, was in a seemingly prime retail strip and it was not redundant with other area malls.  That distinction did not last very long.

Obviously the most remarkable thing about Newmarket North Mall is that despite the mall itself being demalled for nearly 20 years, Sears still lingers on with the old 1975 logo still hanging on at the mall entrance!

When the mall opened on March 26, 1975, it was anchored by Sears, Leggett and Miller & Rhoads.  All of those were prominent anchors in Virginia at the time with Sears a guaranteed draw, Leggett a desirable anchor found throughout the state as a division of Belk and Miller & Rhoads a prominent upscale department store based in Richmond.  Its nearest competitor was Coliseum Mall, which complemented the mall with anchors that included Korvette's (later Wards), JCPenney and Rice's-Nachman's.  Colliseum Mall was better positioned along I-664, but it lacked the solid anchors that Newmarket North Mall had.  The result was an expansion in 1976 that added Thalhimer's and Smith & Welton to the mall.  This honeymoon lasted a little over a decade.  Another mall, Mercury Mall, was much closer but it was a very small early mall without any major anchors and was effectively killed off by Newmarket North by the mid-1980's.

This tent-like structure was obviously added in the 1989 update

Looking opposite Sears toward Miller & Rhoads.  At this point, only the layout gives away its origins as a mall.  All of the storefronts were removed in 1998 and replaced with these walls.  However, the ceiling, rails and flooring are original to the 1989 update other than the fact the once teal blue rails are now a drab gray.

Lower level view looking back to Sears and the Sears court

In 1987, competition arrived to both malls in the form of Patrick Henry Mall.  Like Coliseum, the new mall did not initially appear to be as credible of a threat as another Crown American mall anchored by Hess's, Bradlee's and another location of Leggett.  However, changes in the retail scene were underway that would deal a crushing blow on the still-new mall.  The first was when Miller & Rhoads parent company Allied Department Stores became a victim of the financial scandals that created major upheaval in the industry.  While many Allied stores were sold to competitors, primarily Hess's, Miller & Rhoads went under.  In 1990, the store closed for good with no other department store coming to take its place.  Hess's was the logical successor, but they were not about to duplicate stores with their Patrick Henry store.

The center court update with the grand looking staircases and domed skylight were part of the 1989 update.  However, much of the color was stripped out of this scene in subsequent updates.

Despite the pending closure of Miller & Rhoads, the mall was sold to Goodman Segar Hogan.  Its new owners were still ambitious about the mall's future and immediately set forward to commence a major renovation.  The mall was gutted and redone as a lighter, brighter mall and given a new name: Newmarket Fair Mall.  Nonetheless, new tiles, paint and skylights were not the cure to this mall's illness.  The fact was that the newer Patrick Henry Mall was visible along I-64 in a better neighborhood and Coliseum Mall also expanded heavily in an attempt to compete with Patrick Henry Mall.  Newmarket North received no such expansion, and it was a couple miles off the interstate in a declining neighborhood.

About the only evidence left of a former storefront is on the left side with Miller & Rhoads behind me.

The right side of the former Miller & Rhoads mall entrance is still visible while the left side is walled off.  It is today a Verizon call center.

Diagonal escalators in the Miller & Rhoads court give the mall a DeBartolo feel.  Only the down escalator was working so as to prevent shoppers/visitors (what shoppers?) from accessing the restricted parts of the second floor.

Once a fountain, now a tacky cluster of house plants where the water used to flow.

As the 80's were coming to a close, the stores were also beginning to close.  By the early 90's the mall had a high number of vacancies, and the blows kept coming.  After Miller & Rhoads closer, next to go was when Leggett, who also had a store at Patrick Henry, downgraded their store to an outlet in 1991.  In 1992, the bridge/tunnel on I-664 to the south was completed connecting Newport News to Norfolk taking traffic off of Mercury Blvd while drawing more traffic away from the mall and to better shopping options further south and east.  By that time a new look could not restore the luster.  By the middle of the decade, the mall was half-empty and Leggett pulled out around the same time.  When the dust settled all that was left were a few stores including a Morrison's Cafeteria and Sears.

Piccadilly Cafeteria, formerly Morrison's Cafeteria, continues to serve mall walkers (and maybe workers)

Entrance wing with Piccadilly on the right and the Sears court behind me

What is strange is that despite the death of the mall as a retail center, Sears never left.  When all three malls opened in Newport News, the others failed to attract a Sears nor provided room for them to relocate.  The mall itself was ultimately repurposed as a business center in 1998 meaning that a fully functioning Sears with two levels of merchandise and a Piccadilly Cafeteria, originally opening as Morrison's Cafeteria, are all the retail that remain.  What's even more interesting is that Sears never even updated its mall entrance still sporting its red Times New Roman logo on the mall entrance!

Sears, facing east.  The logo on the exterior was, unfortunately, updated.

Sears auto center also still going strong

Former Miller & Rhoads, facing south.  It was not a terribly inviting store.

Newmarket North Mall's revival as a business center was successful, but it also looks to be winding down.  The mall has in fact survived longer as a repurposed center than it did as an actual retail mall.  However, the reality of malls as a whole failing coupled with the glut of office space since the 2008 crash has made repurposing malls less attractive with once enthusiastic tenants vying for the shared, affordable office space leaving for nicer buildings.  In addition, the mall's sole surviving anchor is today a very troubled company likely to liquidate within the next 2-5 years meaning that the unyielding survivor is basically feasting on scraps to keep the lights on and doors open.  The rest of the mall closes at 5 PM on weekdays like any other office building.

The main part of the mall includes window cuts were a brutalist brick facade was once windowless.  This is the Miller & Rhoads court entrance.

In all honesty, there is not much left to see in the mall as most of its 1980's store fronts have all been stripped away for various office facades.  Nonetheless, the building itself actually outlasted its more successful primary competitor: Coliseum Mall.  The mall today is one of many joining the chapter of failed malls since the 40 year mall boom busted including many in the area.  Coliseum Mall, now an open-air center known as Peninsula Town Center, just lost its Macy's in the former Thalhimer's and Chesapeake Square to the south is emptying out.  Several other smaller malls in the region are also long gone including nearby Mercury Mall.  How much longer will Newmarket North continue to go south before it bottoms out?

BONUS: 1988 commercial for the mall showing it in its original 1975 look.

ALSO: Further reading with historical photos on Sick Malls.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Quenby Mall: Albemarle, NC

It can reasonably be said that prior to the 1970's malls were still in their experimental phases.  Up until then, most malls were still locally built and came in all shapes and sizes both enclosed and open-air.  They were tested in all types of markets with all types of formats and layouts often with everything from cutting edge designs to buildings with all the ambiance of a middle school.  Some were smaller than a modern Wal-Mart, but few exceeded 500,000 square feet.  The smallest ones from that era rarely are still standing today: most demolished or converted to other uses as they became outmoded within 15 years of their original construction.  Usually located in smaller towns that were too small to support anything larger, and heavily driven by a local developer bent on creating a new spin on one of the typical strip malls of the era, these malls were just that: a typical 1960's strip mall of the era turned inward.  Nevertheless, these early malls packed quite a few stores into a small space even if selections were limited.  Quenby Mall in Albemarle, NC was one of those.

In this small North Carolina city far enough away from major cities, Albemarle is strange in that it once had two operational malls.  While no enclosed mall operates today as a retail center within the entire county, Quenby Mall still lives on repurposed as government offices.  Quenby Mall was the first of those two malls opening in 1966.  While not functional as a shopping mall in over 20 years, the mall today still remains largely unmodified from the day it first opened preserving many of its authentic 1960's elements due to the lack of funding or interest in removing those features from the former mall.  In all, it serves as a hidden time capsule likely saved from demolition due to its size being small enough to be a perfect fit for the needs of county government.

These historical photos of Quenby Mall above were provided to me by the Stanly County Museum.  The first, originally photographed by Rodney Mauldin, shows the interior as it looked in May 1967.  The second photo shows the exterior with the sign, number of stores inside the mall and Belk's prior to the conversion to the big "B" Belk that was used from 1967-2010.

A directory of "Stanly County Commons" showing the many services that operate out of this former mall.  The right side of the mall according to that image has had its hallways reconfigured.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

When Quenby Mall opened, it featured a total of four anchor stores: two mainline and two junior anchors.  The largest of those anchors was Grant's, which forms the north endcap of the mall and occupied as much as 1/3 of the mall's total square footage.  Second to this was Belk, which was one of the very few Belk stores anchoring a mall signed originally as "Belk's" before the "Big B" era.  Belk formed a large chunk of the mall's inline space on the southwest west side.  In fact, Quenby Mall is possibly the oldest enclosed mall in North Carolina to have operated a Belk predating stores at Southgate Mall in Elizabeth City and Pennrose Mall in Reidsville.  The third anchor was a Harris Teeter supermarket, which was built on the southeast corner and likely lacked mall access.  The last of those was an Eckerd Drugs, which was behind the mall shops on the east side of the mall between the former Harris Teeter and hallway next to Grant's accessible next to the adjacent mall entrance.  Aside from those four anchors, the mall space itself had a whopping 10 inline tenants.  Indeed, it was by no means a large mall.

Northwest entrance wing next to the former Grant's/JCPenney.  The former anchor's mall entrance was to the center of the hallway on the left.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Northeast entrance wing just beyond the Grant's/JCPenney mall entrance.  Doors and walls have clearly been reconfigured on the left.  Near the end of the hallway on the right was where Eckerd Drugs connected to the mall.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

A couple views opposite Grant's/JCPenney looking toward the now removed south entrance wing.  Belk was previously on the right at the end of the hall past the drywall.  A hallway to the left where the drywall is now used to take shoppers to the southeast entrance and Harris Teeter, which likely did not have direct mall access.  Photos by Mike Kalasnik.

Drywall today covers the south entrance wing, which is now divided up into offices.  Belk used to be further down on the right.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Quenby Mall was joined by several other malls in the region of similar design that were very small with few inline spaces all located in towns too small to support a larger venue.  The malls most similar to Quenby Mall included the two long-demolished malls in Salisbury: Rowan Mall and Towne Mall.  In South Carolina, also-demolished Gaffney Mall and Chester Mall were likewise extremely similar in design suggesting that at least four of the five malls were built by the same developer.  De-malled Henderson Mall north of Raleigh was another possible build by the same developers.  All were simple malls that met an early fate and all had a similar layout of one prominent discount store, one department store (usually Belk), one drug store and one grocery store and only a handful of inline stores.  The size of all of the anchor stores was suitable for the 1960's, but they would have all required significant expansion in the 1970's to remain on-site.  Most likely the land around the malls was not adequate to support the massive expansions required, so the anchor stores all eventually left for other nearby locations.

Here is looking back to Grant's with the former Belk on the left.  The white overhang jutting into the mall on the right was where the Singer store was originally.  The wall of the former Belk extends to the overhang in the background.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Three shops were located on the left with the hallway ending in front of the old Grant's/JCPenney.  Entrance wings extend to the left and right in front of it.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

In these images, the JCPenney labelscar is still barely visible.  Clearly JCPenney made significant modifications to the former Grant's including the brick wall added on the right and removal of the metal awning seen in the 1967 photo.  Also note the dropped ceiling and off-center text for "JCPenney".  This shows that the ceiling had not been dropped prior to conversion to Stanly County Commons.  Photos by Mike Kalasnik.

Nothing resembling an old school mall directory here.  Maybe they could direct you to its replacement mall, but it's dead, too.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Quenby Mall began to die quite early due to the fact it was very small, built too close to downtown and was on the wrong side of town when development began to spring up on the NC 24 by-pass.  However, it did enjoy 15 years of dominance in the market.  During those 15 years, Grant's was replaced with JCPenney thus the mall gained a certain level of legitimacy as a regional mall.  However, Belk, JCPenney and Harris Teeter soon realized that they were outgrowing their stores within the mall.  Needing more space, both Belk and JCPenney bolted for slightly larger and much better located Albemarle Mall in 1981.  Albemarle Mall itself was a very tiny mall, but it provided more space for both stores with greater visibility and was attached to a larger strip center.  When both stores departed Quenby Mall, no anchors came into fill the void.  Harris Teeter remained in the mall a few years longer, however, replacing their store with their current store less than a mile away in 1989.  Eckerd looks to have joined Harris Teeter in that move later moving again across the street from Harris Teeter only to be re-branded Rite Aid in 2007.

Former Belk exterior entrance.  The entire southwest corner of the mall was taken up by Belk.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

In the 1960's, Belk added auto centers to their malls.  This one was located on an outlot on the northwest corner of the mall.  It was likely closed the same time that Belk relocated to its present location at the now demalled Albemarle Mall in 1981.  Photos by Mike Kalasnik.

Exterior shots of the front of the former Grant's/JCPenney.  Unfortunately the mansard awning was removed after the mall became Stanly County Commons.  A window sits in the place of the former exterior entrance.  In the first photo, the mall entrance sits to the right of the former Grant's.  Photos by Mike Kalasnik.

By 1989 Quenby Mall had been left effectively vacant except for a couple small shops inside.  Most likely the mall would have been abandoned and eventually torn down, but ultimately the relatively unremarkable structure was saved.  Soon after the mall closed, the county purchased the mall converting much of the space into various county services including board of education, social services department and health department.  While the county left much of the mall intact, quite a bit was changed.  Corridors were relocated, awnings removed, anchor entrances were bricked up and the ceiling inside the main mall corridor was dropped.  While the main corridor is intact as well as the entrance corridor on the Grant's side, the original hallways in front of what was Harris Teeter and extending to the back of the mall between Harris Teeter and Belk was removed and rerouted through the center of what had been the store sealing off the original exterior entrance on that side.  A drive-thru window exists today on what was clearly a bricked up entrance.  Otherwise, the mall remains unchanged.

Here is the northeast (back) entrance of the mall.  The county board of education on the right was previously Eckerd Drugs.  Grant's/JCPenney was on the left.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

This simple sign replaced the 60's faux-Colonial Quenby Mall sign sometime in the 1990's.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

This building on the outlot was either a walk-up ATM or Fotomat.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Since the mall had 14 stores, it is not clear where every store was in the inline shops based on available information.  However, anchor information is all confirmed and accurate with exception to the exact dates that JCPenney was in the mall.

No longer functioning for retail uses, what is today "Stanly County Commons" is only open during business hours throughout the week.  Obviously shopping is not going on here, but if you work for Stanly County there is a good chance you work in this building.  Once the principal shopping destination for Albemarle, today there is no reason to go there unless you are a resident of the county in need of county services.  At least in its repurposed form, however, a relic of the early mall era managed to survive.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Village Square Shopping Center and American Fare: Stone Mountain, GA

Thanks to a fan of the site, some footage was found from 1979 showing Village Square Shopping Center. With a little detective work, we located it and I set out to find it and see just how it looked today. While not much physically has changed today, it is by far a shell of its former self. So is the highway that it sits on. One of the more depressing events to cover in retail is the fall of a principal retail corridor due to issues of competition, white flight, planned obsolescence and the effects of its own age. In this case, the highway is Memorial Drive (Ga. 10), which I have covered bits and pieces of on Sky City.

Memorial Drive was one of Atlanta's first suburban retail corridors starting with the opening of Belvedere Plaza in 1956. This would soon be followed by Columbia Mall in 1964 with the growth of retail strip shopping centers spreading eastward in a wave along the road throughout the 70's to where the highway ends into the Stone Mountain Freeway. Village Square was part of that wave, opening in 1975 along the eastern leg of the corridor in the booming Stone Mountain area. As one of many dead retail strips along that road today, this one was highlighted because of its highly distinctive design elements that remain intact today.

The first two images at various levels of detail show the strip with the interior mall/office portion.  Note that the entrance to the mall "courtyard shops" portion and the unknown smaller anchor tenant (shown here as Refugee Family Services) has arches like a Kroger.  These arches used to match the Kroger store itself.  

Detail of the long-vacant Kroger from two angles.  The greenhouse addition was added at an unknown date, but it replaced an older superstore design that was still intact in 1979 per the footage provided.  

The strip to the right of the "courtyard shops" looking west with the junior anchor visible in the background.

Access to the upper level offices is through these stairs, but it doesn't appear that anything is up there any longer.  With plenty of space on the lower level, why would they go to that trouble?  It appears it may be completely closed considering that no elevator was visible to the second story.

Village Square originally opened in 1973 as just a Kmart (coupled with Kmart Foods).  In 1975, it was joined next door with a mixed use center that was a hybrid of a strip mall and open-air mall.  Likely this design was chosen due to terrain and lack of space.  When the addition opened, it featured anchor tenant Kroger with a SupeRX drug store, which was later absorbed into Kroger itself.  The open-air mall in the middle that included among its tenants a Piccadilly Cafeteria and a club named "The Stone Pony" referencing the "Stone Poneys", a band fronted by Linda Rondstadt in the late 1960's and the shopping center's proximity to Stone Mountain.  On the second floor were offices, but the offices were not aligned with the mall area itself, instead running perpendicular facing the parking lot also overlooking part of the "courtyard shops". It appears one other small anchor tenant was in the center, but it is unclear what exactly that was.  My guess would be either Turtle's Record Shop or a five-and-dime type store like McCrory's.

Walking under the offices to reach the "courtyard shops".  The courtyard is a T-shaped center with access to the back parking lot on the left side.

Looking back from two vantage points at the second level office promenade from the courtyard.  It looks like it was blocked off with bars at some point on purpose

Vacant shops/offices to at the corner of the inner courtyard facing northeast.  It appears there were no stores/offices on the east side of the courtyard with the wall of Kroger making up most of that area.

A look back to the front parking lot from the courtyard.

Despite the two year gap between the opening of Kroger and Kmart, Kroger and Kmart were typically partners building shopping centers throughout the 1970's, and this holds true in many shopping centers across the state.  Indeed, the center had a solid 20 year run before things went south.  Kmart was the first to leave departing in 1994, Kroger hung on longer, but left in 1999 relocating just down the road to a former Big Star that originally was built in 1988 at the junction of Memorial Drive and N Hairston Road.  The Village Square store was made even more interesting when compared to the footage in the link above in that the Kroger there was originally a superstore design with the arches clearly removed with the store updated to the famous greenhouse design: a transition that likely occurred around 1984 or 85.  The update suggests that Kroger initially had no plans to relocate from the center for many years, but the planned departure of Kmart apparently spurred the store to eventually relocate to a more competitive location at the intersection of two major roadways.  Village Square is located about a mile west of N Hairston Road, which is a major four lane belt highway on the east side of Atlanta.

At one point it was possible to lounge in the courtyard next to a well-tended planter.  Today you're sitting on rotten benches next to a weed-filled hole.  Also note the "Stone Pony" in the background.

A bit more detail of the courtyard.  It is unclear what the original tenants were except for Stone Pony, which was apparently a bar or club that opened there in the 1970's and was never replaced with anything else.

Detail of the "Stone Pony" inscription which today looks to be stone dead.  A peek inside would have likely uncovered vintage wonders untold.

A view of the entire courtyard including the front entrance and upper level terrace to the right from the back entrance.  It must have been fun back in the day, but today it's a scary place.

The cloudy pictures were a return trip in July (two trips were included in these photos).  Note the very tall weeds that filled the planters in the previous images.  You know when that passes for landscaping the place is basically dead.

The story of Kmart's exodus is a bit more interesting, however.  While Kmart remained until 1994, Kmart had already effectively been replaced when Kmart joined forces with now-defunct Bruno's in 1989 to start a hypermart concept known as American Fare.  Its initial location was a little over three miles away at the intersection of the Stone Mountain Freeway (US 78) and Mountain Industrial Blvd meaning that American Fare likely cannibalized this store badly.  The new store was more than twice the size of a typical Kmart and very popular but turned out to be a flash in the pan as the gigantic store proved to be too large and too far ahead of its time.  The Stone Mountain American Fare store was the first of three total stores that opened under the Kmart/Bruno's experiment.  The other two were located in Charlotte and Jackson, MS.  In addition, the Bruno's partnership faltered due to the sale of the company after a tragic crash that killed much of the upper management including many family members and the CEO.  In 1994, Kmart later rebranded and downgraded American Fare to a Super Kmart replacing the Bruno's-operated supermarket section with Cub Foods.  The change to a regular Kmart resulted in the closing the Kmart at Village Square at the same time.  Later, the American Fare turned Kmart eventually closed the store during the 2002 round of closings.  Today the former American Fare operates as an alternative school for DeKalb County.

The three photos shown here show the American Fare that is located on Mountain Industrial Blvd just south of the Stone Mountain Freeway (US 78).  Mountain Industrial Blvd becomes N Hairston Road connecting to Memorial Drive.  This three-store hypermart concept owned jointly by Kmart and Bruno's opened in 1989, but was later downgraded to a regular Kmart replacing the Kmart at Village Square in 1994.  It converted to Super Kmart in 1995 and closed for good in 2002.  It was sold to the DeKalb County School Board and today is an alternative school.

Kmart was not exactly abandoned when the store at Village Square closed.  While Memorial Drive was in the early stages of decline, it was still far from dead.  The old Kmart found new life and today the main store still operates as "Value Mall" while the Kmart Foods is now a local gym.  While not exactly the draw that Kmart was, the reuse of the former Kmart store keeps the property from becoming derelict.  However, no store has yet to emerge to fill the former Kroger space, which has been vacant for over 15 years.

The original Kmart still stands as "Value Mall".  It is not clear if there were any other tenants in the store between 1989 and present.

Kmart and Kmart Foods.  Action Sports Academy fills the former Kmart Foods.  The former Kroger is a short ways to the right of this photo.

Detail of Kmart Foods.  It is curious how long this operated being less than a block from Kroger.  Was it converted to regular Kmart space before it closed?  Perhaps Bruno's operated the Kmart Foods location at this store thus spearheading the American Fare concept.

While the forces that killed the center were based on its major anchor tenants seeking more competitive venues, the fact remains that the complex today is only partially occupied, and most of those tenants are service-oriented and not retail uses.  Thus, the story is that although competition initially killed Village Square prematurely, it was the continued declining fortunes of what was once a prime retail corridor that have made the shopping center difficult to fill.  The entire center is ripe for redevelopment today, but so far no interested parties have swooped in to occupy the partially vacant center.  Perhaps in the future Kroger will relocate back to the center taking over the old Kmart as yet another location of its "Kroger Marketplace" concept helping to spur a redevelopment of the adjacent center that it left behind many years ago.  For now, Village Square remains as a decrepit monument to 1970's sprawl that has only survived the wrecking ball because nobody cared enough to do anything about it.