Friday, May 16, 2014

Claypool Hill Mall: Cedar Bluff, VA

With a relatively small population, few roads and mountains as a natural obstacle to travel in the region, Tazewell County has remained relatively isolated from other parts of Virginia.  Nevertheless, as part of the Bluefield Micropolitan Region, the entire area has a population of just over 100,000.  While the majority of this population is found in Bluefield, twin cities sharing the same name in two states, some of this population also exists further west in the county: enough that a small regional mall was constructed between the towns of Richlands and Tazewell in Cedar Bluff, which includes unincorporated Claypool Hill.

Claypool Hill Mall is actually not the first enclosed mall to open in the area when it opened in 1982.  It was actually pre-dated by Richlands Mall, which opened in 1980.  Richlands Mall, however, proved too small for the region thus creating the need for a more appropriately sized mall with better anchors to bring modern retail options to the area.  Anchored originally by Leggett on the northeast end and Kmart on the southwest end along with a small twin screen movie theater, the mall appeared to be modestly successful prior to the arrival of Wal-Mart in the region.  Also, a Food City (not pictured) is located on an outparcel adjacent to the Belk.  Situated in a narrow mountain hollow, Claypool Hill became the main catalyst of a small retail hub at the junction of US 19 and US 460.  The mall is also connected to both highways via Claypool Hill Mall Rd (Rt. 719).  The fact that this retail strip located here instead of among the cluster of towns further west on US 460 is partially due to more favorable terrain, but moreso the fact that the mall is situated close to the junction of two major highways.

Belk opened as Leggett in 1982 and converted to Belk in 1997.  Like it's sister company Belk, Leggett often opened in very small towns. The first photo is the ramp outside of Belk.  I apologize for the poor quality of most of these photos.  My camera (since retired) was on the fritz and was not cooperating with these photos.  It took significant photo editing to make them look this good.

Side entrance to Leggett featuring globe lights.  Belk/Leggett stores always looked best with the 70's/80's modernist look

Kmart is only directly accessible via the mall itself with its mall entrance functioning as its only entrance.  This was typical for Kmart mall anchors.

K-mall entrance

The only remodel this mall has ever seen is on the mall entrance adjacent to center court.

Claypool Hill Mall's history is pretty uneventful in its first 20 years aside from Leggett changing to Belk in 1997.  However, in the 2000's, Claypool Hill saw a few positive changes.  One of those was some exterior facade updates over one of the main entrances.  This apparently came coupled with the addition of junior anchor Goody's, which was carved out of existing mall space.  Goody's joined the mall on the Leggett end of the mall (by then Belk) opening in 2005 building on with both exterior and interior mall access.  After Goody's (prior to the Stage Stores revival) folded in 2009, Belk expanded in the mall by taking over the former Goody's with some Belk departments.  Otherwise, no interior or exterior changes have been made.  Unfortunately, most of the changes have not been positive since the center has mostly failed as a retail mall outside of its anchor tenants.

Kmart court area with square skylights illuminating a small fountain and seating area.  The mall continues towards Belk to the right.

Looking into Kmart

The fountain in front of Kmart is nothing special, but at least they have one.  It's a lot more charming than a flat, empty spot.

The ramp and stairs heading downhill from Kmart.  The mall has a continuous slope extending from Kmart at the top to Belk at the bottom of the hill.

Despite the commitment by Belk and Kmart, Claypool Hill Mall is today is otherwise probably 80-90% vacant.  The mall has also never had any interior renovation since it first opened, and it appears that most interior tenants either closed or fled to the US 19 corridor.  A small strip on US 19 has Hibbett Sports and Dollar Tree, which likely were the two last chain stores in the mall.  The future of the mall basically rests on Kmart and the commitment of Belk to the mall.  Any day, Kmart could close (considering the state of the company) and Belk relocate closer to Wal-Mart.  When this happens, another small town mall will likely be shut down for good.  While there are possibilities for replacing the anchors, the anchor options are few and mostly lower-end.  Perhaps the mall itself could be kept open with local tenants, but few local tenants are in the mall, so probably the future of the mall will involve converting the interior mall into a strip center.  As to possible anchor replacements for Kmart and Belk, the only possibilities for anchor tenants include Peeble's, Ollie's Bargain Outlet, Rose's, Gabriel Brothers and Magic Mart.  Rose's would be a likely move relocating from the failed Richlands Mall.

The approach to Belk has this graceful ramp with garish purple carpet.  However, the carpet does match the maroon-tiled Belk entrance suggesting that this was a feeble attempt at a theme.

The only thing that is updated in this entire scene is the logo.  If you photoshopped a Leggett logo you would not be able to tell the difference.

Close-up of Belk mall entrance

Blurry shot, but heading away from Belk towards Kmart a dry fountain was captured here to the right of the ramp.  Note the complete lack of any stores aside from the second Belk store on the left.  That Belk was the former Goody's.

For now, Claypool Hill Mall is a classic case of a hollowed out mall with stronger anchors than the mall itself.  With no other options nearby in the market, this is probably the only reason this mall is still open.  It should also be noted that the mall itself lacks much visibility although it is located along US 460, which is the major route in the region.  It will be interesting to see what eventually happens to this failed attempt to bring a 20th century modern shopping mall to a rural and economically depressed mountain region.

Second Belk store on left in former Goody's.  No other stores seem to be open on this entire stretch.

The gringos running this place decided to pull up stakes, because the other gringos that run the place clearly don't know how to market a mall.  Lo siento, no hablamos español en esta jugar. 

Do I spot a store open?  They must sell hope at bargain prices.

Looks like Dixie Pottery lost the war, but this mall doesn't look like it's going to rise again.  

Seeing that the mall has a functioning theater as one of three main tenants is surprising.  Clearly this area of the mountains has a shortage of movie houses.  The funny thing is that it looks like they put a theater in the location of an old five and dime.  I suspect this is the biggest draw to the mall.

The mall entrance might have an updated logo, but this sign is a straight up antique from 1982.  I'm guessing that everything on the marquee is basically what is left in the mall, although Kmart is not shown here.

1 comment:

  1. Kmart, according to many sources, will be closing in April.