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

  2. I grew up in this area. I was a baby when this mall opened but I remember a little of it's heyday. It was a modern miracle for this small area when it was new. It was just like the big city malls, only smaller. It was quite attractive and modern. I remember when this mall would be so crowded on weekends and holidays you couldn't hardly move. I remember the famous announcer of the "blue light" specials and those blinking blue lights here and there when I was a kid. We thought we had become modern. The reason this mall exists is because during the 1970's there was a coal boom and the area's economy and population boomed. Buchanan county's population to the west (served also by this mall) saw it's population rise 18% during that decade. Tazewell's also grew strongly at 27%. Coal mining jobs pay well and people had money to spend. Buchanan county's seat of Grundy had suffered a horrific flood that destroyed it's business district in 1977 and drove many stores out. The people simply drove over to Richlands and shopped afterwards. The new attractive mall featured skylights, piped-in music, brick built-in seating areas surrounding water fountains and jungle-like plants and trees, and brick-paved walkways. It also featured a "community room" for reservation for family events. I remember the water fountain near Kmart used to feature stacked rocks with water that cascaded out the top and down the sides into a large pool of water where everyone flicked pennies into. Down near Leggett/Belk was another large fountain that featured a wooden pathway and a wooden water wheel that spilled and turned the water like an old mill. The indoor trees were 10-12 feet tall in those days. The colors were 70's style browns with beiges and splashes of green and yellow. The Goody's used to be a Rite-Aid pharmacy when it opened. There was also a chain music store called Disc Jockey where all the teenagers went. The Gringo's had a Peanut Shack shop that smelled wonderful. Italian Village was an original restaurant and the owner used to stand at the counter and twirl dough in the air. Next door was an ice cream shop. Down the mall was a gameroom featuring coin operated video games and pool tables where the local truants headed. It was a thrill to go there when I was little. It seemed so big and lively and bright when I was a child. Sadly those days didn't last. I remember when they turned off the water features and drained them. It was like the mall grew sadder and more forlorn by the year. By my teenage years, it was already over 50% vacant. Nothing seemed to remain. I recall when Rite-Aid closed. I recall when the stores left one by one. Store after store opened trying to make it only to fold up within 6 months. One parcel that always remained occupied was a hair salon called Regis (a typical mall anchor). One error in your report was that the mall featured a movie theater in it's early days. It never had a theater until Broadway Cinemas opened. It's so sad seeing the state of it today. Our modern civilization mall has turned to a dismal, decrepit shell of it's former self. The sad part is people are not shocked. They accept it as just another fact of life in the hard economic times of the area.