Some of you may have noticed (and if you haven’t, I must question the value of our friendship) that I’ve been a bit absent lately. I noticed that my house was looking a bit too much like a 1970s-vintage dead mall, with its wood-paneled conversation pits and bubbly light fixtures. I decided it was time to renovate it. Unfortunately “renovating your house” and “updating your blog about malls” don’t go terribly hand-in-hand; in fact, having internet access or a computer not covered in an inch of drywall dust aren’t part of the bargain either.
To atone for this, I’m going to fill in a bit with a submission sent by reader Michael Lisicky. Michael has sent us quite a few things before, but this post about Richmond, Virginia’s departed Azalea Mall should be read in tandem with the pictures (and history) he sent of Petersburg, Virginia’s Walnut Mall awhile back.
“The Azalea Mall was located in Richmond, Virginia in the city’s North side. It was located on Brook Road and was opened in 1963, according to company records. Its two anchors were a 50,000 foot Thalhimers and one of the first Woolco stores in the country. Azalea Mall was Richmond’s first enclosed shopping mall. In addition to Thalhimers and Woolco it also contained such stores as Peoples Drug, Woolworth’s, Food Fair, Hofheimer’s Shoes and many other ‘standard’ mall stores. It was never a large mall but it definitely served its local residents. Things changed over the years, Food Fair became Pantry Pride, which became (a rather low end) Super Fresh. Woolco became Ames but many stores such as Rees Jewelers remained. The kiss of death for Azalea Mall occurred in Spring of 1991. Thalhimers new parent company, May Department Stores, announced that it was going to close the Azalea Mall store. “We don’t operate 50,000 square foot stores,” said May at the time. Yes, the store was a little dowdy, but it had a loyal following and still operated a large beauty salon as well as a full candy counter and bakery. (By year’s end. May would announce that it was retiring the Thalhimers name and was also closing many of its smaller stores along with the downtown Richmond store.) When Thalhimers announced its closure, mall officials said “Losing Thalhimers will actually help Azalea, which has shifted to more of an off-price shopping center.” With Thalhimers gone in July 1991, Azalea Mall started to fall. Along with losing the Super Fresh its next big hit (or hits) would be in 1993, when Ames announced it was closing its Virginia stores due to bankruptcy. Next, Woolworth announced its first major round of store closings, which included all Richmond stores. Then Azalea Mall fell. Peoples Drug, which never remodeled–ever–and had a wonderfully glum and abandoned lunch counter, left to become CVS in another center. By 1995 the mall was shut. By 1998 the mall was gone. Except for a strange old sign and the remnants of the Woolworth Garden Center the mall was nothing but asphalt and weeds. Plans have come and gone but right now it is a true retail graveyard. These pictures are from May 1991. Thalhimers didn’t have much of an exterior entrance but the one photo shows it as well as possible.”