Hey there everyone! Thanks for your patience over the past few weeks/months… it’s been a pretty crazy one. I just spent two weeks out on the west coast for the first time since the 80s, and I even got to visit a few malls while I was out there, and look for them to appear on the site soon.
Labelscar gets a lot of great contributions from readers, and here’s one from Michael Lisicky, who has helped us out many times in the past. If you’ve contributed something and haven’t seen it posted yet, don’t worry: we’ll get to it eventually. This is a pretty time-consuming hobby but we greatly appreciate all your help, and you will see the fruits of your labor, we promise! Now, over to Michael:
“If there was ever a mall that I could nominate for a “Labelscar Hall of Fame”, may I respectfully submit the Cloverleaf Mall in Richmond, VA? (I still would hope for the grand prize winner to be the Regency Mall in Augusta, GA! Nothing tops that one, at least to me.) Cloverleaf was built in 1972 as Richmond’s first large scale indoor mall. Its anchors included Sears, the East Coast’s largest JCPenney (at the time) and a 1 story Richmond-based Thalhimers, tucked away in the back. Thalhimers had actually wanted its rival, Miller & Rhoads, to join them at Cloverleaf but a lease restriction at M&R’s Southside Plaza location forbid them from opening another store within 5 miles. (Southside Plaza was just over 4 miles away.)
“Cloverleaf Mall quickly became “The Shopping Center of Richmond”. Its early success encouraged Thalhimers to add a second floor. Cloverleaf was not a large mall, but it did have over 75 stores and was quite active. It was the destination for Southside shoppers. Every Richmond- based and national-based chain wanted to be there.
“Cloverleaf always had its share of controversy. Located just over the Richmond City border, Chesterfield County officials refused to let city buses into Cloverleaf’s lot. Buses were forced to drop city residents off at a nearby K-mart, leaving the inner-city shoppers to walk across parts of the “cloverleaf” just for the opportunity of shopping at the mall. After years of countless fights in and out of courts, Chesterfield finally allowed the buses into the parking lot. 1996, two women were executed while working after hours at the All- for-One dollar store in the mall. This brutal crime was highly publicized and stayed in the media for months, and shoppers stayed away in droves. Also, the media was quick to point out the increase in gang activity at the center.
“Change always happens. In 1992, Thalhimers became Hecht’s and the store began its downgrade. In fact, it ended up being a regional dumping ground for other Hecht’s stores. But it became the best kept secret for Richmond shoppers. A large section of the mens’ department, known unofficially as “The Pit” was a bargain-hunter’s paradise. Change also meant that residents were, and still are, moving farther away into the county. Chesterfield Towne Center became the mall to be in. Located 5 miles away, it became the ‘safe’ place to shop. And Cloverleaf’s retailers knew it.
“First, Sears reduced its store to 1 floor, albeit refurbished. JCPenney simply announced its closing in 2000 as it prepared to move to Chesterfield. By 2002, Sears also would leave its store for Chesterfield. With its two large anchors that faced Midlothian Turnpike vacant, the writing was on the wall for Hecht’s. Saying its store was still profitable, it remained, tucked into the back not far from the decaying movie theaters. But in July 2003, that would end, and as Hecht’s and many remaining mall stores fled, 2003 was to be the death of Cloverleaf Mall.
“But it is still there. And open, with about 7 exciting retailers. In 2005, a large African-American church offered to buy the mall and turn it into a multi-purpose facility, with the former JCPenney store becoming a 5,000 seat sanctuary. That was not what the county wanted. Remember, they didn’t even want the buses! So the county purchased the mall, including the company-owned Sears building, for more than it should. The church fought the purchase and brought charges of racism.
“But today, Cloverleaf still has its doors open. Plans are for it to become a mixed development of shops, offices and housing, anchored by a Kroger. Today, once you enter the structure, which few seem to do, you are greeted by security guards wondering why you are there. I snapped as many photos as I could. The silent fountain. The leaking roof. You are not allowed to walk past the guard stand. “Nothing’s left to see.” But I disagree. Eventually I get stopped and I leave. At least I have some memories on film.
“What finally happens to Cloverleaf Mall may be anyone’s guess. The guards in the mall don’t feel that anything is going to happen any time soon. And since Hecht’s and everyone else left in 2003, things are moving slowly at Cloverleaf. However, even in its ghostly state, its Foot Locker store shines bright.
“The most recent sign for the Cloverleaf Mall used to say “If you haven’t see us lately, you haven’t seen us at all.” I guess they’re right.