Charleston Town Center; Charleston, West Virginia

Downtown Charleston from across the river; the mall would be in the lower left 

With a population just over 50,000 in the city and over 300,000 people in its metropolitan area, Charleston is not only the seat of state government but also the largest city in the state of West Virginny.  In its early days, Charleston grew and prospered due to manufacturing and deposits of natural resources such as salt, coal, and natural gas; however, today the diversified economy of West Virginia includes more than these natural resources and has expanded and shifted to focus on trade, medicine, and government.  This transition, however, hasn’t exactly been smooth, and parts of Charleston have experienced periods of both blight and renewal.

Charleston Town Center in Charleston, WVBy the early 1980s, Charleston’s downtown was in dire need of a makeover due to a changing economy taking hard-earned dollars away from the area and taking its toll on the physical structure of the city as a result.  To help Charleston out, the largest urban mall east of the Mississippi River was constructed along several blocks downtown and was completed in November 1983, along with other new developments that would encourage growth.  Charleston Town Center opened with four department store spaces and almost one million square feet of retail space, on three levels.  In addition, the mall is attached to a 350-room Marriott hotel which serves downtown business and convention-goers.

Charleston Town Center has enjoyed a significant amount of success largely due to its location and accessibility.  Charleston benefitted tremendously from the signing of Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway Act in 1956, which placed Charleston at the hub of three interstates (64, 77, and 79) which allow for fast passage through West Virginia’s rough and rugged terrain, connecting it to cities in the Midwest, South, and Northeast; in fact, 60% of the United States population is within a day’s drive of Charleston.  This location of the interstates has allowed Charleston to retain its status as the hub for its regional retail market, which stretches across much of central West Virginia, and all of these interstates converge close to the mall with easy access.  In addition, planners were wise to build ample, cheap ($1.75 all day as of 2008 with 4000 spaces) parking structures to serve the mall’s accessibility so shoppers aren’t as frustrated trying to find a place to put their cars.

Charleston Town Center in Charleston, WV Charleston Town Center in Charleston, WV

However, being hemmed in the middle of an urban core has also presented disadvantages and inconveniences for shoppers, and possibly the mall itself.  Most of the big box retail strip, chain restaurants, and other such novelties are located a fair distance from the mall along US 119 southwest of downtown, about 5 miles from the mall.  So, unlike many retail markets where the mall is located as the focus for big box strip fodder and shoppers can make the rounds easily, shoppers in Charleston do double duty to visit both big box/strip mall retailers and the mall itself.  Furthermore, although parking is relatively cheap and convenient in the structures at the mall, most suburban malls, by nature, have tons of free parking, so this may frustrate some shoppers here.  It hasn’t seemed to have made a significant dent in sales, though, as this is clearly Charleston’s dominant mall and has a solid store base with limited vacancies.

Charleston Town Center in Charleston, WVThe design of Charleston Town Center is a mostly two-level straight shot on a north-south axis, with a third level tacked onto the center court which functions as the mall’s food court, Picnic Place.  Picnic Place made headlines in 2004 when mall management refused to renew the leases for two food court tenants – McDonald’s and Long John Silver’s – because management felt that more healthy options should be made available, and also because they wanted to reconfigure the food court.  In the end, the food stalls were relegated to about half of the food court space on the third level, and offices were put in the other half.  At least the Greek/Mediterranean place is still there.  The center court is also the mall’s most impressive feature, with a wide, bright atrium and a maze-like fountain on the first level with a kiosk Starbucks as the centerpiece.  Interestingly, a major renovation of Charleston Town Center has only taken place once, in 1992, so the mall today is somewhat dated.

Charleston Town Center in Charleston, WVCharleston Town Center’s store mix is solid, with many popular – and even somewhat upscale – national brands like Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, Talbots, AE, and the like.  The mall has two anchor pads on each end, which are currently occupied by Macy’s and Sears on the south end and JCPenney and Steve and Barry’s on the north end of the mall.  Until 2001, one of the south anchors was Montgomery Ward, and after its closure the property sat vacant until 2007 when it was sold to the mall, and sold again to BrickStreet Insurance, who took most of the former anchor space along with a dead Bob Evans.  The space closest to the mall was converted into in-line stores on the first level, and Steve and Barry’s on the second level.  Also, the current Macy’s was Pittsburgh-based Kaufmann’s until 2006.    

We visited Charleston in July 2008 and took the pictures featured here.  If you know any more about the history of the mall or the area, comments are always appreciated. 

Charleston, WV Charleston, WV Charleston Town Center BrickStreet in Charleston, WV

Charleston Town Center Steve and Barry's in Charleston, WV Charleston Town Center in Charleston, WV Charleston Town Center Macy's in Charleston, WV 

Charleston, WV Charleston Town Center in Charleston, WV Charleston Town Center Macy's in Charleston, WV

Charleston Town Center in Charleston, WV Charleston Town Center in Charleston, WV Charleston Town Center Picnic Place in Charleston, WV

Charleston Town Center in Charleston, WV Charleston Town Center in Charleston, WV Charleston Town Center Steve and Barry's in Charleston, WV

Charleston Town Center JCPenney in Charleston, WV Charleston, WV downtown Charleston Town Center Steve and Barry's in Charleston, WV

 

 

33 Responses to “Charleston Town Center; Charleston, West Virginia”

  1. PrangeWay,

    Were you there early in the morning or are there really quite a few stores closed and really that few people walking the mall? I noticed Zales, FYE and TimeOut closed, as well as a former Banana Republic long gone I think.

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  2. Interesting. The mall really screwed up in kicking McD’s and LJS out, tho.

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  3. Yeah, it was a Sunday morning.

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  4. That makes sense. That’s all I wanted to know. Thanks.

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  5. My mom is a flight-attendant so she has visited this mall a few times when in Charleston. I actually like the main court where there is the starbucks and brick flooring, it’s unique. I don’t mind the decor that much, and I saw stores Aerie by American Eagle & Pink by Victoria’s Secret which are new concept stores so that shows right there that they seem to be doing just fine.

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  6. I thought Bombay Co. went out of business.

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  7. as per usual, another very well written article by prangeway. very professional and a lot of time and research.

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  8. Bombay IS out of business. I was going by their directory to recall the store roster, which is apparently out of date. Whoops.

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  9. I was just at the Charleston Town Center on August 12. I only come this way once a year if I am lucky. I live two hours away and it is much closer for me to go to Pittsburgh malls. I have to start to say that the mall is anchored by Sears and Macy’s on the west side with the Charleston Civic Center across the street on the west. On the east end of the mall is JCPenny’s. Also on the east across the street are the state headquarters for many banks and law offices. There are also many state and county offices on this side as well. In first floor of the mall is dark, but the second and third have adequate light from skylights. I have notices that most of the mall stores were very wide but not very deep due to the constraints of the building only as wide as a city block.
    The mall gets a large lunch crowd from the professionals who work in these offices. On the Penny’s end of the mall there are several restaurants: Tidewater Grill, Outback Steakhouse, and Chili’s. There was also an Olive Garden on this end as well which then became Gratzi. This restaurant has since closed and is now for lease. On the Macy’s end of the mall are the Chop House Restaurant and a Bennigan’s. There is a sign on the doors of Bennigan’s that they are temporarily closed (all the dishes and place setting are set on the tables in the restaurant and even in the fenced in dining area in the mall corridor).
    The Picnic Place food court on the third floor also gets crowded on the lunch hour. There are two pizza restaurants: Sbaros Pizzaria and local Graziano’s Pizza. Also on the third floor are mall officers, Army Recruiting Station, and state Senior Citizens Program offices. Once the lunch hour is over, it is noticeably less crowded.
    The Disney Store recently closed and was replaced with a local toy store that had leased a small portion of the former Montgomery Wards store on the first floor before Brickstreet Insurance took over the space. The former Bombay Store is now a local furniture store. Also Sears has their Auto Service across the street in a parking lot separate from the mall.
    The Development on US 119 is called Southridge with the usual Lowes, Home Depot, Kohl’s, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Target, etc. spread over a mile or so. The Olive Garden moved here with Red Lobster and Smokey Bones built in the same vicinity. The Smokey Bones closed last year. There were Famous Dave’s Barbecue and Logan’s Smokehouse in the same development. The former Smokey Bones will reopen soon as a Billy’s Restaurant.

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  10. The center court reminds me of Grand Ave mall in downtown Milwaukee…obviously much more successful mall though!

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  11. Tim,
    Speaking of Grand Ave. Mall, check out the latest commentary from Ashkenazy, the mall’s current owner. Much of the commentary is referenced in the comments under the Grand Avenue section on this site. Ghazi is trying to push for a redevelopment to the West of the mall. Anyone hear anything about the tenant to replace Linens?

    This Charleston Center does look amazingly like Grand Avenue; I agree with you. Who owns this mall? Perhaps Grand Ave could take some pointers from this development. It looks to actually have a decent sampling of national chain pesence.

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  12. Hi from a mall fan in Australia – just wanted to say a quick thanks for posting this one! This mall, and Santa Monica Place were the only two malls I got to spend any time in on my one and only trip to the US a few years back (it was a fairly short trip!) & it’s great to see photos! Your blog is fascinating BTW – a very good read, and it’s always interesting to compare & contrast to Au. malls :-)

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  13. Charleston Town Center used to have an incredible waterfall that cascaded from the third level down to the ground floor in center court. It was a sight to behold, but its maintenance became too expensive for the mall.

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  14. Because it’s in a fairly urban setting, a central business district, the mall should feature more ‘open’ spaces, such as cafes and merchant showcase windows that allow more pedestrian interaction along the streets.

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  15. Steve & Barry’s is located in a store formerly occupied by Stone & Thomas. Stone & Thomas was a West Virginia based department store that had a downtown Charleston location just 3 or so blocks from the mall. They closed that large store and opened a small store on the East side of the mall near Penny’s second floor in the early 1990s. When Elder-Beerman purchased Stone & Thomas in 1998, they closed this mall store because it was too small. Peebles purchased other small Stone & Thomas stores but decided against this store because Peebles specializes in non-mall stores and smaller towns. This store was vacant several years before Steve & Barry’s occupied it and they didn’t remodel much except for adding their shelves.

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  16. I wouldn’t exactly call this a dead mall. There’a a lot of shopping there, and a reasonable amount of people. I will agree that the decor is really outdated, and it’s showing its age.

    I went there 2 years ago, and the only thing that the mall really lacked was food. There was a Bennigan’s on the lower level, which I believe has since closed, but other than that it had lots of shopping with nowhere to eat.

    Not sure why this could be considered a dead mall. If it is, then Crossroads Mall near Beckley is certainly worth a look.

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  17. Who said this mall was dead? Remember, Labelscar is not exclusively about dead malls.

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  18. Usually, the times I’ve been there, its *very* crowded and busy.

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  19. My sister is a manager of one of the shops in the Town Center, so I’m generally in the know on any big changes. Recently the Steve and Barry’s closed, of course, along with the rest of the chain; however, the Carlton Cards has also shut down, and the Ritz Camera is awaiting the results of that chain’s bankruptcy. A dentist office that had moved in between Family Christian Bookstores and Macy’s bailed in the last few weeks, leaving the mall for greener pastures in Teays Valley. The huge FYE (formerly Saturday Matinee/Record Town, and National Record Mart before that) changed position about a year ago and downsized tremendously, being no more than a quarter of its previous size. While this mall may not be “dead”, it is very far from its glory days (which began their real erosion when the waterfall was removed ) and one can hardly see any changes for the better in the immediate future, especially with the increasing competition from the Southridge stores on US 119. Sis believes it will eventually become all office space; the third level has already had about half its space converted to offices for the Senior Citizens Services, eliminating several restaurants and the Aladdins Palace arcade.

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  20. The problem began when the mall owners turned half of the food court into office space and placed that stupid Starbucks in what used to be great center court. I heard a rumor once the waterfall was done away with at the request of Starbucks fearing it would distract their customers. Does anyone know if that is true? I guess the former Steve and Barry’s will be the next space to be converted to offices. Heaven forbid they would put in more stores. Bring back Elder-Beerman or how about a Belk, Peebles or Dawahares. I hate to CTC go the way of the Dodo.

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  21. This mall is far from dead and is actually great to go to in the morning hours. I’ve been aound the US and seen some “dead” malls. Believe me this mall hasn’t done alot to help itself compete againts the strip malls but it fills a niche and will continue for someitme.

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  22. Concerning the closure of the waterfall at CTC, I’d heard from a store manager that the occasional work of pranksters, squirting liquid soap into the waterfall, assisted in the decision to shut it down.

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  23. Hmm, how big was the former Steve & Barry’s? That could be the home of a new anchor store, perhaps an upscale retailer like Nordstrom. I don’t know much in the way of demographics in that area but if that mall can support a lot of midscale to upscale stores then it can probably do well there.

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    JB Reply:

    Gary,

    THe Steve and Barry’s was quite a large site, once having been a Best Products, then an Elder-Beerman. It looks like they’re cutting it into little pieces; there is currently something called “Real Deal” — a sort of general store, apparently local merchants — in one third of the space, an inflatable center for the kids called “Jump Street” in the next third, and some sort of pool gear shop, again local merchants, in the final section. The shoe repair shop beside Penneys went out recently, and has been replaced by a local shop called “THe Salvage Yard,” which looks like goth or hiphop stuff. The Sleep Number Mattress place on the first floor is also gone, replaced by, you guessed it, some locals selling woodcrafts and similar folksy items.

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  24. S&B’s wasn’t very big, maybe 50-60K.

    Also, I’ve heard this mall once had a BEST Products showroom. Is this true?

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  25. I live downtown in Charleston, and one of the things I really like about Charleston is having a decent mall, a movie theater, concert venues, bars, etc all within a few blocks of home.

    This mall is doing remarkably well for it’s age. Many if not most vacancies in recent years have been due to bankruptcy of the larger chain, while the CTC locations were profitable. Bennigan’s, Bombay, Steve and Barry’s, Montgomery Wards a few years ago are examples.

    Locals have been saying that the mall is dying for 15 years, but it’s still here and mostly full. People use the fact that 40% of the food court (which was never really full, it was too big) and what was the 4th anchor are now offices as an example of the mall doing poorly, but I see it as evolving into being more like what large urban developments built in the last 10 years look like. They virtually all include retail, office, a hotel, residential space (the only thing CTC doesn’t have). Hundreds of people working in offices in the mall has been great for the retail, particularly the food court. Weekday lunches are packed.

    I didn’t understand the previous commenter who said there’s nowhere to eat. Even with 2 table service restaurant spaces and one food court slot vacant, there are 4 table service (Outback, Chili’s, Tidewater and Chop House restaurants), 9 quick service restaurants in the food court, and 2 pretzel places, Starbucks, and 2 cookie stores for coffee and snacks. What more do you want?

    I watched the moderate remodel for the mall’s 20th anniversary several years ago, and saw why the waterfall had to go. Water always splashed onto the 2nd floor behind the waterfall (always had to be roped off with wet floor signs, brick floor tiles coming up) and had leaked into the structure on the 3rd floor. 20 years of water had rusted the structural steel badly. It could have been fixed, but it would still have been a loud, messy, expensive maintenance headache.

    I don’t find the decor that dated. It’s a little dark on the 1st floor, but 2nd and 3rd (food court) are bright. I like the brick floor tile that looks like the brick sidewalks in much of the rest of downtown.

    Most store fronts are current or refreshed. In the last 2 years, GNC, Lids, Hot Topic, Spencers, Bath and Body Works, FYE, Buckle, Kid Country Toys, Sbarro and maybe more tenants have remodeled or moved to a new either larger or better space. Several new chains or concepts have opened (Pink, Aerie, Salad Creations). That’s a lot of investment on the part of the retailers.

    The basic structure is dated. As one commenter said, it’s unfortunate that it’s inward facing, surrounded by parking structures on 2 sides, but that was the thinking 30 years ago when it was planned. At least the anchors all have sidewalk facing entrances (not that they get much use) and the east entrance in particular has a street presence, with outdoor seating for Chili’s and Tidewater, and outside entrances for Outback and the vacant restaurant space.

    I see this mall doing well for a long time, if for no other reason than the fact that the only thing that could kill it (a new development luring the anchors away) in unlikely. Given the demographics here (relatively small and shrinking, as well as low median income) it’s unlikely that a developer would make (or could get financing for) the huge investment that it would take, given that it take years of hugely expensive blasting to level out a big enough flat area to build on a large scale.

    The developer of some of the big box shops on US 119 last year announced a new development in South Charleston that they said would being some chains that aren’t currently in the area. I took this to mean an Old Navy, Bed Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, etc were likely. This is stalled due to the recession (not being able to get pre-construction leases signed prevents them from getting financing). That will hurt if it is ever built, but I don’t see anyone building the type and scale of development that would lure Macy’s, Sears and Penney’s away anytime soon.

    Sorry to write so much. I know that the original article here and many commenters have said that this mall looks fairly healthy. It’s just a pet peeve of mine that so many locals constantly complain about the mall, say that it’s dying, that $1.75 is too much for parking (huh? really? what are you going to spent inside?) or most laughably, that downtown or the mall specifically is dangerous! When I hear that I know that some racial issues are at work.

    Overall, CTC is one of the few examples of an almost 30 year old urban retail development that’s still successful that I can think of anywhere.

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  26. I went to this mall last year and it seemed as if the mall has a lot of life in it (possibly since it is the only major enclosed mall in the area.) It has a lot of sit down restaurants for an enclosed mall and a lot of stores for an urban shopping mall. If you are staying at a nearby hotel, It would be cool just to walk there.

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  27. @jkcole, It is a neat urban mall, a rarity for such a small-ish city.

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  28. This mall reminds me of Lloyd Center Mall up in Portland. I wonder if it’s owned or constructed by the same company?

    Lloyd center mall has the exact same kind of lay-out as the pictures on here describe with offices on the third floor and a food court in the middle on the third floor.

    Yes there is a Mickey D’s in the mall I mentioned and a Taco Time for burritos and a neat cookie place.

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  29. I was assistant to John Hutchinson, then Mayor of Charleston, when the mall was conceived.

    John put together a package where a federal Urban Development Action Grant and a $10 million general obligation bond issue (which passed by 87.2 percent in February, 1978) would leverage more than $100 million in private investment, including the mall and the adjacent Marriott Hotel.

    However, at the same time, the federal government was considering funding an access road to a suburban mall, which would have captured the anchor stores and effectively killed Town Center before it was built. With the assistance of then Rep. John M. Slack, Jr., John Hutchinson was able to persuade senior Carter administration officials that the downtown project was needed to secure the city’s tax base and that the access to the suburban mall should not be funded.

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  30. I noticed the article is over 4 years old now, and the most recent comment is about a year-and-a-half old. I just want to point out that a LOT has happened here since then.

    Last year (2011), JCPenney spent $3 million to completely update and renovate its anchor store while Panera Bread was added as a street-level restaurant.

    This year (2012) was even busier. Now 30 years old, the mall has added new upscale retailers in the forms of Sephora, Coach, Francesca’s Collections, and White House/Black Market. Off Broadway Shoes has taken the former Steve & Barry’s space, and Qdoba and Five Guys Burgers have been added as street-level restaurants. Finally, the mall just finished a $7 million update and renovation which included new floors, lighting, paint, railings, furniture, center court fountain, kids’ play area, restrooms, and even logo (article here: http://dailymail.com/Business/201212040087 ).

    There are only 4 or 5 vacant storefronts now, and they’re getting aggressive with opinion surveys about how to fill them — I was hauled into one last time I was there and a few of the options on the list I can remember included Apple Store and Banana Republic.

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  31. I am trying to locate a list of the original stores from the Town Center Mall in 1983.
    Can anyone help?

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  32. Regarding Tonya post 4-2013.
    Interesting that someone is actually interested in the mall as it was when opened. I did the construction documentation photography for FCD from groundbreaking to the “Gala” and beyond. It was built to be live and well long after my grandchildren are gone…

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