Cloverleaf Mall; Richmond, Virginia

Cloverleaf Mall Thalhimers in 1992

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.)

1979 Cloverleaf Mall advertisement

“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.

Cloverleaf Mall in Richmond, VA

“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.

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Landmark Mall; Alexandria, Virginia

Landmark Mall in Alexandria, Virginia, July 2006

The Landmark Mall in Alexandria, Virginia is one of those curious cases where its really surprising that the mall became a dead mall. Landmark seemingly had the right ingredients; a nice facility at a solid, high-traffic location in a relatively affluent, high-population area. What’s more, the only mall very nearby that’s in direct competition is the also-faltering Springfield Mall, which seems to have something of a bad reputation. What gives?

Alexandria Landmark Mall sign in July 2006The Landmark Mall originally opened in 1965, although I believe the center was originally an open air plaza that was dramatically different than the mall of today. The center was anchored by Hecht’s, Sears, and Woodward & Lothrop. The center was dramatically reconfigured and enclosed in 1990, turning the mall into a giant and modern “U”-shaped, three level center with tons of skylights filtering natural light into the center. The Woodward & Lothrop store was in the center of the “U,” with the Sears and Hecht’s stores on either end of the mall, and entrances to the parking lot from either the top portions on either side of the “U” or from the very bottom. Most of the mall was two level, but there was a third level food court with an entrance into the Woodies at the lower portion of the U.

Woodward & Lothrop went out of business in 1995, and their store at Landmark became a JCPenney. However, low sales caused the JCPenney store to shut in a round of closings in 2000 (when Penney’s was in quite a bit of trouble–something that’s hard to imagine now). Around 2001, there was a major push to reposition the mall, and a large amount of space was retenanted. A large portion of the second level of the Sears wing became an Old Navy store, and the vacant JCPenney was replaced by a brand new Lord & Taylor store in an attempt to make Landmark skew a bit more upscale.

This renaissance was very short-lived, however. Within a few years, many of the stores had fled the mall, leaving many of the few remaining tenants clustered around center court. The Sears wing, in particular, was a ghost town by 2005, with the Old Navy having exited along with many of the other small tenants. The pictures shown here were taken on my second visit to the Landmark Mall in July 2006, when the mall seemed about half empty. Note that the Hecht’s signage is still in place.

Hecht's at Landmark Mall in Alexandria, Virginia, July 2006

In 2004, the mall was bought by General Growth Properties, and in 2005 they announced a plan to dramatically reconfigure the center by demolishing most of the mall’s interior and replacing it with a lifestyle center. The Sears and Hecht’s (now Macy’s) anchors were to remain, but most of the rest of the center would be history. In addition to a retail component, the new center–to be dubbed Landmark Village–would include more dining options, housing (over 1,600 condos, so a lot of housing), and a 400 room hotel. There’d also probably be a gazebo, since there always is.
Has anyone been by to the Landmark Mall recently? How is it doing? Is Lord & Taylor still open (I could’ve sworn it was closed a year ago, but the interwebs seems to disagree with me. Maybe it was just that it downsized to two levels).

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Azalea Mall; Richmond, Virginia

Azalea Mall in Richmond, VA, 1991

Hey kids,

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.

Azalea Mall in Richmond, VA, 1991

“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.”

Azalea Mall in Richmond, VA, 1991 Azalea Mall in Richmond, VA, 1991 Azalea Mall in Richmond, VA, 1991

Walnut Mall; Petersburg, Virginia

Thalhimers at Walnut Mall in Petersburg, VA in May 1991

Labelscar’s friend Michael Lisicky wrote us to send some photos of the former Thalhimers at the Walnut Mall in Petersburg, Virginia, both taken in May 1991, shortly after the May Co. announced the store would be closing. Thalhimers was a Richmond-based department store chain that had stores in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina at its peak, but which was merged into Hecht’s in 1992. Here’s what Michael had to say about this store, and this mall’s fate in general:

A casualty of May’s 1991 announcement was the closing of the Walnut Mall Thalhimers in Petersburg, Virginia. Located about a half hour south of Richmond, this mall opened in 1966. Billed as “The Shopping Showplace” it contained a 67,000 square foot Thalhimers along with a large Penney’s. In addition a small local store, Rosenstock’s, was located there as well. Petersburg has been trying to beat the odds since the Civil War, and it lost once again when the South Park Mall opened in neighboring Colonial Heights in 1989. Stores bolted. Penney’s bolted. Stores near the mall bolted. Thalhimers, for some reason, tried operating its Walnut Mall store along with a new store at South Park, albeit with reduced hours and smaller departments. With the May Co. now making decisions, it was quickly announced in March 1991 that the underperforming Thalhimers would close in May. Few stores were left by then. Peoples Drug had already announced its closure. Mall owners along with city officials thought about turning the mall into an outlet mall or even offices. At one point a library was planned. But for over 15 years the Walnut Mall has sat there. If you’re ever on I-95 and driving through Petersburg, VA take a side trip onto Crater Road. You will see a true Shopping Showplace awaiting any type of fate.

These photos were taken in May 1991. By then even Thalhimers display windowed had been bricked over as the area was rapidly deteriorating.

Thalhimers at Walnut Mall in Petersburg, VA in May 1991

Yow… this satellite photo seems to bear out the story–while this 1960s-vintage mall seems pretty tiny (about 300,000 square feet or so), it’s looking pretty forlorn and lonely nowadays. Deadmalls has some more details if you care to check it out, but the overall story is like one we’ve heard many times before: a smaller, more outdated (but also perhaps a bit more charming) mall was killed by a larger, more formidable competitor a few miles away. Stories like these are always a bit tragic to me, however, because here in the Northeast it’s pretty rare for a mall to just sit, untouched, for such a long time.

Springfield Mall; Springfield, Virginia

Springfield Mall in Springfield, Virginia

Part of the purpose of Labelscar is to unearth and share retail oddities that we find in our travels. I’d think that the dice-like cubes that sit atop the mall entrances at the Springfield Mall qualify, wouldn’t you?

The Springfield Mall is a 1.4 million square foot enclosed shopping mall with over 230 stores in the southern suburbs of Washington, DC, near the junction of the Capital Beltway and I-95. Apart from its size, its most notable feature seems to be that it is several years past due for a renovation. This is the kind of stuff we live for.

When we (and, in this case, I don’t mean the royal “we,” because I was with my oft-sidekick, who took many of the exterior photos here and who generally dislikes being referred to as a “sidekick”) visited the Springfield Mall, I was expecting to find something a bit different. Given that the nearby Landmark Mall in Alexandria has emptied out dramatically and is slated to be demolished, I assumed that the larger Springfield Mall was the culprit. Apparently not, because Springfield Mall is pretty blandly mid-tier in its tenanting, and despite its elephantine size doesn’t seem to be dominating much of anything. It’s far from a dead mall, but it’s not the kind of regional powerhouse I thought I’d find either.

Springfield Mall sign in Springfield, Virginia
What made Springfield Mall cool–at least for me–was the notoriously dated decor. The pictures speak for themselves on this, but the cube-y entranceways and distinctly 1980s ceilings, along with the “9” shaped floorplan, certainly made this mall stand out.

This post is more of a photo essay because I honestly don’t know much about the history of the Springfield Mall, other than that it has something of a (minor) reputation for crime, due in part to a pair of gang-related stabbings in 2005. I certainly didn’t feel unsafe in the very archetypal suburban environment of Springfield, however, and the mall was pretty sparsely attended when we swung by early in the day. In addition, I discovered that Vornado purchased the mall recently and is devising a plan to replace the mall with an outward-facing, town-center-styled transit-oriented development. I question the feasibility of this to some extent because of the Springfield Mall’s extremely suburban location, but I’ll let the developers do the developing. For now, I’ll rest on my laurels and let you, dear readers, use the comment feature to fill us in on the history/past anchor stores/etc. of the Springfield Mall. The current anchors include Macy’s, JCPenney, Target, Sports Authority, and AMC Theatres.

Springfield Mall in Springfield, Virginia

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