The Death of a Mall

A friend and I have recently been discussing the condition of the mall I walk at most mornings. She asks if the smells from the Food Court aren’t distracting while I’m walking. What smells, I tell her? Even by 9:00 a.m. there might not be anyone manning places in the Food Court, much less cooking anything.

She can’t picture just how far down Virginia Center Commons has grown. Grown down? Strange way to describe something that “dead” or “dying” seems to describe better .

I wonder whether American Family Fitness knew how badly VCC was dying when they bought and totally redid the  property on the other side of this wall. It’s one of the few places that are thriving, but it’s not even owned by the mall.

I recall how much fun it was to go to VCC  back in the 1990s when it was new and thriving. After years of going to a mall that was further away, a two-story mall, how amazing it was to be in a single-story mall that was oh! so spread out. With skylighted hallways–one that reaches from the Food Court all the way to the back and a shorter one off to one side–and decorated with humongous (live) palm trees.

Even though I know now that I can walk from one end of it to the other in five minutes and make a complete circle in fifteen, it was so crowded back then that it would probably have taken two to three times that long to move through the crowd at a snail’s pace.

As if I had any reason to rush then.

The Food Court wasn’t humongous, but it had a good selection, and right beside the front door was a Ruby Tuesday’s. Along with the variety of kiosks and normal-sized shops–the best I can recall, there were no empty stores–the mall housed a J. C. Penney’s, a Sears, and several other larger “big name” places.

The mall still has Penney’s and Sears, although the future of both chains is–from what I understand–up in the air. Burlington occupies one of the big store sites, but a good-sized Macy’s closed down many months ago. Interestingly, it’s for sale, not for lease. But what wise businessman (or woman) would want to invest so much in a place too few people shop at anymore?

Probably the most successful place is American Family Fitness. No wonder. The mall doesn’t own it and its success isn’t dependent on mall customers.

My wife helped me do a survey a couple of days ago. It’s hard to count while walking, but we ticked off the numbers on a tablet as we went along, so I believe these figures are relatively accurate.

  • Stores and kiosks still open: 47  (includes one that’s about to open)
  • Stores closed in the side hallway: 21
    • Stores open in that hallway: 3
  • Stores closed in the main hallway (includes two in the process of closing): 17

I detest walking in the one hallway that has lost twenty-one stores. It’s depressing.

This problem seems to be at least partially a chicken-or-egg problem. Which happened first–stores closing because customers were no longer coming to the mall or too many stores closing for customers to find going there to be worthwhile? I’ve heard several people claim that groups of teens hanging around there made customers afraid.

While that might have happened sometime in the past, I’ve never seen dangerous looking teens there. I rarely see a crowd at all. This is what the Food Court area looked like around 6:00 p.m. a couple of days ago:

In all fairness, Monday evening seems to be the most consistently empty time of the whole week. But it never looks anywhere close to full.

This picture is of the hall that branches off just past the Food Court. This is the one that only has three businesses–a LensCrafters, an optometrist’s office that’s all but officially a part of LensCrafters, and an African hair braiding place.

 

Some months ago the mall was sold to someone who supposedly likes to fix up malls like this one. I hope he can. He hasn’t done much so far. The lines in the parking lot are so faded it’s hard to be sure I’m parking within the lines.

Virginia Center Commons is just a mile down the road from us, and we do shop there–to whatever extent we can find what we want or need. We want to see it rejuvenated. Do we ever!

Any comments?



    

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Best regards,
Roger

Death of a Store–or of a Mall?

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What fun times those were when Virginia Center Commons opened in 1991. It was the newest and the best of Richmond’s malls. And what delights awaited us when we got there. I don’t recall many of the stores from that era, but I do remember a candy store where one of four or five jewelry stores is now. No telling how many hours we spent in that store; if you’ve ever lived with a four-year-old or taken one shopping for candy, you know what I’m talking about.

Now that my wife and I live just a mile from VCC, it’s no longer the newest or the best. Some of you may have read my blog post about the aging mall (check HERE if you want to read it) some months back, in which I lamented the sad condition of VCC and noted the interesting uses being made of some of the store spaces. I believe things have gone even further downhill since then, however. Even the Henrico County Police substation moved out.

When I walk at the mall, something I do frequently, I can’t help noticing all of the empty stores. One hallway is particularly depressing. A person would almost have to know where Lens Crafters is located because it’s around the corner from what looks like a basically empty hall. Probably three-quarters of the stores in that area have either closed or moved to a busier part of the mall.

The most recent store closure is the Macy’s at the far end from the Food Court. It’s been going out of business for a couple of months now, and every week or two the discounts have grown deeper and deeper. You can see in one of the pictures above what the current discounts are. Since the 13 Days sign I took through the window this morning was for yesterday, next week will mark the end.

Yesterday I wandered in just out of curiosity, and I couldn’t help feeling depressed. So many empty fixtures–they were for sale, too–and a rather disgusting crowd of nude female manikins. And whatever stock was left was starting to look pretty well picked over.

But those weren’t the things that made me sad. It was the thought of all those people losing their jobs–and still working as long as they can before the final day.

I keep thinking the whole situation–not just Macy’s, but the mall in general–is a which-comes-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg problem. How long can stores remain in business if people don’t come to the mall? Yet how many people are going to visit the mall if the number and variety of stores has so seriously shrunk that it’s not worth the effort?

Mr. Obama, feel free to keep trying to make us believe the economy is improving when you’re apparently blind to problems like this. And, Lord, please protect us from any more of the kinds of efforts the administration has been using to improve the economy.

What are your thoughts? A comment would be welcome.

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Best regards,
Roger

What Have the Malls Turned Into?

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policeStation  FamilyFitness

When Virginia Center Commons opened in 1991, it was beautiful. And special. A real eye opener. And a popular place to shop.

Today it looks a bit tired. Closer to dead, truth be known. Sure, the custodial staff does a great job of keeping it clean, but cleanliness isn’t the only thing necessary for keeping a mall alive. Especially if it lacks sparkle otherwise.

In all fairness, the state of the economy probably has a lot to do with the condition of Virginia Center Commons–and many other malls as well.

In a recent walk around VCC, I used a scrap of paper to help me keep count of the number of empty stores. Twenty-five, including three places in the Food Court. The not-overly-large-to-start-with Food Court.

And that’s not counting the decreased number of kiosks in the middle of the various hallways.

No more shoppers than I normally see there on my frequent walks–at least black Friday was an exception–it’s no wonder so many stores have closed. Competition for a small number of shoppers must be brutal. I marvel at the existence of five jewelry stores, several of which seem to have permanent liquidation sales going on.

But some people are enterprising in the way they use the mall.

American Family Fitness opened a full-size place, complete with pools. It began in a limited fashion where an Old Navy store had closed. The building of the full facility took forever. Interestingly, even though the AFF is attached to the mall, it’s not accessible from within the mall. Not even any windows for mall shoppers to stare at the exercise-hungry through.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when a Henrico County Police substation opened in a spot long empty of the jewelry store that used to occupy that spot.

Next came a counseling office. I’ve never seen anyone coming or going there–there’s a solid door several feet inside the glass door–but the fish in the aquarium in the window are alive, so at least somebody is feeding them.

Then came a dentist’s office. Appropriately for a mall, they take walk-ins and are open at different times from a normal dental office.

The government is really pushing Obamacare. One former store now houses someone whose job (apparently) is to sell people on the affordability of Obamacare. Good luck on that.

Most recently came the seasonal use of one store. WalMart–VCC is about five miles in either direction from a WalMart–has set up a number of computer terminals for people to use to apply for work at WalMart during the Christmas season.

If Virginia Center Commons can’t sustain itself in normal ways, may it continue to do so through unusual ones.

What about you? Are the malls near you healthy? Do any of them have unusual tenants? How about leaving a comment…

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