A few posts ago, I wrote about a mall that went under several years ago. This week, coincidentally, I visited two other malls in RVA in one day! Are malls making a comeback? Or did they only serve me and my family’s purposes that day?
The mall from the past that is now non-existent had been “the place to be” in my youth, and I drew some identity from it in the early 80s. I was often there with my peers to see “the sights” (mostly girls), and as a store employee at Penney’s. I bought my clothes at that mall, ate its pretzels and smoothies, and saw Freaky Friday, The Empire Strikes Back, and 2001: A Space Odyssey all there at their two-cinema theater. All those buildings were bulldozed away in the 2010s.
A smaller mall, now known as Chesterfield Towne Center, with only one anchor store, was slightly closer to my boyhood home. We could and did ride bicycles to this smaller mall, or brought our skateboards when parents allowed. But this mall had about half of the stores, and wasn’t as popular…for a while.
The second mall went through a major growth spurt in the 80s. It became the place to be, to shop, and to see and be seen. I never worked there, but my wife did for a few years during our younger married life. We built a lot of community having that mall so close.
We later began to see this closest mall to our home wane in popularity. It could have been the age of the facility or the age of the community around it. Could have been some were not interested in the growing diversity in our county. Several stores left, including Dillard’s and later – Sears. One main reason: another shopping “mecca” was created in another part of the metro area (two actually, but one is languishing already) and it became the new thing. It is an outdoor mall, but the double decker stores surround the outdoor walking area. Shoppers will need to keep their coats on in the winter going from store to store. It is very stylish and has great seasonal décor – especially around Christmas.
I rarely go to any mall now. I’m much more of a “get in, get the item, and get out” kind of shopper. “Bart,” you say, “if that is true, why are you spending all this time discussing malls?”
Well, this past Friday I spent time at those two malls – one is the new “place to be” for the entire Richmond area, the other has dropped off somewhat in the last 20 years but seems to be going through a revitalization.
I get to work from home on Fridays, which often means – work from the public library. I got hungry, hit up the local Panera for a salad, and thought, “the mall is right across the street…I can jump in on an online call and sit inside in the shade with my earbuds.” I joined a Zoom group meeting, while sitting in a massage chair in a quiet “leg” of the mall that had previously started to pale. When I got up, I decided to soak in some of what was going on there.
Business was bustling at 1 pm at this mall. It wasn’t just the food court, or the Barnes and Noble anchor store; the aisles were busy. Families. Retirees. People – like me – who probably work — but found a way to enjoy a shopping moment or a stroll with friends or relatives. It was encouraging on two fronts: 1) I hadn’t been sure if this “second place” mall of my teenage years was going to bounce back, and 2) we are in the post-Covid era. I saw a few masks, but the fact that folks were willing to come to an indoor mall, I thought, was a good sign.
Later that evening we had a family dinner out at a sushi restaurant – welcoming home a son and his wife who were visiting Richmond for a friend’s wedding. “What are we going to do next?” someone asked. “Let’s go walking at Short Pump!”
(Isn’t Short Pump a great name for a town?!? It used to be a few fields and a transmission shop in western Henrico county – but this 4.75-anchor-store shopping zoo has made it an attractive shopping and business destination. Now the area has apartments, car dealerships, restaurants, a Wal-Mart and a Target within a quarter mile of each other, and about 4 other large grocery stores. It has become too busy for my autistic sensibilities sometimes…)
It was a lovely evening walking around with my family in a safe place, one that is full of variety via the stores, and the guests.
Malls contributed to communities in the past, both outdoor and indoor. Hopefully they will not all suffer blight and blow away like chaff. Life isn’t all about shopping, but it must be done on occasion. If we can all commit to buying local more often and taking some “fasts” away from the tech giants, we might come together in ways that we have seen before. I experienced it on Friday, and it made me smile. Is that downshiftin’? So be it.